Jan 4, 2009

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

“But now, my love, we are here, we are now, and those other times are running elsewhere.”
From Possession by A.S. Byatt

Henry DeTamble suffers from a genetic disorder that causes him to randomly jump from the present to the past or the future. Clare Abshire first meets him when she is 6 years old. And that time, he’s a 36-year-old librarian, who in his present is married to Clare, an artist. The first time he met her, however, was when he was 28 and she was 20. Clare had all these memories of time spend with Henry during her childhood and teenage years, yet for Henry none of that had happened yet. And yes, I know that if you haven't read it this probably sounds weird, but it really, really works. The novel chronicles their whole relationship – their friendship while Clare is growing up, the time they spend dating, and finally their marriage. The fact that Henry can’t control when he time travels makes things complicated. Even though he’s often going back to the past to spend time with Clare as a child, present-day Clare is left without him, without knowing if he's safe or when he'll come back.

You know how sometimes you hear nothing but wonders about a book, and even though you don’t want it to happen your expectations are build up to an insanely high level no real book could possible live up to? I confess that I was secretly afraid this was going to be one of those books.

It so wasn’t. I loved it. It was beautiful and raw and gut-wrenching and incredibly tender, and even though I finished it three days ago I still can’t stop thinking about it. I actually think I dreamed about it last night, and it’s not very often that this happens.

I’m not sure if I can pick a favourite thing about this novel, but if I had to, maybe it would be the way it portrays intimacy. You see a lot of love stories about connecting – about love when it’s shiny and new, about people meeting and sharing secrets for the first time and overcoming obstacles until they can be together and whatnot. Maybe I have been reading the wrong books, but I don’t see as many stories about love after the first 18 months or so, once the novelty is gone and familiarity has replaced discovery (though probably never completely, but that’s a subject for another time).

The Time Traveler’s Wife has it all, though. The first stages (twice, actually, as they aren’t the same for Henry and Clare), the long years, the rough patches, the fights and the reconciliation, the absolute familiarity of two people who have known each other very well for a very long time. I think I prefer stories about intimacy than about that initial connection, and that’s one of the reasons why Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is probably my absolute favourite love story. But back to The Time Traveler’s Wife.

There’s also time, and longing, and absence and waiting. Without wanting to get all personal, the last two are things I know my share about, and the way they are described in this book is so perfect. And also the urgency, the overwhelming desire to stop time, the desperate attempt to enjoy every second of the time you still have. I love the fact that she included a passage from Possession at the start of section II. It’s from what is probably my favourite part of the novel – the week Ash and Christabel spend together – and I actually hadn’t thought about it in a very long time. Just remembering it made me want to cry, which set the tone for the rest of the novel perfectly.

Another thing I loved was the fact that Audrey Niffenegger doesn’t disregard the implications of the whole time-travelling and being unable to change what happens thing. Yet she doesn’t beat us over the head with them either. They are there – questions about, well, time obviously, and also determinism and free-will and all that. They are addressed, but they are left open. Which I think makes sense, because who has the answers? They are left for us to muse over, but they don’t become the core of the book. Not that it would necessarily be a bad thing if they had, but it would take some careful handling, and more importantly, then this wouldn’t be the same story. Also, I quite liked the idea of time travel as a genetic disorder.

What else? The writing itself, the music references, the structure (which, if described to me in detail, I would have been tempted to declare impossible to execute well, and oh how wrong I would have been), the two points of view. The fact that we get both Clare and Henry’s voices works very well, and I think it really adds to that sense of intimacy I was talking about.

The last 30-40 pages made me cry like a baby. I had a headache for hours afterwards. What happens is incredibly sad, but there’s also so much tenderness. Especially in the very last scene. Also, I could go on and on about the characters, but Chris has it covered, so go read what he wrote instead.

This time I limited myself to one favourite passage, because otherwise I'd get carried away and end up posting ten. Here:
We walk down the street, holding hands. There's a playground at the end of the block and I run to the swings and climb on, and Henry takes the one next to me, facing the opposite direction, and we swing higher and higher, passing each other, sometimes in synch and sometimes streaming past each other so fast it seems like we're going to collide, and we laugh, and laugh, and nothing can ever be sad, no one can be lost, or dead, or far away: right now we are here, and nothing can mar our perfection, or steal the join of this perfect moment.
Reviewed at:
Stuff as Dreams are Made On
Book Nut
Working Title
somewhere i have never travelled
Just One More Chapter
books i done read
Dog Ear Diary
Bottle of Shine
Everyday Reads
Stainless Steel Droppings
A Girl Walks Into a Bookstore
The Written World
Sophisticated Dorkiness
The Forest Beyond
Book Chic City

(Let me know if I missed yours.)


  1. This is probably one of the books that suprised me the most. I would never have picked it up. The cover screamed chick lit and it was a richard and judy book, which i (perhaps wrongly) avoid like the plague. But a fellow bookseller insisted I read it and man am I glad I did!

    Niffenegger is one of those authors whose writing seems effortless. Even though her premise is so far fetched (I mean who comes up with an idea like this?!), it never occurred to me not to believe it. I took Henry and Clare's plight very seriously. I fell for this book, hard. And I too wept like a baby at the end. Since then I have been "encouraging" all my friends (and mother and sister!) to read it and have not heard a bad word yet.

    Great review, I'm glad you loved it.

  2. A friend of mine recommended this book to me a few years ago. I stayed up all night finishing it, then cried like a baby at the end. It is one of the most moving love stories I've ever read, and I remember it like I read it last week! It's rare that a book sticks with me that well. Your review makes me want to read it all over again. :)

    There's a movie version coming out this year. Rachel McAdams is a perfect choice for Claire, but I don't really see Eric Bana as Henry. I was thinking someone more like Peter Sarsgaard.

  3. Once again, you've made me want to reread this right. Now. Sigh. Such a beautiful book.

  4. Fantastic review. I really want to read that book now.

  5. I'm so glad you liked it! I loved it too.. I thought it was brilliant and so well-done and such an intimate portrait of love and struggles. I was completely surprised by how wonderful it was. I agree with Mariel -- the cover was kind of offputting. But I'm so glad I read it. Wonderful review, as always.

  6. Gawd yes, I sobbed through the end, too. I'm not sure if I can bear to watch the movie, when it comes out.

  7. Lovely review. I hesitate to read this book because, like you said, when you hear so many wonderful things, you worry that it won't meet expectations. I felt that way about The Glass Castle but ended up becoming absorbed it, so perhaps this book will also be a pleasant surprise.

  8. Wow, what a cool faeried, whimsied sparkly blog. I like it here very much.

  9. I read this book pre-blogging days... The best way to say how much I liked this book is that I read it during my Medieval Literature class in university... I only had like 50 or so pages left, so I had my medieval book open and I kept looking at the professor, but I was totally reading! Thank god I am not an easy crier, huh? I mean, Arthur had a rough life, but I doubt anyone has ever cried in that class before... so, it would have looked a little weird. lol I really should reread this book....

  10. I hope to read this book soon. It's on my tbr list for 2009. And it's made all the more wonderful by your pairing it up with a quote from Possession, which happens to the the line that follows my favorite line in the book. :D

  11. I love that Possession quote, and I feel the same way as you about this one. :) I've reread it quite a bit, since it was one of three books I brought to Russia!

  12. I'm so glad that you liked this book so much, Nymeth! I read it a few months after it came out, pre-blogging, and it's absolutely one of my favorite books. I LOVE when people love it like you did. Fantastic review!

  13. I read this one before I began blogging and enjoyed it. It did not become one of my favorites books, however, as it did for so many others. Have to admit to a tear or two, though!

  14. I loved reading your review and reliving this book. It's one of my favorites for 2007. And yes, I cried. I hope the movie is as good.

  15. Wow, this sounds like a powerful read, Nymeth! I've heard a lot of good reviews about this book so I'm going to add it to my wishlist. Thanks for the great review, as usual! :)

  16. I have been having the weirdest relationship with this book the last two years. I buy it, say I'm going to read it, never do, give it away, only to buy it again . . . you know the rest. I'm reading this! I'm going to try and read it this month. Thanks for the great review!

  17. Excellent review! WAY better than my review of it, which is very short. I LOVED it. And I cried and cried.


  18. I listened to this book, and man alive, was I glad I was in the car alone for the last hour and half or so. I was on small roads in the middle of nowhere, or else I would have been a menace to other drivers, given how hard I was bawling.

  19. I have heard of this book before, it sounds great. Wonderful review.
    I'm glad it lived up to your expectations. I'm adding this to my wish list.

  20. Sigh. This is one of those books that have been languishing on my TBR pile for too long. I must make an effort to read it soon!

  21. This book is probably #1 on my re-read list for all the reasons you listed so beautifully here. Great review, Nymeth!

  22. Nymeth, now you made me want to reconsider my decision for the choice of 20 must-read books for my personal challenge. I had wanted to include this one but substituted it with something else. Looks like the other way to do it would be to make it "25 books I want to read" and include this one plus four others into the list!

    Thanks for the wonderful review.

    P/S: I was also crying like a baby toward the end of the book (last 30-40 pages) I read in one sitting yesterday: Angel Unaware. It's a fun book to read but one that pulls heartstring as well.

  23. What a fantastic review Nymeth!! I'm smiling from ear to ear over here that you loved it so much. It's just an incredible book. I know exactly what you mean about it not leaving you. I think this book stayed in the very front of my mind for a month after I read it. It's one of those books that rarely comes along that makes you look at things differently, makes you think "she gets it", and one that just stays with you. It's always such an amazing experience when that happens. I remember one of my favorite scenes in the book so vividly...I loved it when she sculpted the wings for Henry. That part of the book brought tears to my eyes as did the ending. Gah, I want to read this again right now! I can't wait for her next book to come out, though she's really taking her time with it. That's ok with me though! I'll wait patiently and get it the day it's released!

  24. This has been one of my recent favorites. I was like you and had some crazy dreams while reading this book, even some where I was time traveling myself. I would wake up in a sweat to find that I was running while in bed. I also caution my friends when I read this book. "Caution: May cause vivid dreams." hehe

    I'm glad to you liked this book. It's one of those that when you enjoy it, you just get excited when someone else loved it as well.

  25. So thrilled that you loved it despite your expectations being pumped up so high. That certainly is a danger with even the best books and movies. Wonderful review of an incredible book. I did a lot of crying reading this one. I chronicled my experience with it, over three years ago now...wow! here:


  26. I'm so glad you enjoyed this one. I read it...2005? 06? Something like that. I'd heard so much about it and finally grabbed a copy from the library. I ended up sobbing several times throughout the book, just putting the book down and hardcore sobbing. It just yanked at the heartstrings over and over again. I can't wait til AN comes out with something else, and to see how her new works compare with this.

  27. This was one of those rare books that made me cry at the end. I looked at it for a couple of years before diving in and once I got past the first 50 pages or so was totally hooked.

  28. I picked this up at the library almost a month ago. I so need to read it.

  29. I read this book a number of years ago now and totally loved it! I too was sobbing, no, let's call it what it was - ugly, sobbing, hiccuping crying - all the way through the end!

    I want to see the movie if only so I can see how they bring the transitions, and the different time periods to life. I am a bit scared about whether they will get the spirit of the book on film or not.

  30. I loved this book too and thought it was really sad. I thought it was a little slow in the middle, but overall I liked it. Nice review.

  31. This might have to be a re-read for me - it's been so long ago. I think this book cover actually is excellent, too.

  32. Beautiful review Nymeth. I read this pre-blogging days for my bookclub and absolutely loved it. It is a beautiful book and despite reading it years ago, it's still fresh in my memory. It's one of those books that you keep forever and re-read. I'll have to make time for it one day soon. I'm glad you liked it so much and I love the quote you shared with us.

  33. Oh I'm so glad you loved it Nymeth! This is one of my favorite books of all time, a love-story so real that I still think about it even though I read it years ago. I think it might be time for a re-read. I also bawled my eyes out at the end, I couldn't see what I was reading but I had to try anyway, you know? I think what I loved about the book is the meant-to-be factor, which wasn't overpowering, but just comfortably there.

  34. I think you may have just broken me down! This book has always scared me silly. Seriously, I know how loved it is by so many, but I've been petrified that I would just be lost with the time travel stuff. That I would wouldn't get it. When I read your first paragraph, I was feeling confident that I was right all along. But as I continued to read, I found myself giving in. Your review is just so wonderful that I almost feel like I'd be denying myself something very special by not reading it.

    Anyway, I am so happy that you loved it so much! Sounds like it truly was a wonderful experience.

  35. I remember when I first heard about the book everyone kept mentioning the time travel aspect and I was sure I'd never like something like that but was I in for a surprise. I loved this book and it had me crying by the end too. So glad you loved it too.

  36. Great review, Nymeth. I must admit I had to stop reading the end of the novel as I was on the bus home and didn't want to disgrace myself. And when I did finally get home and finish it I let myself have a good cry. Wonderful book, on my re-read pile.

  37. This comment has been removed by the author.

  38. Great review Nymeth! I read this book a few years ago and absolutely loved it, like everybody else, I want to re-read the thing again now, just 'cos of your review :P

    Did I cry at the end? - thankfully Chris and Carl have admitted this first - so no need to maintain a veneer of manly indifference :) Of course I bloody did! :)

  39. that sounds like a memorable book. i havent read it yet,but I bought it for my mum for xmas and she just told she is not getting into it.She's read the first 45 pages. She will continue reading because she can't bear to leave it,but would you have any advice to give her?was it hard atthe beginning to get involved for you too?

  40. Oh wow. Clearly, clearly I need to read this book! What a glowing review! I've seen this book around a number of places, but I've never been all that inspired to read it... before now. The fact that so many find the ending so sad kind of scares me (I tend to avoid books that are going to make me cry), but your comparison to "Eternal Sunshine" has hooked me. It is, hands down, my favorite romantic movie.

  41. (Let me do this bottom up for a change)

    J.S. Peyton: yay, another Eternal Sunshine fan! This is a different kind of story, but something about it really did remind me of it. If Michel Gordon and Charlie Kaufman were doing the movie I'd be first in line to see it.

    Valentina: I actually got into it quickly, but the story is told in vignettes, and at first, before you get attached to the characters, it might be hard to take an interest in what's happening. I think her patience will be rewarded!

    Bart: Manly indifference sucks anyway :P

    brideofthebookgod: I definitely couldn't have read it in public either. It was bad enough sort of recently with Oscar Wao.

    Iliana: It sounds like a strange concept for a story, but it works so well!

    Debi: The whole time travel thing is really not confusing at all. She structures it well - before each episode she gives us the date and Henry and Clare's ages at the time, so the reader always knows where and when they are. I really think you'd love this book, Debi.

    Joanna: Definitely not overpowering, or less cynical me wouldn't have liked it nearly as much :P I bet I'll be thinking about it fondly for years to come too.

    Dar: That passage brought me all sorts of memories back, because I have a thing for swings and still go into playgrounds when no one's looking :P

    Care: I like this cover too.

    Violetcrush: Some parts were quieter, but I was too attached to the characters to mind. And plus I didn't want it to end!

    Marg: Yep, sobbing pretty much covers it. I confess I'm a bit sceptical about the movie too, but I'm willing to give it a chance.

    Alessandra: You indeed do!

  42. Stephanie: It really did, and yet she managed to never make it melodramatic or anything. The writing itself is pretty restrained...it's just the implications that are killers. I really look forward to her next book too.

    Carl: It's always a danger, yes, but it's so thrilling when a book is everything you expected and more. And thanks for the link! For some reason Google Reader never finds older posts.

    Ashley: lol! A good warning :P And I know the feeling.

    Chris: I'm glad to have made you smile :D The scene with the wings was lovely. And before, when they get the call and go to the car park and come back home safely but say there will be "hell to pay" later and you're filled with this sense of dread...she just builds it up so well. I can't wait for her next one either.

    Alice: I can't imagine you not enjoying this book! So yes, add it to the list.

    Andi: Thank you! I know I'll want to re-read it someday too.

    Jeanette, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

    naida: Like I was telling Alice, I can't imagine you not enjoying it.

    Fyrefly: I can picture it perfectly. I'd have been a menace too.

    Lisa: It really sounds like most of us did!

    Vasilly: I really look forward to reading your thoughts on it.

    Melody: I bet you'll enjoy it a lot!

    Framed: I really hope so too.

    Jenclair: I think I need more time to decide where it will land on my all-time favourites list. But it's the best of the year so far :P

  43. This book surprised me, too. I thought since it was one of those books that everyone else loved, that I might hate it. But I didn't! The characters were the best part. My review's on my blog, here:


  44. Katherine, the characters were indeed great. Thanks for the link!

    Mariel, I remember seeing another UK blogger saying pretty much the same! I know it;s irrational, but it can be annoying to see books we love sort of hijacked like that. I'm glad you've been convincing people to give it a shot!

    Jessi: It really is very moving. I so hope the movie's good!

    Memory: You did that to me with Wicked, so we're even :P

    Bermudaonion, hope you enjoy it!

    Daphne: I was surprised too. And I actually hadn't made the connection between the cover and chick lit!

    softdrink: I hope the movie manages to have a similar emotional impact.

    Charley: Or maybe read some bad reviews first to lower your expectations :P

    Jannie: Thank you :D Welcome and make yourself at home :P

    Kailana: lol, thank god indeed! Arthur's plight is not quite that dramatic, no :P

    Amanda: I was SO excited when she included this bit from Possession in the book!

    Eva: I looove it too. I want to read Possession again now.

    Heatherlo: I can definitely see why the book is love by so many now. And I'm glad to be in agreement :)

  45. You have described so well everything that I love about this book. When you were first talking about expectations, I was so afraid I was going to read that this one didn't live up, but I'm so glad it did. I read this one over 2 years ago and I'm STILL thinking about it. Just thinking about that last scene gave me chills and brought tears to my eyes (I bawled like a baby also!). This would definitely be on my list for when you host that re-read challenge. :D

  46. I absolutely loved this book when I read it a few years ago and sobbed at the end too! I really enjoyed your review and it reminded me of all the things I loved about the book. You're making me want to read it again! I agree with Trish, that re-read challenge idea is sounding pretty good right now. ;)

  47. Hey! So, because of your review, I actually did reread this book and I loved it! I think I started to reread it when Chris reviewed it, too, but never managed to work it in. This time, I read it in a day!

  48. I've had this book on my shelves since it was first published and have yet to get to it. I absolutely love the idea of the book but for whatever reason I never seem to pick it up. I really need to do that soon. As usual -- great review!

  49. Trish: lol, sorry about the scare. The last scene...it stays with you kind of like the last scene of The God of Small Things, doesn't it? And you know, I think you convinced me about the challenge! It would be fun, wouldn't it? Now I just have to think when...maybe starting in the summer?

    tanabata: You'll all regret encouraging me when I actually do it and it becomes one more tempting challenge :P

    Kailana: Like I told you over at your blog, it's great that it was just as good the second time around. And wow, all in one day!

    Lisa, thank you! I really hope you enjoy it.

  50. There is a Rereading Challenge being hosted at Books, books and more books. I'm not sure if Nath is accepting further sign ups or not at this point in time.

  51. Marg, thank you so much for pointing one there's one already! I have no idea.

  52. Glad to hear you liked this one. I've got it on one of my challenge lists, so I will be reading it before June.

    I was also admiring your photo of the new book acquisitions :o)
    I've read one chapter of The Yellow Lighted Book Shop and look forward to getting back to it.

    Happy New Year!

  53. If Nath is not accepting new people on her list, there may well be room for another rereading challenge later in the year.

  54. It's been a while since I read this book - time to reread, I think! Thanks for such a lovely review.

  55. I think I need to read this book again. What I remember most about reading it was that it bothered me the way Henry time-travelled sometimes. It didn't seem consistent. I think I would appreciate it more if I read it again. I also want to see the movie when it comes out soon. Do you?

  56. I also really enjoyed this book.

  57. Amazing review Nymeth! I loved this book so terribly that I just couldn't write a review. So many thoughts were tumbling through my mind after I'd finished it. And boy was it hard to read something else after this. This is going to be a book I will be returning to for years to come, I'm sure.

  58. I must admit that I've avoided this one because of all the hype, but lately it's been getting very good reviews from book bloggers I trust, so it's going on my list.

  59. Great review. This is a book that I bought in hard cover when it came out and it has been sitting unread on my shelf ever since. I just heard so much about it I sort of lost my desire to read it. I will definitely try and read it this year!

  60. I am going to have to re-read this book in the near future. I loved it so much the first time I read it!

  61. Yes, you've made me want to reread this! (as if I have time for that, ha!)

  62. THIS IS ONE OF MY ALL TIME FAVORITE BOOKS! I know I say that a lot, but this time it's out-and-out 100% the truth! I've read it multiple times and, thanks to your lovely review, I'm going to go read it again shortly (although doing such will make me feel bad for all my other TBR books on the pile!)

  63. I loved this one, too. Even though I'm a book wimp and I'd never have read it had I known how much I'd cry when I did. I'm glad I did read it, though! Great review. Now I'm sad all over again. :-p

  64. I loved this book too, and I love your review-it made me cry! I was so impressed with how well Niffenegger made this concept work. It could have been such a mess but it wasn't. I don't have a review to add since I read the book a few years ago, before I started blogging. Even if I did, it probably wouldn't be any better than this!

  65. I just reread your review of TTW. I love it. You summed up all the emotions of the book perfectly. Such a beautiful, heart-wrenching book.

    I finally got around to writing my own review although it is very lacking as it's been a couple years since I read it. It does, however, contain a link to the movie trailer for those who haven't seen the trailer yet.


  66. Great review on a great book. I really can't say enough good things about it, I recommend it to anyone who will listen! The emotions in it are so poignant and I love the sci fi twist.

  67. I LOVED your review of this. The Time Traveler's Wife is my favorite book of all time and I really enjoyed your descriptions. I'm very new to the book blogging world, but I hope to come back and visit your regularly! Take care. Julie


Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.