Tag Archives: Discussion Questions

Book Club Reflection: The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

6 Oct

I read this book back in March 2010 and I’ll always remember that because I had to carry it under my arm and under my coat and onto a Ryanair flight, hoping the stewardesses wouldn’t realize it didn’t fit in my suitcase and I was over the size limit. Luckily, they didn’t realize and I was able to enjoy this book on the airplane to Berlin. When it came up as a book club selection this past month, I didn’t think I needed to re-read it, but I might have been better off if I had. I didn’t remember a lot of the details and reading the book didn’t trigger everything. Luckily, I have the rest of my book club to help me remember.

We had a lot of diverse initial reactions. My favorite was that the story was a metaphor for how married couples are often in two very different places at once. It wasn’t a very traditional romance because the characters fell in love at different times. Clare fell in love slowly over the years of her youth, knowing she already loved Henry and Henry fell in love quickly with a girl who already loved him and had for years. Throughout it all, there was a dark edge to the book, something the movie lacked. The book was also choppy, written in short chapters that were reminiscent of how Henry lived; here one minute and somewhere else the next second. The movie didn’t have this, either. One thing we loved and that the movie (thankfully) kept, was the setting. We are Midwesterners ourselves and loved that the story took place in Chicago and western Michigan instead of New York City. It’s almost annoying how many books take place in NYC.

There are a lot of different ways that an author can tackle time travel. It can be as a result of scientific discovery or accidental discovery, but genetics isn’t common. We liked that Niffenegger used genetics to make Henry travel and we liked that it was something he couldn’t control. It made him sympathetic. Once we got to know him and could feel for him, the book accelerated quickly. The beginning set up a story that we loved and devoured and as we fell in love more and more, Henry knew he was getting closer and closer to the end.

We found some great parallels between the relationships Henry and Clare had with their mothers. Henry’s mother died young and triggered his time travel for only the second time. But the relationship the two had was full of love and kindness. He had to relive her death painfully hundreds of times. He was distant from his father as a result of this. Clare, on the other hand, lost her mother to ovarian cancer. She wasn’t as close with her mother and this could be said to be a result of the family’s affluence. There were places to hide away from parents. After her mother’s death, Clare was closer with her father. Fond memories for Henry, distant ones for Clare. A worse relationship afterwards for Henry, a better one for Clare. At least it’s happy for one of them in each situation.

Clare never had the chance to fall in love with anyone else. Before she found Henry in real-time, she tried dating. There was a football player that hurt her and when Henry was able, he hurt the guy. While it’s unfortunate that this one attempt ended so badly, we doubted she was ever really committed to dating anyone else. She was trying to appease her friends and family, who seemed to be upset she never dated.

Even after Henry died, she never had a chance to fall in love again. She was left with a note that Henry would return, even if it was to be fifty years later. She couldn’t re-marry and have her ex-husband keep popping up. She was stuck waiting for him after his death as she was while he lived. She could never be rid of him. Over their time together, she’d adjusted to him leaving her and with Alba, she could live with it.

I don’t think it’s possible not t love Alba, especially to not love how innovative Clare was to conceive her. She was brave to keep trying to have a child after so many miscarriages but Alba seems to be a lot like Henry. She started traveling when she was five or six, around the age Henry started, and she was smart like him and able to deal with time being flexible. Even after 500 pages, it’s hard to get your head around that.

Watching the movie was a poor preparation indeed because there were so many changes. Gomez was a much smaller character in the movie than he was in the book. His relationship with Clare was a much smaller role than in the book and one member commented that his character was even described physically different. One thing I remembered that was gone was Henry and Clare’s first time having sex on her 18th birthday. To me, it seemed odd that she was so sure and confident with Henry when they met in real-time if hat hadn’t happened before.

The biggest changes had to do with the end, when Henry lost his feet in the book. There were a lot more troubles that Henry faced when traveling that the book didn’t cover. It wasn’t always as easy as it looked in the movie and Henry had to be really resourceful. One of his real fears was the cage in the library. He was afraid of what he couldn’t control and he didn’t want to be trapped anywhere. There are a few of the dark edges that the movie didn’t have that we loved in the book.

We read somewhere that Niffenegger was inspired to write the book based on her grandparents relationship. I’m assuming that her grandfather couldn’t time travel. He did travel a lot for work and he died young, yet her grandmother was devoted to him. Tough I doubt he could pop back into the picture at the drop of a hat.

Clare’s paper art comes from the writer herself, who loves paper and art. Clare’s art seemed to reflect Henry and in the end, she was creating birds and wings when he could no longer walk and it seemed like flying would be the only thing that could save him when he traveled. There were angles. And if their wings couldn’t carry Henry to safety, they could only carry him to death.

One of the only complaints we had about this book was that our e-reader members couldn’t find it in ebook. Niffenegger hasn’t released it on ebook because of her love of paper.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!