The Time Traveler's Wife, Audrey Niffenegger's debut novel, is a love story about a man named Henry, whose genetic disorder causes him to jump back and forth in time, and about his wife Clare, who has to put up with his frequent absences and dangerous excursions. Niffenegger explained that her novel came about partly as a result of a "string of comically unsuccessful relationships":
"Some part of me had given up on the idea that any romance was ever going to work out. And some part of me was just like, 'OK, fine. I'll make one. I'll just write it' […] I had kind of got the idea that there's not going to be some fabulous perfect soulmate out there for me, so I'll just make him up." (source)
But the central idea and title for the story actually originated from an epigraph to J.B. Priestley's 1964 novel Man and Time: "Clock time is our bank manager, tax collector, police inspector; this inner time is our wife" (source).
Published in 2003, the novel garnered several book awards and has become an international bestseller. As of March 2009, 2.5 million copies have been sold in the United States and the United Kingdom (source). It's even been adapted into a movie starring Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana. Critics and fans alike continue to rave about Niffenegger's unique take on time travel, the emotional depth of the characters, and the questions of love, loss, and free will that are raised in the story.
Traveling back in time, however, the stars didn't shine so brightly for Niffenegger. After writing the manuscript for The Time Traveler's Wife, she struggled for a long time to find a literary agent. When the small publisher MacAdam/Cage finally discovered this diamond in the rough in their pile of unsolicited manuscripts, Niffenegger had just signed with another agent who had gotten several publishing houses in New York City interested in the novel. A bidding war broke out over the book (source). Eventually Niffenegger decided against the big bucks for the small publisher with a heart. Yay!
Why should you read The Time Traveler's Wife? Well, if there's a slight chance that one day you might find yourself in a foreign place and time, in your birthday suit, with no food or shelter, then start reading. Also, if you're interested in a "how-to" on picking locks, stealing, breaking and entering, or beating someone up real good, pick up this book. And lastly, if you've ever questioned why you are who you are, and why your life makes no sense, then definitely read The Time Traveler's Wife. Not that the book will give you any answers. In fact, the way the narration jumps back and forth in time, location, and emotion, you'll most likely end up dazed and confused.
But that's the very point of the story, according to author Audrey Niffenegger. She says that she wrote the story to show the sheer "randomness and meaninglessness" of life (source). So listen up, guys and gals: life's a slippery companion. Before you know it it's gone, which is why Niffenegger and her novel encourage you to live in the here and now. Carpe diem!
That's exactly what Henry, the time-traveling hero of this novel, is trying to do, because he never knows when and where time will spit him out next. Seize the day! Such is the mantra of today's psychologists, life coaches, and yogis, among others. That's where life's happiness is. Not the past or the future. That seems like an easy enough request, since we can't time travel, as Henry can. We are all stuck in the now for good, aren't we? Well, physically, yes, but how often do we spend hours and days worrying about past events or looking forward to future events? How often do we escape our present, cruising through life on autopilot, waiting for better days, or missing the ones that have passed? So even though time traveling may seem like fantasy, Niffenegger makes it clear that it's an experience we can all relate to.