By October 12, 2008 2 Comments Read More →

The Time Traveler’s Wife

Book group leaders, have you tried discussing The Time Traveler’s Wife?  This intriguing 2003 novel by Audrey Niffenegger isn’t primarily science fiction, as some readers conclude, just from glancing at the title.  It’s really a beautifully written love story dressed in the trappings of science fiction (time travel, specifically), but my instinct is that it appeals far more to romance fans than to sci-fi aficianados.  Some book group leaders at my library had chosen to stay away from the book as a discussion choice because of the sci-fi aspect, which they felt would not be well received by their group members.  Another concern was that the book is long (over 500 pages), and perhaps group members wouldn’t be willing to stick with it until the end.

When I learned the library had a book discussion set for the title, I immediately wanted to add it to my discussion line-up — for a number of reasons.  First, it has a unique structure — chapters are written from various points of view.  Sometimes we are listening to Henry, the time-traveling protagonist, at different times in his life.  Sometimes we are hearing the voice of Clare, the woman he loves, whom he meets when she is a child and he is an adult, traveling from his present to hers (eventually she grows up and catches up with him, and they get married).  The time sequences skip around continuously — sometimes we are in Henry and Clare’s present, sometimes in their past or future, but not at the same times.  It sounds confusing, I know, but eventually one gets the hang of it.

What makes the book especially enjoyable is the rich characterization, not only of the two leading players, but also of some of the supporting folks — family members, friends and co-workers.  A couple of other things particularly appealed to me.  The story is set in Chicago, which is my neck of the woods, and it features many familiar locations, such as the Newberry Library and the Field Museum, meticulously described.  Also, Henry is a librarian, which is another nice touch, as far as I was concerned.

But what I think my group members appreciated most was the love story — the author really makes you care about this couple, how they get together and how they stay together, in spite of the fact that Henry is continually time traveling (it’s an ailment he can’t control).  Usually in time travel stories, the characters want to travel and work hard to move from the present to some other time — but Henry’s different, he doesn’t particularly want to do this, and when it happens, he can’t help it.  One minute he’s here and the next, he’s not — he finds himself in some other place at some other time and always stark naked (he learns you can’t take anything with you when you time travel, including your clothes!).

As you may have guessed, the book has a sense of humor, and it can be fairly poignant, as well — these characters are constantly separated, but even after death, they have the prospect of meeting up again.  Henry’s sudden disappearances place a strain on the relationship (as frequent separations do with most couples) — and then there’s the issue of whether they should try to have children, considering Henry’s peculiar ailment and the possibility it could be inherited by his offspring.

My group spent quite a bit of time exploring the themes of free will and predestination which the book seems to evoke, in that Henry knows Clare’s future before she lives it; and though he doesn’t tell her everything that’s going to happen, he does drop some tantalizing hints, which some readers took as his way of exercising control over her and limiting her options.  Yes, there is a lot to talk about with this one, and if you haven’t read it yet, I hope I’ve piqued your interest.  As reported earlier on this blog, it’s coming out as a high profile movie in the near future, so people will continue to be focused on it. Even if you think you wouldn’t like a book with a sci-fi angle, I urge you to read the first 100 pages.  I think you’ll be hooked and want to read to the end. 



About the Author:

Ted Balcom lives in Arlington Heights, IL and conducts workshops on leading book discussions, about which he has also published a book: Book Discussions for Adults: A Leader’s Guide (American Library Association, 1992).

2 Comments on "The Time Traveler’s Wife"

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  1. A well written review. Apart from the fact that I thought it had an eye-catching title, I’d not considered this book.

    You’ve whetted my appetite – which of course is what a good review should do.
    Thank you.

  2.' Holley says:

    My bookgroup discussed this as our September choice and opinions ranged wildly. I can’t say that it was one of my favorite books BUT it was one that I liked better AFTER the discussion, after getting other people’s perspectives on it. I have since frequently suggested it to the patrons at my library with excellent results. This, to me, highlights one of the main benefits of joining a bookgroup and that is to read outside your comfort zone. You never know what you may find! 🙂

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