The Time Traveler’s Wife is a highly absorbing read with quirk, warmth and genuine romance. It follows the connecting stories of Henry, who suffers from spontaneous time travel, and Clare, his destined partner. LiteraryMinded caught up with Audrey Niffenegger somewhere in time and space to ask her a few questions about the novel…
The Time Traveler’s Wife covers a broad range of themes including longing, love, family, change and growth, missing, loss, and of course time travel. Where did you see it fitting on the bookstore shelves?
Under Fiction. I didn’t have much of an agenda for it beyond getting it published.
Henry is a very charismatic character with his dark hair, animalistic energy, poeticism, young-self narcissism and older-self compassion. Did you fall a little bit in love with him as you wrote it?
When I am writing something in first-person I kind of become that character, or, the character is me. So I would not say I was in love with him, except when I was writing from Clare’s point of view.
What was the most difficult thing about writing a book that goes back and forward in time?
It was like making a puzzle; it took a bit of extra work to make everything fit, and there was a lot of extra checking for continuity. But I do not write from beginning to end anyway, so it suited me to go skipping around.
How did you come up with the scientific aspects of Henry’s condition/ability (eg. the genetics, the ‘chrono-displacement’)?
I was working on that aspect of the book in 1997, when genetics was much in the news because of the race to sequence the human genome. The genetic nature of Henry’s condition worked for the book because I was looking for something that would not be delibrate, so he would not be choosing to leave Clare all the time.
You handle the different voices very well, for each character but also as their personalities develop with age. Did you write one character at a time to achieve this? Or was the book written beginning to end as it is published?
I moved back and forth between characters. The book was written in a very different order from the way it is read. I started with the last two scenes, when Clare is old. Other early scenes were the one in which Clare loses her virginity, and what became the prologue.
What was the spark of inspiration for The Time Traveler’s Wife?
I was drawing, and the title popped into my head.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of the book I found and one of the things that made it unique were the references to punk music, anarchism, poetry, art and other esoteric things. They gave the characters such life. What did you hope to achieve by including these aspects?
The characters are interested in the things I am interested in. They live where I live, they go to the same restaurants and shops I do. Write what you know, as they say.
Your style of writing is warm, open, intelligent and humorous. There is a real energy to the novel, and real heart in the dark moments. You never cross into overbearing sentimentality. Who did you intend as an audience for The Time Traveler’s Wife?
Librarians and aging punks.
Personally, what other authors or artists inspire you and why?
I am devoted to the work of Richard Powers, Susanna Clarke, Henry James, Kelly Link, Li-Young Lee, Margaret Atwood, Chris Adrian, Jack Finney and Geoff Ryman. Most of these writers combine ordinary life with fantastical elements in intelligent and surprising ways.
Can you tell us a little about the film deal?
Um, no. The film will be coming out sometime next fall. I have very little to do with it.
What other projects of your own should fans of the book look out for?
I am currently working on two things. The first is a novel called Her Fearful Symmetry. It’s a contemporary ghost story set in and around London’s Highgate Cemetery. The second is a serial graphic novel, The Library. The first chapter, ‘The Night Bookmobile’, will appear in the London Guardian starting sometime this spring.
See Audrey Niffenegger’s website.