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Book Club Discussion Questions: The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

For those of you that haven't or couldn't attend book club lately, we'll be publishing the previous months' discussion questions here. I hope eventually to post discussion questions for all of the books we've covered since I took over a couple of years ago and beyond, all the way to the beginning over a decade and a half ago. It will take a while. Until then, we will be posting discussion questions on a weekly basis. Here are the questions from a 2007 title, The Time Traveler's Wife. We hope these questions spark discussions of your own.

 

The Time Traveler's Wife

by Audrey Niffenegger


Summary:

The beloved, mega bestselling first novel from Audrey Niffenegger, “a soaring celebration of the victory of love over time” (Chicago Tribune).


A most untraditional love story, this is the celebrated tale of Henry DeTamble, a dashing, adventuresome librarian who inadvertently travels through time, and Clare Abshire, an artist whose life takes a natural sequential course. Henry and Clare’s passionate affair endures across a sea of time and captures them in an impossibly romantic trap that tests the strength of fate and basks in the bonds of love. “Niffenegger’s inventive and poignant writing is well worth a trip” (Entertainment Weekly).

 

Discussion Questions

Questions Originally Used in Library Discussion

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

  2. 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?

  3. How did your personal life experiences contribute to the understanding or importance of the book?

  4. 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?

  5. 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?

  6. How does their desire for a child affect their relationship?

  7. The book is told from both Henry and Clare’s perspectives. What does this add to the story?

  8. Do you think the ending of the novel is satisfactory?

Official Questions

  1. Audrey Niffenegger includes a section of The Odyssey at the end of the book. In many ways Clare and Henry are a modern Penelope and Odysseus. What parallels do you see? Are there other couples in literature that remind you of Clare and Henry?

  2. On page xv, Clare says, “I wait for Henry.” One of her art projects focuses on birds and longing. How is Clare shaped by waiting and absence? How do these themes develop throughout the novel?

  3. On page xviii, Henry says, “I hate to be where she is not, when she is not. And yet I am always going, and she cannot follow.” Do you see Henry as a traveler, an adventurer? Or is he a victim of chance?

  4. Defining moments in Henry’s life become points in the past that he revisits. The death of Henry’s mother is one of these pivotal events. How does losing his mother define Henry? What other key moments are like this one?

  5. Was Henry right to give young Clare a list of when he would visit? Was she too young, even though Henry knew they would be together in the future? Would you want the list if you were Clare?

  6. Henry says, on page 55, “[T]here is only free will when you are in time, in the present . . . in the past we can only do what we did, and we can only be there if we were there.” Was Henry destined to live his life as he did? Did he have a choice in every moment? Are there things you think he should have tried to change?

  7. How do you view Gomez? Was he ultimately more helpful or harmful as a friend to Henry? What would you have done in his shoes?

  8. Henry and Clare disagree over having a child, with strong arguments on both sides. Henry wants to protect Clare, and Clare doesn’t want to give up (though she thinks of doing so until a Henry from the future assures her that eventually they succeed). Who do you think is right?

  9. Alba has more control over her ability to time travel, and she has the benefit of Henry’s experience, but we don’t know if there will be a cure for the genetic disorder causing her Chrono-Impairment. What do you imagine for Alba’s future?

  10. The dynamics of Clare and Henry’s relationship are such that they deal with their past, present, and future selves simultaneously. On pages 146–47, Clare says, “With Henry, I can see everything laid out, like a map, past and future, everything at once. . . . I can reach into him and touch time.” What do you imagine this would be like? What tactics do they use to reconcile their past, present, and future selves?

  11. The ending is foreshadowed early in the book, driving the novel toward the final scene where an elderly Clare awaits Henry’s last visit. How did this affect your reading experience? Do you ultimately find the book uplifting, or is it tragic?

  12. Audrey Niffenegger has said that she had two rules while writing the novel:

    • Everything happens once and nothing can be changed once it has happened.

    • Henry has a genetic disorder that causes him to time travel. He cannot control it and it is not his fault.

Do you think this made the idea of time travel more credible? Have you read other time-travel novels? Do you think the authors were similarly precise about how they managed the complexity of characters who are not confined by time?

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