The Time Travellers wife

by Audrey Niffenegger | Literature & Fiction | This book has not been rated.
ISBN: 0099464462 Global Overview for this book
Registered by nice-cup-of-tea of Zürich, Zürich Switzerland on 5/3/2005
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Journal Entry 1 by nice-cup-of-tea from Zürich, Zürich Switzerland on Tuesday, May 03, 2005
Finally got my own copy, after taking part in Caro1's bookring! Will re-read this in preparation for the June Zurich Bookgroup.
***
My review from March 22nd 2005
I'm sitting at my desk, having just finished reading "The Time Traveler's Wife" and I feel almost wordless; I can't remember the last time a book genuinely trapped me so completely. The narrative holds you fast, and you read hungrily to see how the narrative pans out. As the chapters fall away, you can sense the resolution and you start to prepare for it, but the ending still creeps up on you.

This is the sort of book you read and re-read, to make sense of the narrative and the structure, but also because the book demands it. This will definitely be a book I buy and read many times. I'd like to re-read it now, but I'm eager to post it to Vespa, so that they can enjoy it! (More detailed thoughts below!)

Despite the tear-jerking and heart-wrenching nature of the story, did you find the novel was also positive and uplifting in some way? Or did you find it unremittingly bleak?
(Question courtsey of Caro1 and Random House!)
As with all questions of this type, the answer is somewhat ambigous, there are no clear certainties! Certainly the novel revolves around a main axis of themes: loss, death, grief. The time traveller's wife has to wait, and deal with the repeated loss of her husband; and she deals with the loss of other loved ones. However, alongside this experience of loss comes a realisation and understanding that love, happiness, life are to be experienced in the here and now, that there literally is "no time like the present". I think that this is an idea that we have forgotten in today's world, we hope and worry about what is to come; we regret and fear the past; and we fail to appreciate the life we currently live. I think it is also noteworthy that Henry and Clare are both artists in their own way, entranced by words and book and paper. Other main characters are motivated by music. This reminds us I think that art (with a capital A!) is timeless and has the capacity to teach us about the world. I think that Niffenegger uses the quotatations, particularly Rilke's poetry, to highlight this. Our sense of loss and beauty and emotion are not just experienced by us, they are universal.

Journal Entry 2 by nice-cup-of-tea from Zürich, Zürich Switzerland on Tuesday, May 03, 2005
My Questions
How does the 36yr old Henry know to come back to Claire? He says that he time travels to his past, to familiar places, but how does he know that Claire is important?
What prompts the 36year old Henry to meet Claire?
How does he write the list of dates for her? As the 28yr old, he takes the list, so is this it?
Why does Henry keep meeting himself?

My Thoughts
- Mobius strip idea
- Their relationship moves in 2 ways - she goes forward in time - he goes backward ie the 36yr old Henry teaches the young Claire, but the 20 year old Claire has to teach the 28 year old Henry
She's waiting for him to grow into the Henry she loves
- If we love someone, don't we always fear them leaving & having to wait?
- The unusual time & narrative meant I physically read the book differently ie checking dates, ages, flicking back to the chapter starts etc. Reading backward and forward - following the narrative
- Following up hints - ie Helen on wedding day - Trouble in 2000 / 2001
- Like a Film script or documentary? ie Claire: Henry: etc etc
- Locks - first time Henry 28 goes on date with Claire - 17 locks p.10 / 37 locks p10 / 107 locks p18 (I only noticed this the second time around!)
- swing metaphor, perfect moment

Quotes
"I look at him, look at the book, remember, this book, this moment, the first book I loved, remember wanting to crawl into it and sleep." p35 2 Henry's in museum

"Running is many things to me: survival, calmness, euphoria, solitude. It is proof of my corporeal existence, my ability to control my movement through space if not time, and the obedience, however temporary, of my body to my will." p.151

"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 joy of this perfect moment." p.232

Saddest bit? They're in kitchen working, singing, He's cooking then disappears
"As we sing And our friends are all on board I suddenly hear my voice floating alone and I turn and Henry's clothes like in a heap, the knife is on the kitchen floor. Half of a a pepper sways slightly on the cutting board." p.287
She finishes cooking & eats alone

Henry & 2nd meeting with Kendrick
"Things get kind of circular, when you're me. Cause and effect get muddled." p.303

Journal Entry 3 by nice-cup-of-tea from Zürich, Zürich Switzerland on Tuesday, May 03, 2005
AUTHOR INTERVIEW
An extract from the interview Audrey Niffenegger: Woman on the edge of time, January 2004:

Henry travels back to Clare's childhood throughout the novel. "That's the thing that's potent for people, I think," says Niffenegger. "The idea of visiting your wife's childhood. That's a big, big thrill." Clare first meets a thirtysomething Henry as a six-year-old, when he falls naked into her favourite hiding spot on her family's estate.

Part three is entitled 'A Treatise on Longing', a name that would work for the entire book. Clare spends her early adulthood waiting for the mysterious Henry who dropped in and out of the formative periods of her life, as he has told her that in the future they are married. And then, when she and Henry finally meet in Chicago and fall in love, she spends more time waiting. He suddenly disappears who knows where to return sometimes weeks later. She is like Penelope holding tight for the return of her Odysseus, her 'time travelling artist'.

Niffenegger says she entitled her love story The Time Traveler's Wife, and not The Time Traveler, because of the epigraph by J.B. Priestley from Man and Time. It reads: 'Clock time is our bank manager, tax collector, police inspector; this inner time is our wife.'

"That's actually what the title, for me, really means," she says. "The book itself is really about the marriage. Henry is not only married to Clare; he's also married to time." But if Henry is married to time, then Clare is time's widow, fated to live according to another's clock.

Journal Entry 4 by nice-cup-of-tea from Zürich, Zürich Switzerland on Sunday, June 12, 2005
Other Links
Guardian interview with Audrey Niffenegger

America's most wanted

The Time Traveler's Wife, written by an unknown author and launched by a tiny publisher, will be the must-read for 2004

Lawrence Donegan
Sunday December 14, 2003
The Observer


Buy The Time Traveler's Wife at Amazon.co.uk

Modern American life offers countless opportunities to burn serious cash, from the roulette tables of Las Vegas to the insider-dealing wasteland of the New York stock market, but nothing quite matches the quixotic financial futility that defines the business of publishing serious literary fiction in the twentyfirst century.
'This business,' says David Poindexter, ruefully looking across the office of Macadam/Cage, a small San Francisco-based company that publishes nothing but literary fiction, 'does not make business sense.'

It's not hard to get to the root of such fatalism. A mainstream culture that worships celebrity, and a publishing industry which seeks solace in the lowest common denominator, now means the New York Times bestsellers list is dominated by the likes of Ann Coulter, a right-wing shrew who equates liberalism with mental illness, and Dr Phil McGraw, a television loudmouth whose latest diet book, The Seven Keys to Weight Loss Freedom, has sold millions of copies, despite the irony presented by the author's tub-of-lard physique. Cowed by the success of such nonsense, the accountants who run most of the major publishing houses are loath to gamble on anything that strays beyond the narrow parameters of the fast buck. Hence, the increasing scarcity of serious literary fiction published in this, the land of Faulkner and Fitzgerald.

This isn't to portray the United States in 2003 as a literary wasteland. There are pockets of resistance to be found in every corner of the American book industry - the publishers Knopf, Harcourt Brace and Little, Brown; writers such as Jonathan Franzen, Richard Russo and Michael Chabon; the hundreds of independent booksellers dotted across the country - but it's difficult to watch them swimming against the wider cultural tide and not wonder 'for how much longer?'. If the likes of David Poindexter have anything to do with it, the answer will be 'for ever'.

All the more reason, therefore, to celebrate the debut of Macadam/Cage publishers on the Times's fiction bestseller list with Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife, which will be published in the UK next month. The book tells the story of a young couple in Chicago, Clare and Henry, whose relationship is complicated by the fact that he suffers from 'chrono-displacement disorder' - which means he is spontaneously transported from the present to the past and to the future.

Niffenegger, an art professor at the Columbia College, Chicago, has written and published her own picture books since she was a teenager, usually in print runs of 10 copies. The Time Traveler's Wife started life as a title. Once she started work on the book itself, she realised it was impossible to tell the story in pictures and decided to write a traditional novel. It took her four and half years to complete.

At its core Time Traveler's Wife is an old-fashioned love story. It's a terrific book, not least because of Niffenegger's startlingly original construction, but it is the story of how the book came to be published, and the impact its success has had on the company behind it, that has attracted a great deal of attention in the States. Since its publication in September, a tiny minority of American reviewers have been sniffy about Niffenegger's work, judging it to be too 'gimmicky', but overall it would be fair to describe the book as a publishing sensation. It has been on the bestseller lists of the NY Times, the LA Times and Publisher's Weekly; it has now been sold to publishers in 15 countries (the number increases by the week); it was the book of the month on America's biggest morning TV programme, The Today Show; Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston have bought the movie rights and a screenplay is currently being written.

Some have called Niffenegger this year's Alice Sebold (author of The Lovely Bones). She laughs at the idea, conceding only that she is bemused by all the fuss. 'It's a bit like sitting in your own cosy little house watching a hurricane go past. You know there's a lot happening out there but you can't really feel any of the effects of the rain.'

Over at Macadam/Cage, which has been publishing books by first-time nov elists like Niffenegger for five years without too much success, the hurricane is being felt to its full effect. Thankfully. The company publishes around 30 books every year, most of which are reviewed well, but sell a few thousand copies. Its biggest success, Ella Minnow Pea, by the playwright Mark Dunn, sold 30,000 copies. Poindexter's direct mail printing business subsides the publishing company.

'Would we have gone out of business if The Time Traveler's Wife hadn't come along and been such a success? Probably not,' says Poindexter. 'But what it has done is vindicate the things that we have been trying to do as a company. It establishes us in the eyes of the business. It shows people that, given the right circumstances, a company such as ours can turn a book into a bestseller. From the day we started, the independent bookstores around the country have been very supportive of the things we've been trying to do. They have stocked our titles even when they haven't sold that quickly. It is nice to give them a book that they can make some money from.'

The book has also been a vindication of Macadam/ Cage's methods in searching out new talent. Every week, around 100 manuscripts arrive at the company's San Francisco office. All are guaranteed to be read, unlike the unsolicited manuscripts that go to the New York publishing houses.

Anika Streitfeld, Niffenegger's editor at Macadam/ Cage, learnt her trade at Random House. 'Every couple of weeks or so, all of the editorial assistants would have a lunch in the office. We'd order pizza, open up the envelopes, slip in a form rejection letter and post them all back. The rule was we didn't read unsolicited material,' she recalls.

Macadam/Cage isn't in a position to be so snobbish, even though - by Streitfeld's admission - most of the material sent to the company is 'hopeless'. Every once in a while, however, a jewel like The Time Traveler's Wife turns up. 'When I read it, I thought it was incredible. Right from the very beginning you feel like you are in capable hands, that this is someone who has a story to tell and who knows how to tell it. On one level Clare and Henry are ordinary people, but on another they are extraordinary,' she says.

Streitfeld gave the manuscript to Poindexter, who read it overnight and decided to buy the book. However, by this stage, Niffenegger had found an agent, who had attracted interest from the major publishing houses in New York. An auction was held, in which Macadam/Cage offered $100,000 - by a huge margin, the largest advance it had ever offered to an author. 'Being a small publisher we are conscious of risk all the time, but even so this felt like a better bet than usual,' says Streitfeld. 'In any case, running an independent publishing company is just about the silliest thing you could do with your money - so everything is a big risk.'

Macadam/Cage was outbid, yet Niffenegger, after talking to her agent, decided to go with the smaller company and the smaller advance. 'Once we realised how committed they were to the book and how much they wanted to publish it, it was a pretty easy decision. In any case, my own natural inclination is to go small. My background is in punk music - I'd always pick the indie company over the giant corporation.'

Macadam/Cage backed its advance with an extensive marketing drive, taking out adverts in the New York Times and New Yorker to promote the book - the type of spending the bigger houses reserve only for their stars. It also financed an extensive author tour, which ended up with Niffenegger sharing the bill in Toronto with Martin Amis ('I felt like I was opening for The Rolling Stones,' she says). The costs were offset by the sales of foreign rights to the book. 'Publishing a bestseller is like a maths equation. You just can't explain how it works, and you can't repeat it in exactly the same way. But if you have a good sense of the marketplace, and a little bit of luck, then you can make it work,' says Poindexter.

Niffenegger has had no cause to regret her decision. Unsurprisingly, she has become something of an evangelist for small publishing companies over the past few months. 'One thing I have noticed is the relationship that people there have with an author is almost like a family relationship. They really take everything personally. With a bigger house I imagine it would be very easy to get forgotten about, particularly if there is no buzz or hype about your book.

'It depends on what your values are. If your are interested in a publisher that will stick with you over several books, and in having an editor who won't leave the company and go elsewhere, then small publishers are the place to be. There is a lot of stability, it's like being a member of a family.'

Macadam/Cage's success with The Time Traveler's Wife hasn't gone unnoticed in New York, where André Bernard, who in recent years has maintained Harcourt Brace's reputation as America's pre-eminent publisher of serious fiction via books such as the last two Booker winners Life of Pi and Vernon God Little, describes the San Francisco-based company as a 'genuine publishing success story'. 'They go with their instincts and it so happens they instinctively know what makes a good book,' he says. 'Once they have a book they are dedicated to making it a success. They don't just publish a book and sit back and wait for something to happen. It's publishing in the old-fashioned sense and I admire them greatly.'

· The Time Traveler's Wife is published by Random House on 1 January, £12.99

Journal Entry 5 by nice-cup-of-tea from Zürich, Zürich Switzerland on Sunday, June 12, 2005
Guardian Review of "The Time Traveler's Wife"

Back to the future

Natasha Walter finds a benign enchantment at the heart of Audrey Niffenegger's original look at relationships, The Time Traveler's Wife. But has magic taken over from realism?

Saturday January 31, 2004
The Guardian


Buy The Time Traveler's Wife at Amazon.co.uk

The Time Traveler's Wife
by Audrey Niffenegger
532pp, Jonathan Cape, £12.99
Audrey Niffenegger throws you into a pretty perplexing scenario at the start of The Time Traveler's Wife. Here are a woman and a man meeting in a Chicago library, but while Clare clearly knows Henry and has done for ages, Henry doesn't have a clue who she is. This, we gradually understand, is because he has been travelling from his future to her past, and in that past they fell in love, so he hasn't yet met her in his own present. Somehow, that tangled mess of tenses sorts out on the page into a scene that is entirely comprehensible and rather charming.

Niffenegger goes on to exploit the possibilities of her fantasy scenario with immense skill: no wonder this first novel has spent weeks on the bestseller lists in the US. Her version of time travel lends itself to neat comedy - it is an uncontrollable condition, which means Henry can find himself sucked out of the present and thrown naked into another time and place at any moment.

For instance, when Clare and Henry finally get married, with all their family and friends in attendance, he is maddeningly whisked away just before the ceremony. But luckily, through one of the sweet coincidences that is a feature of Niffenegger's world, an older Henry falls through the years to take his place, and only the most observant of guests wonders about his suddenly grizzled appearance.

Even at such a carefully composed moment of comedy, Niffenegger keeps the pitch tuned not just to the mechanics of her magical world, but also to the emotions of the couple. This is what saves this novel from being just a childish joke: her ability to mesh the japes with a careful grounding in the dynamics of character and relationship. Take away the time travel, and you have a writer reminiscent of Anne Tyler and Carol Shields, who captures the rhythms of intimacy, who burrows into the particularities of family life. Because she builds this scaffolding of domesticity, what you remember is the realism as well as the fantasy, and through much of the book the time travel works to enhance the reality rather than take over from it.

When Clare first makes love with Henry she is 18, but he has travelled back in time, and in his present he is 41, has been married to her for years, and is finding their relationship going through a bad patch. After they make love, he is pulled back into his present with the thirtysomething Clare, who is waiting for him crossly: "Henry's been gone for almost 24 hours now, and as usual I'm torn between thinking obsessively about when and where he might be and being pissed at him for not being here... I hear Henry whistling as he comes up the path through the garden, into the studio. He stomps the snow off his boots and shrugs off his coat. He's looking marvellous, really happy. My heart is racing and I take a wild guess: 'May 24, 1989?' 'Yes, oh yes,' Henry scoops me up, and swings me around. Now I'm laughing; we're both laughing."

This scene epitomises the best thing about this book, which is the way Niffenegger uses time travel as a way of expressing the sense of slippage that you get in any relationship - that you could be living through a slightly different love story from the one your partner is experiencing. And she certainly weaves her plot well. This is one of those books that makes you want to eat it up from start to finish, eager to see how the twisted curves of time will be straightened out. But despite the way that I felt sucked through the novel, the book's limitations eventually begin to grate.

Although at first you might think Niffenegger wanted to disturb the quiet tone of American domestic life with her madcap scenarios, gradually you realise this is a wholly reassuring narrative. Henry may sometimes find himself at war with the laws of space and time, but at heart he has a "fanatical dedication to living like a normal person". The triumph of the book is the triumph of normality, of setting up a decent family life even if you are constantly dissappearing from it, of being loyal to somebody with what Niffenegger finally explains as a genetic dysfunction - chrono-displacement, as she calls it.

Rather like Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones, in which a girl looks down from heaven after her death and even manages to intervene in the lives of those left behind, The Time Traveler's Wife sets up a very benign kind of magic. Although his time travelling often exposes Henry to danger and embarrassment, it also serves to smooth out the rawness of lived experience. Because Henry can visit the future, he can not only buy a winning lottery ticket if necessary, he can also see the house he and Clare will live in, and even be sure they will be married and have a child.

That certainty about the future gives both of them a quasi-religious sense that their lives are already mapped out, and the time of their deaths already written. In a couple of particularly sentimental scenes, Henry manages to visit Clare and his daughter after his own death, and in those moments there is the evanescent comfort of a vague spirituality. By the time Niffenegger begins to tune up the violins for the swoony sweet ending you knew was on the cards, the magic has taken over from the realism, to the cost of the book's potential impact.

· Natasha Walter's The New Feminism is published by Virago

Journal Entry 6 by nice-cup-of-tea from Zürich, Zürich Switzerland on Tuesday, June 14, 2005
Discussion Ideas

Despite the tear-jerking and heart-wrenching nature of the story, did you find the novel was also positive and uplifting in some way? Or did you find it unremittingly bleak?

Do you think Niffenegger is trying to get across any kind of message by playing with our linear sense of time in the way that she does?

Did you have any problems with Henry and Clare's relationship? Are there any points in the story where you dislike either of their characters?

What did you make of Niffenegger's unusual narrative structure?

'His forty-third year. His small time's end. His time - Who saw Infinity through the countless cracks in the blank skin of things, and died of it.'(A.S. Byatt, Possession, quoted on page 494). Consider Niffenegger's use of quotations and epigrams throughout the book. What do they add to the novel, and what do you find significant about this one in particular?

To what extent do you believe in Henry's time travelling? Does it ever seem unconvincing to you, or do you think Niffenegger manages to keep us with her throughout?

Although Henry does the time traveling, Clare is equally impacted. How does she cope with his journeys and does she ultimately accept them?

Henry's life is disrupted on multiple levels by spontaneous time travel. How does his career as a librarian offset his tumultuous disappearances? Why does that job appeal to Henry?

Henry and Clare know each other for years before they fall in love as adults. How does Clare cope with the knowledge that at a young age she knows that Henry is the man she will eventually marry?

The Time Traveler's Wife is ultimately an enduring love story. What trials and tribulations do Henry and Clare face that are the same as or different from other "normal" relationships?

How does their desire for a child affect their relationship?

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