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The Time Traveler's Wife


The Time Traveler's Wife Cover






Oh not because happiness exists,

that too-hasty profit snatched from approaching loss.

But because truly being here is so much; because everything here

apparently needs us, this fleeting world, which in some strange way

keeps calling to us. Us, the most fleeting of all.

...Ah, but what can we take along

into that other realm? Not the art of looking,

which is learned so slowly, and nothing that happened here. Nothing.

The sufferings, then. And, above all, the heaviness,

and the long experience of love,-just what is wholly


- from The Ninth Duino Elegy,


translated by STEPHEN MITCHELL


Saturday, October 26, 1991 (Henry is 28, Clare is 20)

CLARE: The library is cool and smells like carpet cleaner, although all I can see is marble. I sign the Visitors' Log: Clare Abshire, 11:15 10-26-91 Special Collections. I have never been in the Newberry Library before, and now that I've gotten past the dark, foreboding entrance I am excited. I have a sort of Christmas-morning sense of the library as a big box full of beautiful books. The elevator is dimly lit, almost silent. I stop on the third floor and fill out an application for a Reader's Card, then I go upstairs to Special Collections. My boot heels rap the wooden floor. The room is quiet and crowded, full of solid, heavy tables piled with books and surrounded by readers. Chicago autumn morning light shines through the tall windows. I approach the desk and collect a stack of call slips. I'm writing a paper for an art history class. My research topic is the Kelmscott Press Chaucer. I look up the book itself and fill out a call slip for it. But I also want to read about papermaking at Kelmscott. The catalog is confusing. I go back to the desk to ask for help. As I explain to the woman what I am trying to find, she glances over my shoulder at someone passing behind me. "Perhaps Mr. DeTamble can help you," she says. I turn, prepared to start explaining again, and find myself face to face with Henry.

I am speechless. Here is Henry, calm, clothed, younger than I have ever seen him. Henry is working at the Newberry Library, standing in front of me, in the present. Here and now. I am jubilant. Henry is looking at me patiently, uncertain but polite.

"Is there something I can help you with?" he asks.

"Henry!" I can barely refrain from throwing my arms around him. It is obvious that he has never seen me before in his life.

"Have we met? I'm sorry, I don't...." Henry is glancing around us, worrying that readers, co-workers are noticing us, searching his memory and realizing that some future self of his has met this radiantly happy girl standing in front of him. The last time I saw him he was sucking my toes in the Meadow.

I try to explain. "I'm Clare Abshire. I knew you when I was a little girl..." I'm at a loss because I am in love with a man who is standing before me with no memories of me at all. Everything is in the future for him. I want to laugh at the weirdness of the whole thing. I'm flooded with years of knowledge of Henry, while he's looking at me perplexed and fearful. Henry wearing my dad's old fishing trousers, patiently quizzing me on multiplication tables, French verbs, all the state capitals; Henry laughing at some peculiar lunch my seven-year-old self has brought to the Meadow; Henry wearing a tuxedo, undoing the studs of his shirt with shaking hands on my eighteenth birthday. Here! Now! "Come and have coffee with me, or dinner or something...." Surely he has to say yes, this Henry who loves me in the past and the future must love me now in some bat-squeak echo of other time. To my immense relief he does say yes. We plan to meet tonight at a nearby Thai restaurant, all the while under the amazed gaze of the woman behind the desk, and I leave, forgetting about Kelmscott and Chaucer and floating down the marble stairs, through the lobby and out into the October Chicago sun, running across the park scattering small dogs and squirrels, whooping and rejoicing.

HENRY: It's a routine day in October, sunny and crisp. I'm at work in a small windowless humidity-controlled room on the fourth floor of the Newberry, cataloging a collection of marbled papers that has recently been donated. The papers are beautiful, but cataloging is dull, and I am feeling bored and sorry for myself. In fact, I am feeling old, in the way only a twenty-eight-year-old can after staying up half the night drinking overpriced vodka and trying, without success, to win himself back into the good graces of Ingrid Carmichel. We spent the entire evening fighting, and now I can't even remember what we were fighting about. My head is throbbing. I need coffee. Leaving the marbled papers in a state of controlled chaos, I walk through the office and past the page's desk in the Reading Room. I am halted by Isabelle's voice saying, "Perhaps Mr. DeTamble can help you," by which she means "Henry, you weasel, where are you slinking off to?" And this astoundingly beautiful amber-haired tall slim girl turns around and looks at me as though I am her personal Jesus. My stomach lurches. Obviously she knows me, and I don't know her. Lord only knows what I have said, done, or promised to this luminous creature, so I am forced to say in my best librarianese, "Is there something I can help you with?" The girl sort of breathes "Henry!" in this very evocative way that convinces me that at some point in time we have a really amazing thing together. This makes it worse that I don't know anything about her, not even her name. I say "Have we met?" and Isabelle gives me a look that says You asshole. But the girl says, "I'm Clare Abshire. I knew you when I was a little girl," and invites me out to dinner. I accept, stunned. She is glowing at me, although I am unshaven and hung over and just not at my best. We are going to meet for dinner this very evening, at the Beau Thai, and Clare, having secured me for later, wafts out of the Reading Room. As I stand in the elevator, dazed, I realize that a massive winning lottery ticket chunk of my future has somehow found me here in the present, and I start to laugh. I cross the lobby, and as I run down the stairs to the street I see Clare running across Washington Square, jumping and whooping, and I am near tears and I don't know why.

Later that evening:

HENRY: At 6:00 p.m. I race home from work and attempt to make myself attractive. Home these days is a tiny but insanely expensive studio apartment on North Dearborn; I am constantly banging parts of myself on inconvenient walls, countertops and furniture. Step One: unlock seventeen locks on apartment door, fling myself into the living room-which-is-also-my-bedroom and begin stripping off clothing. Step Two: shower and shave. Step Three: stare hopelessly into the depths of my closet, gradually becoming aware that nothing is exactly clean. I discover one white shirt still in its dry cleaning bag. I decide to wear the black suit, wing tips, and pale blue tie. Step Four: don all of this and realize I look like an FBI agent. Step Five: look around and realize that the apartment is a mess. I resolve to avoid bringing Clare to my apartment tonight even if such a thing is possible. Step Six: look in full-length bathroom mirror and behold angular, wild-eyed 6' 1" ten-year-old Egon Schiele look-alike in clean shirt and funeral director suit. I wonder what sorts of outfits this woman has seen me wearing, since I am obviously not arriving from my future into her past wearing clothes of my own. She said she was a little girl? A plethora of unanswerables runs through my head. I stop and breathe for a minute. Okay. I grab my wallet and my keys, and away I go: lock the thirty-seven locks, descend in the cranky little elevator, buy roses for Clare in the shop in the lobby, walk two blocks to the restaurant in record time but still five minutes late. Clare is already seated in a booth and she looks relieved when she sees me. She waves at me like she's in a parade.

"Hello," I say. Clare is wearing a wine-colored velvet dress and pearls. She looks like a Botticelli by way of John Graham: huge gray eyes, long nose, tiny delicate mouth like a geisha. She has long red hair that covers her shoulders and falls to the middle of her back. Clare is so pale she looks like a waxwork in the candlelight. I thrust the roses at her. "For you."

"Thank you," says Clare, absurdly pleased. She looks at me and realizes that I am confused by her response. "You've never given me flowers before."

I slide into the booth opposite her. I'm fascinated. This woman knows me; this isn't some passing acquaintance of my future hegiras. The waitress appears and hands us menus.

"Tell me," I demand.


"Everything. I mean, do you understand why I don't know you? I'm terribly sorry about that-"

"Oh, no, you shouldn't be. I mean, I know...why that is." Clare lowers her voice. "It's because for you none of it has happened yet, but for me, well, I've known you for a long time."

Copyright © 2003 by Audrey Niffenegger

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

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
$7.95 In Stock
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 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 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 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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