Study Guide

The Time Traveler's Wife

By Audrey Niffenegger

The Time Traveler's Wife Introduction

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!

What is The Time Traveler's Wife About and Why Should I Care?

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.

The Time Traveler's Wife Resources

Websites

Official Audrey Niffenegger Website
Visit the author's official website to see a gallery of her visual art, her bio, links to other writings, and an FAQ.

Timelines for the Novel
Head to this website to find timelines for the book itself as well as for the main characters, Clare and Henry. These should help out as you navigate all the time jumps.

The Newberry Library
Visit the library where Henry worked. It actually exists!

Movie or TV Productions

The Times Traveler's Wife, in 2009
Starring Rachel McAdams as Clare and Eric Bana as Henry. Aside from a few minor changes, the film stayed pretty true to the book. Unfortunately, the majority of the reviews for the movie turned out to be negative. The New York Times, for example, called the film an "often ridiculous, awkward, unsatisfying and dour melodramatic adaptation." (Read the full review.) A few differences between the movie and book include: there are no time traveling mice; Clare and Henry's final meeting takes place in the meadow when she's still a young woman (instead of when she's old); Henry loses one foot (instead of two); the movie starts with the car accident in which Henry's mother dies.

Documents

"Time-Traveling for Dummies"
A physicist looks at the facts and fiction of time travel featured in The Time Traveler's Wife.

TV Series?
ABC and Friends co-creator Marta Kauffman are teaming up to produce a pilot of the story, which may be developed into a TV series.

"Time Bending: An Interview with Audrey Niffenegger"
Writer Todd Glascock interviews Niffenegger on his blog.

2003 Audrey Niffenegger Interview
Audrey Niffenegger talks about music, faith, and waiting.

"Audrey Niffenegger Receives $5 Million Advance for Second Novel"
This NY Times article discusses Niffenegger's new book as well as the unique journey of success of The Time Traveler's Wife.

"Success was all a matter of time"
"Audrey Niffenegger takes things slowly" – a review of the novel.

2007 Interview with Audrey Niffenegger
Find out about the author's favorite parts in the book, about Chicago as a character in the novel, and more.

Video

The Time Traveler's Wife Movie Trailer
Check out versions, big and small, of the official movie trailer.

Interview with Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams
Emmy-nominated Jake Hamilton speaks with the stars of the movie, Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams. Compare Eric Bana's native Australian accent to the one he has in the film. Impressive!

Bana and McAdams on Moviefone's Unscripted
Stars Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams interview each other, using a collection of fan questions.

Interview with Rachel McAdams
Check out what Rachel McAdams has to say about taking on the role of Clare, why she wanted to be in this film, and more.

2008 Interview with Audrey Niffenegger
The author speaks about her inspiration for the book as well as the meaning of memory, determinism, and seizing the day.

Images

The Time Traveler's Wife Book Cover
The official front cover of the first edition of the book, published in 2003.

The Time Traveler's Wife Movie Poster
Check out the official movie poster, which primarily focuses on the two actors who play Clare and Henry.

Audrey Niffenegger Photo
A black-and-white photo of the author.