Why every couple dealing with illness needs to read The Time Traveler’s Wife

And no, I don’t mean see that movie. The movie is horrible and leaves out the best parts of the book and damnit it all, Eric Bana is not Henry DeTamble. He’s just not. /rant/

This was the first book I ever read at the suggestion of the boyfriend. I read it not too long after we started dating, and he read it not too long before that. I decided now that I’m done with WAAD things, I could focus more on reading through my vast library of crap… but I really wanted to read this again before I did all that.

The Time Traveler’s Wife is a novel by Audrey Niffenegger that came out in 2003. The story centers around the relationship of Claire, who has grown up very well to-do despite some oddness, and Henry, who is kind of the cause of the oddness. Henry has a genetic malfunction that causes him to time travel randomly, without control of when or where he goes. He meets Claire while time traveling when he is in his late thirties and she is 6 despite a real-time age difference of only eight years. Claire grows up waiting for him to visit, falling in love with him before tracking him down finally in real-time when she is around 20. The book is written from the point of view of both of them, giving a sneak peak of how it feels to be in each person’s shoes.

And this is what makes the book important.

It is so easy to forget how hard it is to be the sick person or to be the normal person in our relationships. Sometimes we need a reminder. Our reminder might not be as bad as hearing about our ill loved one returning to the night his mother died, or being the person always living in a disjointed, separate world. Thankfully, we don’t have to go through the realities of this relationship. But we do need reminders on the realities of our own. For me at least, this book helps with that.

Claire is always waiting for Henry, always worried about Henry – where has he traveled now? When will he come back? Will he be around for their wedding? Will he be able to be there when she needs him the most? How does she explain his absences, sometimes very sudden, or his changes in appearance (aka which age Henry it is) to friends and family? Will she be able to handle family life virtually on her own without someone dependable there? Are the moments of happiness worth the hours and days of waiting and worry?

Henry is always somewhere else. Even when he is around, he deals with depression from his mother’s death or issues speaking with his father. He keeps running into himself, keeps revisiting days. He has to lie to people so they don’t know what is going on with him. He even lies to Claire, past and ‘present.’ He does not want to be a worry, to be a burden on her. He sees how his illness impacts what they do and he hates it. He wishes he was normal so badly. He can’t even drive because that is too dangerous.

Despite their relationship the two of them are isolated so much from each other. Sometimes that difference is physio-spacial and sometimes it is emotional. There is nowhere else that this is more true than in a relationship with an illness that makes a minute seem like hours of agony.

And now after all that, here are some of my favorite quotes from the book along with pictures of me with quotes:

“Don’t you think it’s better to be extremely happy for a short while, even if you lose it, than to be just okay for your whole life?”

“I won’t ever leave you, even though you’re always leaving me.”

“I wish for a moment that time would lift me out of this day, and into some more benign one. But then I feel guilty for wanting to avoid the sadness.”

“But you make me happy. It’s living up to being happy that’s the difficult part.”

“I’m living under water. Everything seems slow and far away. I know there’s a world up there, a sunlit world where time runs like dry sand through an hourglass, but down here, where I am, air and sound and time and feeling are thick and dense.”

“I sometimes end up in dangerous situations, and I come back to you broken and messed up, and you worry about me when I’m gone. It’s like marrying a policeman.”

“The hardest lesson is Claire’s solitude. Sometimes I come home and Claire seems kind of irritated; I’ve interrupted some train of thought, broken into the dreary silence of her day. Sometimes I see an expression on Claire’s face that is like a closed door. She has gone inside the room of her mind and is sitting there knitting or something. I’ve discovered that Claire likes to be alone. But when I return from time traveling she is always relieved to see me.”

“The pain has left but I know that it has not gone far, that it is sulking somewhere in a corner or under the bed and it will jump out when I least expect it.”

“I still feel like a castaway, the last of a once numerous species. It was as though Robinson Crusoe discovered the telltale footprint on the beach and then realized that it was his own. Myself, small as a leaf, thin as water, begins to cry.”

“The cure might be worse than the problem.”



(Oh no! Now you know what the boyfriend looks like! Ahhh!)



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  1. What a thought provoking post. And yes, I get the similarities between chronic illness and the "thoughts" of this book as well as the similarities between the relationships as well. Never read the book but will be putting in on my read list. Thanks for sharing and for getting me thinking this early am.

  2. I'm with Deb, I never read the book. I did see "that" movie though and thought it stunk. However, you peaked my interest in this book with your "connecting the dots" method of reaching us, the chronic ill crowd. I'll add it to my list as well.


  3. It is such a great book. I think you will really enjoy it, but be prepared with tissues!

  4. I was sooo excited for the movie to come out and it just left out some of the most important and funniest parts of the book. It was so sad. One of my favorite parts of the book involves two Henrys – one having time traveled – getting caught, um, in a compromising position with each other by their dad. Didn't even make it in the movie! Disaster!

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