The Time Traveler’s Wife (MacAdam/Cage 2003) explores an unusual relationship, that of Henry DeTamble and Clare Abshire. Like many love stories, the novel develops the relationship from courtship to marriage, but, adds a twist. A genetic disorder causes Henry to time travel, thus interrupting the ordinary patterns of his and Clare’s life — the couple first meets when Clare is six, and Henry, as an adult, has traveled back thirty years — and challenging notions of free will (Henry is unable to change events, and the couple seems almost fated to develop their romance). The novel also diverges from some love stories, exchanging sappiness for a realistic, though sometimes dark, portrait of a relationship.
I invited the book’s author, Audrey Niffenegger, to discuss the novel, her current projects, and her recent reading.
Below is the interview:
You’ve mentioned that The Time Traveler’s Wife originated with the title. How did the story evolve from there?
I wrote the ending, then the scene in which Clare loses her virginity, then a prologue which I later ditched,
Audrey Niffenegger (Photo by Christopher Schneberger)
then I stopped and tried to think how to structure the thing. I made a sort of list of scenes, organized them into three acts, and then started randomly working them until there was enough to see what it might be. The manuscript leant itself to being repeatedly restructured.
How did you manage the novel’s structure?
Originally it was thematically organized, but early readers found that confusing. Several people suggested following Clare’s chronology, which is mostly what I ended up doing. The story itself is very simple: courtship, marriage, Henry’s death, Clare’s life after that. It seems complicated because it is told out of order.
Present tense seems perfect for this novel. To me the choice of present tense seems to indicate that every action is in the here and now or suspends time. Which certainly seems true for Henry. Why did you decide to use present tense?
I couldn’t figure out when the present was; there was no baseline, no now, no past. By putting it in present tense the reader experiences what the characters experience, so that resolved all sorts of problems.