Virtual Book Club, Part Two: The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger

Hello Bookworm Readers!  Welcome to Part Deux of my Virtual Book Club with Shannon about the book The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger.  If you’ve read the book or seen the movie, I welcome your contributions to the discussion. Reminder, spoilers ahead!

Lauren: I thought that acceptance was a big theme in the book — both Clare and Henry seem to accept his chrono-displacement issue with equanimity, except when they are trying to conceive a child.
Shannon: Acceptance was a big theme.  Do you think that Clare was able to accept the side-effects of the chrono-displacement thing because Henry was a part of her life at such a young age?  I feel as though children can sometimes cope with the abnormal better than adults.  I think another big theme was that of waiting.  Clare was constantly waiting to see Henry (in the beginning) and then for him to leave and eventually come back (in the end).  Henry was on pins and needles until the next time he disappeared.  Ironically, however, the book ended with the close of a very long waiting period.
Lauren: Yes, waiting was a big deal, and I think the waiting and acceptance go hand in hand.  I think that you’re right that Clare’s early exposure to Henry’s comings and goings helped her adjust to it in married life.  Although in their life in the present together, she lacks the List of dates when he’ll appear or reappear, so it’s more suspenseful for her.

There are some nice moments with Clare when Henry leaves — there’s the short entry from her about how she likes being alone, how she likes having some independence when he’s gone.  When he disappears just after visiting Dr. Kendrick for the first time, she just picks up his clothes and pulls out a copy of a book to read, expecting that he’ll return soon.  I think that, as unexpected as his disappearances in time are, she finds a rhythm to them.

Shannon: Emotionally, the book had such a foreboding sense of sadness.  It was as if they were on a roller coaster and their highs were the highest of high but their lows were the lowest of low.  Towards the end of Henry’s life, it seemed that the roller coaster was coming to an end and the highs were not nearly as high or frequent.
Lauren: I think sadness is a big emotional theme in the book, because the time that Clare and Henry have together is so unconventional and broken up.  They circle around each other in time, sometimes knowing more about the other, and once Henry announces that he knows how he dies (and he admits to Clare that he looked up his obituary), the book seems on a fast course to his death.  The two of them have a strong bond, so you want a fuller life for them together, especially after the long sadness of their miscarriages.
Shannon: Overall, I felt so much for Clare.  She got the short end of the stick over and over and over again.  Her life was hard, Henry flits in and out of her life, and in the end she gets left alone with a daughter who will also flit in and out of her life with stories of the man she loves.  I firmly feel that because she knows Henry will be coming back again, and because of the duration and depth of their relationship, she would be unable to ever love again and would constantly be pining and, once again, waiting.

Lauren: Did you find it to be foreshadowing that Clare never saw a Henry much older than his late 30s?  I kept expecting to see an elderly Henry, but when he never showed in the first half, I figured he would die an early death.  I agree that the shotgun accident seemed sudden, but I guess it came after his feet were amputated, so he couldn’t run away.
Shannon: I think you’re right about the foreshadowing – that Clare never saw an elderly Henry.  I was thrown off by two things, however: 1 — there was so much time travel that I kind of missed the fact that Clare seemed to see a LOT of Henry from just a few years (no matter her age), and 2 — the author seemed to highlight quite frequently how Henry looked much older than his years so I didn’t notice that he wasn’t actually getting too much older.

Lauren:
Do you think that Henry visits the Meadow because at the point where he first starts visiting, he’s already married to Clare?  I don’t think there are any visits from him there as a younger man (remember how surprised he is to see her for the first time in real time?).  He seems to visit places that he’s already been, to relive parts of his life.  Or he visits his parents’ lives, just as Alba does in that scene towards the end where she’s there when he’s drunk on the street with Ingrid.  When he time travels to times outside the bounds of his natural life, it seems limited to being with his immediate family, whether his parents or Alba.
Shannon: I do think that Henry goes back to the places that he knows, which would explain why he went to the Meadow for the first time when he was older.  Do you remember if he seems surprised when he first sees her in the Meadow?  Or does he just know that it’s her?  I don’t remember …

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