The Time Traveler’s Wife: Book Review

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With the recent news about this book being made into a movie, I’m reposting my review of it.


The Time Traveler’s Wife
This is an easy decision, and not only because I read about five pieces of fiction this year and most of them were pulp. Well, OK, that is a factor. But this book is good enough for me to blog about it and you know I only blog about important things that you need to know about.

The book is The Time Traveler’s Wife and it is by Audrey Niffenegger. Have you heard of it?

Apparently they are making this into a movie, which I suppose is a good thing. But it is the detail and complexity that makes this an exceptional story, and this will not come through in the movie. So the movie will just be the romance, without all the angst, the wonder, without all the fear, and the flashy appearances and disappearances of some naked hottie male actor without all the … whaver.

OK, back to the novel. Henry DeTamble is born in 1963, and meets his eventual wife (the time traveler’s wife), Clare Abshire, when he is 28 years old, in 1991. She is a few years younger. They get married and are very much in love until one of them eventually dies.

Sound kind of boring, I know, but wait, there’s more.

He is of a modest background with two artist parents, and she is of a very wealthy background with a father who is a lawyer or something and a totally neurotic mother. Her family lives in Michigan, in a nice big house in a rural area.

I know, Iknow, still doesn’t sound very interesting. The interesting part is this:

Henry has an unusual disorder that causes him to occasionally travel in time. It is hard for him to predict when it will happen … he cannot stop it or conjure it, though he learns that certain things make it less or more likely to happen. He feels a bit sick, dizzy, hen suddenly he is somewhere else …. and, somwhen else. With nothing. No clothing, no possessions, only his wits.

Fortunately for Henry, many of these sorties into the twilight zone bring him to a quiet meadow in the woods just out of sight of the palatial Michigan home of this cute, smart, and very cool little girl named Clare. This is a meadow in which Clare likes to play alone. The first time the strange 30 or 40 something year old naked man appears out of nowhere in the meadow, she is young enough to not be totally put off. This allows a bit of a relationship to develop. Eventually, they fall in love (well, she falls in love with him, he is already married to her).

Because he travels around in time enough, and is a smart guy, he has figured out most (but not all) of the times he will arrive in the meadow. So Clare has a list of dates and times, and makes sure there is a stash of clothing, food, and drink for her mysterious crush-to-become-lover. The clothing is especially important in the dead of winter.

That’s all very interesting, but it gets much more interesting than this. The story is further complicated by the fact that many, perhaps most, of Henry’s forays in time are more unexpected and not prepared for in any way. Henry becomes well known to the Chicago police (he lives in, and often time travels to, Chicago) as a strange guy who likes to walk around in alleys with no clothing on. His co-workers in a Chicago atheneum known as The Newberry Library think of him as a strange guy who occasionally disappears (like for a long lunch or something?) but often leaves a pile of clothing behind. Henry learns to steal clothing form clothes lines, pick pockets, defend himself from attackers, break into any sort of locked building. He gets pretty good at this, and actually ends up teaching his young self (whom he occasionally visits) how to do these things.

So, you can see, the story can get quite complicated.

You know, not too far into the book if you are paying attention, that this is not going to end well. You wonder, what happens if these two have a child? You worry about the interactions among friends, coworkers, and especially relatives. There is a moment when you see what looks like something very bad happening to Henry in the future, but you can’t be sure what it is. But you never have a sense that Clare and Henry are not going to stay married. That never seems in doubt. ‘Till death do they part. Like the song goes: “To all things there is a season, time time time …” But since Henry is a time traveler, you can imagine that nothing is so certain or simple as even death.

The story explores all the usual questions about time travel, but only briefly. There seems to be a sense of fate … you can’t change the present by messing with the past … yet you can change what people know about the present (or future) a little. So the DeTamble family gets to skim a little off the stock market, but they don’t alter world history. There is no butterfly effect in this book, only a vague sense that there is not much you can do to change the future, but you can make minor adjustments that will not have a large effect no matter what you do.

The suspension of disbelief is easy given the very high quality of the writing. I thought the ending was overcomplicated in the story telling considering how utterly simple the actual events are (compared to the rest of the book) but I sensed the writer wanted to tie up some threads.

To the person who gave me this book as a gift: Thanks. I love you too.

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32 thoughts on “The Time Traveler’s Wife: Book Review

  1. One of my all-time favorite novels. I’m sad I didn’t pick up the copy I recently saw in Goodwill. I want to re-read it now!

  2. Not more than two hours ago I had the chance to pick this book up at a library sale for just a few dollars, and for some reason I passed it up! I’d be kicking myself, but I did get two Dawkins and two Darwins for less than ten, so it was still a good day.

  3. Greg: are you suggesting that the editions don’t evolve over time?

    Another one added to my reading list. I’m actually thinking of digging into God Delusion again (which I have on audiobook, but never got past CD 2), as a sort of easing-back-in into reading. Though I really want to go for His Dark Materials right now, I feel like I should finish what I’ve already started.

  4. I don’t know; they might make a pretty good movie out of it. I’m thinking Momento, Jacob’s Ladder, or 12 Monkeys were all pretty messy, but worked.

    I LOVED this book for all of the same reasons you discussed here. It grabs you, and doesn’t let go.

    BTW, the audiobook is great, too, if anyone would rather do that.

  5. I read this a few summers ago and loved it. I hadn’t heard they were making a movie, but that’s nifty. Though you’re right, the movie will miss all of the good bits.

  6. Really enjoyed the book. Read it on paper a few years ago and then again on CD from the library. Had no idea a movie was in the works….cool.

  7. Warning*** I don’t want to ruin the ending but I need someone to help me understand something***** So please Don’t read my post if you have not read or finished the Book!!!****

    Ok here goes…

    Ok here is what I am having trouble understanding..When Henry dies in the Meadow…Clare is only 13 and Henry is 43..So he has obviously time travelled. But from what I can understand the Henry that gets shot by her brother is not the same Henry that she sees standing there when she comes out of the house and who is standing there looking at the bloody patch on the ground with the brother and dad..correct?..but if the Henry that is standing there is the one who has travelled (because he is also 43) then the other Henry who has been shot must be the one in Real time, but that can’t be right because that henry would only be 21. And he doesn’t know about clare.. aand Henry doesn’t die until he is 43 anyway so that can’t be right..or does one old Henry time travel to watch the other old Henry get shot..or is the one standing there with her dad and brother the same one who has been shot..AHHH I’m so confused!!! or do I have it all wrong? I’m hoping you can help me lol but I’m also I worried I’m not making any sense

    So I’m sorry if I’m risking giving too much away but I can’t sleep trying to work it out can someone please help me? please email any explination to so as not to put anymore information on this blog


    Yes, that was confusing. I think he was hit by a truck and at that moment time traveled to the meadow, where the brother saw this guy who was just hit by a truck but then he disappeared and even though the brother’s gun went off, he never actually shot Henry. But you are led to believe throughout the book that the brother or father shoots him (because of those early meadow scenes).

    But I could have that totally wrong.

  9. ***Continued Spoiler Alert***

    Henry travels to that spot twice as a 43-year-old. The first time is when he says, “I know how it’s going to end now,” which is when Clare sees him standing near her father and brother. The second time is when he gets shot as he falls into the grass and makes noise.

  10. OK, according to wikipedia,

    On New Year’s Eve 2006 Henry time travels into the middle of the Michigan woods in 1984 and is accidentally shot by Clare’s brother, a scene foreshadowed earlier in the novel. Henry returns to the present and dies in Clare’s arms.

    OK, so maybe there is no truck. One thing I do remember is thinking a lot about how I would have written the ending of this book. Maybe I had a truck in there.

  11. ** Spoiler Alert continues****

    Did I miss this truck??…UI’m still open to this theory I just can’t remember the truck.

    Thanks Stephanie, I’m pretty sure I understand what you mean. the first time he just travels to the day that it has happened. The second time is when he actually get’s shot.

    i really apreciate the help and if there are anymore theories or explinations please keep them coming..this is why I need to belong to a book club!

  12. I thought a lot about how I would have written the last half. The answer was largely “shorter.” There were suddenly a lot more pages devoted to a lot fewer occurrences without adding much of the close observation that is the book’s strong suit.

  13. stephanie’s right. henry traveled there twice. the first time he traveled at the meadow was when he said “i know how it’s going to end now”. the one who got shot is the one from december 31, 2006. we must remember that he has NO FEET by then, meaning he couldn’t run or defend himself or anything..

  14. Here’s the Meadow Incident as I understand it:

    Before he loses his feet (but still at age 43 – just before the garage incident), Henry appears in the Meadow and sees himself get shot by Clare’s dad and brother. The Henry who gets shot is the one who dies, who is in New Year’s Eve 2006, and he doesn’t have any feet, so he could not run away. Henry who gets shot calls out Clare’s name, which is why Clare (I think at age 13) runs out of her house and to the Meadow towards the beginning of the book. Henry who still has his feet is standing there watching – and motions to young Clare to be quiet. Clare then knows something terrible has happened, and says so, but she couldn’t possibly know what had happened. But that’s why Clare’s dad and brother are SO freaked out when they meet him.

    There is so much foreshadowing. On Clare and Henry’s first date, Clare spots a book called “Frostbite and other Clod Related Injuries” on Henry’s bookshelf. When they are first dating, he says to her “If anything happens to my feet, you might as well shoot me”. It’s an utterly devastating series of events that, upon subsequent readings of the book, are strongly alluded to and almost flat out explained.

    Sorry to ramble, but this is my favorite book and I’ve clearly thought way too hard about it!

  15. I just finished this book a few hours ago and cannot get it out of my head. I LOVED it! I am curious about the movie though.

  16. Thanks for clearing up the bit about Henry getting shot as it relates to the ending. I just finished the book and that’s been haunting me. QUESTION ABOUT THE VERY END: When Henry appears to an 82/83 year old Clare…how can he appear to her if he’s dead???? And did she know he would appear so many years later? Didn’t she make reference to him coming back in August? One more thing…is Clare then to die at her 82/83 year and Henry is there for that? Thanks for any help anyone can provide.

  17. how can he appear to her if he’s dead????

    He can’t appear to her if he’s dead. He can only appear to him if he is alive and travels into the future beyond the time that he is dead. I believe in another scene he visits his future daughter who mentions to him that he’s dead, so he did it at least twice.

    I don’t know about your other questions, having read the book too long ago to remember.

  18. *SPOILER*

    I was also confused about the final death/hunting scene, but thanks to everyone for clearing that up. Another question for anyone who thinks they know the answer: did Clare’s father and brother actually see either A) the Henry who was shot, or B) the Henry who traveled to the meadow in time to see his future self getting shot?

    Another scene that confused me was the one where both Henry’s are 15, where the future Henry is visiting himself from next March. It’s the scene where the two are in the room and one Henry accidentally unlocks the door and the other Henry jumps up to stop his dad from coming in. The author mentions something along the lines of before they hit puberty and knew things about girls. Are both Henrys actually having sex with one another? Or are they merely masturbating together? I was taken by surprise when I read this scene because it practically came out of nowhere and th e author wasn’t very clear about it at all. Does anyone have an explanation on what actually happened?

  19. Rosie, I think Clare’s father & brother saw a rustling in the bushes, & thought it was an animal so they shot at it, but really it was Henry who was in the process of death. Then, I think the other Henry, the one time traveling back to see his death, exposed himself because he was unsure of what was going on & it was then that they saw him. Yes, I think they did see him, but they were probably very confused about the whole situation as well, & their greatest concern at the time was how much Clare had happened to see. I think they were waiting for her to leave before questioning this stranger, but when they turned around after she had gone back inside, he was gone!

    As for that second question, I think they were “helping each other out”. Both of them, surely, had already used their own hands, but I think they were curious to see how mouths felt, as they couldn’t really do it on their own.

  20. Ladies, I’ve read all the answers according to Henry’s death and anyway? I have som edifficulties in understanding that. When he was shot Clair was 13? how could that be? He would have died and they would meet in the future. Can someone explain that to me?

  21. 1) a Truck?! What??? Where on earth did a truck come from?? And why have none of you top fans brought that up??
    2) He travels in time. That answers all of your questions. Think about it. (Apart from the business about him having sex with himself. that’s interesting)

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