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The Time Traveler's Wife


The Time Traveler's Wife Cover



Reading Group Guide

Q> On the novel's first page Clare declares, "I wait for Henry." In what way does this define her character, and how is the theme of waiting developed throughout the book? Q> Just as Clare is defined by her waiting, so Henry is defined by his unpredictable comings and goings. That-along with his hard drinking and proclivities for stealing and beating people up-might be described as stereotypically masculine behavior, just as waiting might be called stereotypically feminine. What keeps these characters from being stereotypes? In what ways does the author give them depth and nuance? For example, at what points in the book do Henry and Clare reverse roles? Q> Niffenegger portrays Henry's time traveling as the result of a genetic disorder, which is explained at some length later on. How plausible is this explanation-not from a scientific point of view, but from a dramatic or literary one? Do you think that Henry's condition requires an explanation? Q> How has Henry's personality been shaped by his bouts of chrono-displacement? How does his time traveling affect Clare? In addition, how is Clare affected by meeting her future husband when she is six and seeing him repeatedly throughout her childhood and adolescence before they become lovers? How does the author manage to make their relationship seem eccentric-and even enchanted-rather than sinister? Q> What is the particular significance of Henry's job as a librarian? What connection do you see between his choice of career and his childhood fascination with the Field Museum (pp. 27-36)? Q> Along with his frequent trips backward and forward in time, the critical event in Henry's early life is the hideous death of his mother, which he witnesses as a child and revisits compulsively as an adult (pp. 110-14). How has this event helped shape him and how does it foreshadow other events in the novel? Q> How does the author manage her novel's fantastically intricate time scheme? For example, where in her narrative does she relate the same incident from different perspectives in order to supply missing information? How does she foreshadow such developments as Ingrid Carmichel's suicide, the birth of Alba DeTamble, and Henry's death? Q> Among the curiosities of the book is the way chrono-displacement occasionally causes its protagonists to split and double. At the age of nine Henry is taught pickpocketing by his twenty-seven-year-old self (pp. 50-6); Henry returns to his thirty-three-year-old wife after making love to her on her eighteenth birthday (pp. 402-414). After Henry has a vasectomy at the age of thirty-seven, Clare becomes pregnant by a thirty-three-year-old "surrogate" (pp. 363-5). How do Henry and Clare view their younger and older selves? Why, for one thing, aren't they ever jealous of them? And what are this novel's implications about the relationship between time and the self? Q> In theory Henry's time traveling should make him omniscient-at least as far as his own timeline is concerned-but Clare knows things about him that he does not. What accounts for this? What role does the characters' knowledge-and the gaps in their knowledge-play in the novel? Q> Closely related to the theme of foreknowledge is the idea of free will. Does Henry's chrono-instability give him a freedom that Clare lacks, or does it make him more powerless? Discuss Henry's observation that "there is only free will when you are in time, in the present" (p. 58). Q> When Henry asks her to describe her artwork, Clare tells him that it's about birds and longing (p. 15). How do the themes of birds-along with wings and flight-and longing figure elsewhere in this book? Q> What is the List that Henry makes for Clare, and how does it give the book dramatic momentum? Does Niffenegger employ other devices to similar effect? One of the things that makes a story suspenseful is the reader's sense that events are reaching a climax, that time is running out. How is Niffenegger able to impart this sense to her readers, given Henry's seemingly inexhaustible supply of time? Q> Both Gomez and Celia warn Clare about Henry. "This guy would chew you up and spit you out . . . He's not at all what you need," says Gomez (p. 420). Can we simply chalk those warnings down to jealousy, or might the observers be correct? Is Henry more ruthless and amoral than he appears to Clare? How do you interpret Henry's statement: "I'm not exactly the man she's known from earliest childhood. I'm a close approximation she is guiding surreptitiously toward a me that exists in her mind's eye" (p. 149)? Q> How does Henry and Clare's relationship change following their marriage? How is it affected by their desire for a child? Q> Would you call The Time Traveler's Wife a comedy or a tragedy, or are such classifications relevant to a work that plays havoc with time and allows one character to appear periodically after his death? Q> How does the author use time travel as a metaphor: for love, for loss and absence, for fate, for aging, for death? To what extent are Clare and Henry a "normal" couple?

Copyright © 2003 Harcourt, Inc.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 73 comments:

Rebecca Brant, December 13, 2012 (view all comments by Rebecca Brant)
An enduring love story that bears re-reading. I am a different person each time I come to the book, and each time it renders a new meaning, reveals a new perspective. I keep a lending copy, and I recommend it often, but I'm careful who I recommend it to. Henry and Claire have become such dear friends, I take exception to those who don't embrace them as I do. Niffenegger's lyrical prose allows us to bear with Henry during his selfish phase by giving us glimpses of the man he becomes. We wait, breathless, with Claire as she endures the Time Until they meet in each other's present. As much as I read, no book has managed to replace TTW as my very favorite.
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Tomabob, August 10, 2012 (view all comments by Tomabob)
This book is such a sweet love story that it made me fall in love with the characters, the setting, the story. This book brought me so far into the story that I experienced many of the same emotions while reading it. Niffenegger wrote this story so smoothly and so life-like that it was hard to put down at any one moment.
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Michael Jung, August 4, 2012 (view all comments by Michael Jung)
Amazing book - while the intricacies and "rules" of time travel in this book are well thought out (time travelers cannot change history - events are predestined) the story itself focuses much more on human connections and how the time traveler's "condition" both draws him closer and farther away from those he loves. While the movie version did a decent job of focusing on the central romance of the story, the book offers numerous subplots that explore the darker, funnier, and more tragic aspects of time travel. While seemingly aimed at science fiction fans, the book should appeal to romance readers as well as readers interested in creative, non-linear storytelling.
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Product Details

Niffenegger, Audrey
Harvest Books
Science Fiction - General
Fantasy - General
Married people
Fantasy fiction
Time travel
Domestic fiction
General Fiction
Women art students
General Fiction
Romance - Time Travel
Science Fiction and Fantasy-Fantasy
Edition Number:
1st Harvest ed.
Edition Description:
Trade Paper
Harvest Book
Publication Date:
July 2004
Grade Level:
9 x 6 in 1.72 lb

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The Time Traveler's Wife Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
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Product details 560 pages Harvest Books - English 9780156029438 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

"Inspired by her grandparents' love story in which the grandmother outlived her husband by nearly three decades, Niffenegger has invented Henry and Clare, and their unique and complicated love story involving the ability to live in the past and future in an unpredictable parallel. Delightful, imaginative, with an unforgettable conclusion."

"Review" by , "A powerfully original love story."
"Review" by , "Spirited...Niffenegger plays ingeniously in her temporal hall of mirrors."
"Review" by , "[A] highly original first novel....[A] soaring love story illuminated by dozens of finely observed details and scenes....[L]eaves a reader with an impression of life's riches and strangeness rather than of easy thrills."
"Review" by , "[C]leverly executed and tastefully furnished if occasionally overwrought....A Love Story for educated, upper-middle-class tastes...it could have some of that long-ago book's commercial potential, too."
"Review" by , "The premise may sound strange, but Niffenegger infuses her love story with such bittersweet tenderness that it becomes credible."
"Review" by , "In Audrey Niffenegger's debut novel, The Time Traveler's Wife, we have the time-travel love story par excellence, with a remarkable new twist on this seductive but often predictable genre."
"Review" by , "[A]n unabashed homage to love, a tear-jerker of the first order which also happens to be an absorbing existential exploration of 'being' and temporality."
"Review" by , "This is Niffenegger's first novel. It's amazing and wonderful (except for a trickle of sap at the end), and I wish I could go back in time to the day I started reading it and read it all over again."
"Review" by , "At turns playful, wearisome, and moving....Yet this lengthy novel is not all it could have been; at times, Niffenegger seems to be working out an idea rather than shaping a story."
"Review" by , "As The Time Traveler's Wife heads toward its immensely moving inevitable conclusion, this promising author leaves us with much to ponder about the nature of fate, memory, death and love."
"Review" by , "Accomplished as this novel often is — Niffenegger is especially dexterous in handling multiple domestic events common to relationship novels...one hopes to see what she will do next using more recognizable forms of storytelling."
"Review" by , "Ms. Niffenegger alternates the voices of Clare and Henry telling the story...so that the reader gets to know both characters intimately....It's not the plot but how it works itself out that makes this novel a delight."
"Review" by , "Niffenegger's beautiful prose and sure-handed way with character development lifts The Time Traveler's Wife beyond the realm of romance potboilers and into the mainstream of literature that will last."
"Review" by , "Niffeneger takes the stuff of science fiction and makes it so real that the reader moves past the premise of time travel to become emotionally involved in the lives of the characters....[It] pulls the reader into its world and doesn't let go until the last page."
"Review" by , "Though the book remains a kick throughout, Henry and Clare, from any angle and at any time, gleam with unapproachable, off-putting perfection; imagine, say, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston."
"Review" by , "[M]ore magical realism than sci-fi, and above all it's a surprising and compelling love story....Niffenegger avoids the drag of sentimentality and keeps it soaring with genuine emotion."
"Synopsis" by , A dazzling novel in the most untraditional fashion, this is the remarkable story of Henry DeTamble, a dashing, adventuresome librarian who travels involuntarily through time, and Clare Abshire, an artist whose life takes a natural sequential course. Henry and Clare's passionate love affair endures across a sea of time and captures the two lovers in an impossibly romantic trap, and it is Audrey Niffenegger's cinematic storytelling that makes the novel's unconventional chronology so vibrantly triumphant.

An enchanting debut and a spellbinding tale of fate and belief in the bonds of love, The Time Traveler's Wife is destined to captivate readers for years to come.

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