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Once upon many times, there was a librarian named Henry. At the age of 5, Henry developed Chrono Displacement Disorder. At any time, usually when under extreme stress, he can and will disappear and reappear at any time, mostly within his lifetime. He can't ever change anything in the past and he knows something very bad happens to him in his forties. He's had to learn how to fight, pick locks, and steal for every time he's thrown somewhere, as he is basically helpless, unarmed, and naked wherever he arrives (anything that isn't part of him stays behind--he had to have a tooth pulled just because he kept losing the filling). Sometimes he ends up getting to live through the same traumatic situations in his life over and over and over and over again.
Those are the disadvantages.
The advantage is that during his 30s, Henry time-traveled into the past of his wife, Clare, from ages 6 to 18. She grew to love him during these trips. And so, by the time they actually meet in real time when he's 28 and she's 20, she has known him all her life and knows that she ends up marrying him. Meanwhile, Henry is initially surprised and confused, having never met her before, but they soon fall in love and begin a shaky relationship. Eventually they try to have a child, which makes things even more complicated.
A very intelligent science fiction novel by Audrey Niffenegger. (There's also The Film of the Book, which received more mixed reviews.) Like the best science fiction, it explores all the complexities of its fantastic premise and its effects on otherwise perfectly ordinary people — and you will not find it in the science fiction section of your library. (More often than not, it'll be stuck in general fiction — or in the Romance section, effectively trading one Genre Ghetto for another.) It is highly recommended but it comes with a serious Tear Jerker warning.
- Anachronic Order: The story jumps around in time, always making a note of the ages of Henry and Clare in that scene, and on some occasions the ages of more than one Henry, in fact, the person who teaches him to pick locks and steal wallets is himself from the future.
- Author Appeal: The author most definitely wants to make it very clear step by step in vivid detail how Claire creates some of her art work.
- Badass Bookworm: Don't call Henry a fag and try to beat him up based on the ridiculous clothes he's forced to wear. He will end you. And whatever you do, for the love of god do NOT brutalize his future wife because she wouldn't put out. I don't care if it seems like a good idea at the time, JUST DON'T.
- Beneficial Disease: One of the reasons Dr Kendrick argues that Henry is the future of mankind is that he has the ultimate fight-or-flight response, as shown by his survival of the car crash that killed his mother: if Henry's in sudden danger, he can just time-travel away.
- Beta Couple: Charisse and Gomez, although Gomez continues to harbor deep feelings for Clare decades after his one-night stand with her.
- Bi the Way: Ingrid.
- Bilingual Bonus: Every few pages. Trilingual, really: English, German, and French.
- Blessed with Suck: Henry can time-travel - but he doesn't have any control over it. His ability targets the most memorable places, people, and events in his life - the traumatic ones even more so than the positive ones. For every time he gets to visit his wife as a teenager or his infant daughter as a ten-year-old, he has to watch his ex-girlfriend kill herself over him or see his mother die for the fiftieth time. And on top of all this, the story takes place in an Eternist universe . Basically, everything that has ever happened, good and bad, was supposed to happen the way it did, and Henry can't do a damn thing about it. It doesn't take him long to wonder if the universe is actively f*** ing with him.
- Bunny Ears Lawyer: Despite going missing for days at a time and being caught naked in the stacks multiple times, Henry is allowed to keep his job at the library and his co-workers take bets as to the REAL reason for his odd behaviour.
- But I Can't Be Pregnant: Getting a vasectomy doesn't work when you're an inadvertent time traveler.
- Can't Take Anything with You: This causes Henry a lot of hell every time he time travels. Whenever he arrives he has to steal clothes, which causes him a lot of trouble. He also had to remove some teeth as he kept on leaving behind the fillings.
- Caught with Your Pants Down: See Screw Yourself below.
- Childhood Marriage Promise: Sort of. When Henry, already married to Clare, travels back in time to Clare's childhood, he tells the child version of her that they are already married in the future. (Well, her future.)
- Cursed with Awesome: Alba has an arguably better deal than Henry, as she can induce a time-travel episode and choose where she goes. She still has random time-travelling fits though, so YMMV.
- Comforting the Widow: Gomez tries but fails.
- Daddy Had a Good Reason For Abandoning You: He couldn't help it.
- Dead Man Writing: Henry writes one, despite not being sure he'll actually be dead when it's read.
- Dirty Communists: Parodied by Gomez, who turns his Neo-Marxism into a Running Gag.
- Disability Superpower: A Deconstructed Trope. Being a time traveler is a genetic disorder and is portrayed as a medical condition — a very strange one, but a medical condition nonetheless — and it is nothing but hell. Well, except for cheating and winning the lottery.
- Disappeared Dad: Henry, off and on, all the time.
- Downer Ending: And the fact that it is a Foregone Conclusion doesn't make it any easier.
- Ethnic Menial Labor: Nell, Clare's childhood nanny and cook, fits the "Mammy" stereotype to a T.
- Fantastic Romance
- Fille Fatale: Clare was a little like this as a teenager.
- Future Me Scares Me: Trope Namer Hiro has nothing on Henry:
"Have you seen us in our forties?"
- In the Blood: Henry and Claire's daughter also has fits of chrono displacement, but unlike her father, she can exert a degree of control over them.
- I Will Wait for You: Clare. All the time. There isn't much else she can do, under the circumstances.
- Justified Criminal: What's a guy to do when he's constantly naked in public in snowy weather? Steal some clothes. And likely beat up anyone who objects.
- Kid From the Future: Chrono Displacement Disorder is hereditary.
- Law of Inverse Fertility: One might think that having six miscarriages just makes Claire want a child even more.
- Lottery Ticket: A Subverted Trope: This is the one thing Henry can really exploit in his situation. And he does, for Clare's sake. Yet he continues to hold down a job to the best of his ability and live as normally as possible.
- May-December Romance: A different version from the usual, with all the complexities of the time travel involved. Clare figures out early on who Henry is going to be in her life, and Henry already knows that they get married in the future. They do wait until her 18th birthday for Their First Time, and it's her first time with him and not vice versa for two more years.
- Missing Mom: Henry's mom's tragic death when he was six. Guess what traumatic event he gets to visit the most often?
- Mistaken for Gay: Henry gets attacked when seen walking in a bad alleyway in feminine clothes while travelling through time.
- Mood Whiplash: Pulled on both the reader and the main character.
- The Mourning After
- My Own Private I Do: For an unusual reason — Clare and Henry have a civil ceremony after the big wedding because Henry completely missed the wedding, even though no one noticed because his future self showed up to take his place.
- Naked on Revival: A variant involving time travel rather than death. But even more unpleasant.
- Never a Self-Made Woman: The Time Travelers Wife isn't really about the wife...
- Never the Selves Shall Meet: An Averted Trope. Henry runs into himself all the time (see below) and teaches his younger self how to survive.
- Or Was It a Dream?: Henry's first time-traveling experience happened in the middle of the night (good thing his older self was there to meet him) and he assumed he was having a weird dream. And it was pretty much the last time he had a fun experience.
- Post 9-11 Terrorism Story: Niffenegger had almost completed the book when the towers fell and ended up adding a scene to further illustrate the limits of Henry's power (and his helpless acceptance of those limits).
- Power Degeneration: Henry's condition seems to worsen as he ages, experiencing more violent fits when he time-travels. He also time travels further from the present as he ages, starting from only managing a few days back and forth, to managing to travel back to the 1900s.
- Power Incontinence: Henry has no control whatsoever over his time-traveling, and it often happens at highly inconvenient times. Some things tend to trigger his episodes, such as flashing lights, television, stress and alcohol, which is appropriate as his condition is compared to epilepsy several times.
- Power Nullifier: Henry experiments with various drugs to stop himself from time-travelling. In one trial, using a formula for a medication that had not been invented yet but he copied from the future, Henry almost kills himself with a very bad reaction.
- Power Perversion Potential: Discussed and played straight. Kimi once jokes that Claire could have a threesome with two Henrys, and Henry sexually experiments with versions of himself from the past/future till he's 14.
- Puberty Superpower: Averted. Henry and Alba develop their power naturally, but start before they're 10.
- Sarcastic Confession: Clare pulls this when Alicia tells her that she could swear she saw a naked 40-year-old Henry in her house once.
Alicia: Maybe it was, you know, astral projection or something.
- Shaped Like Itself: In the movie Gomez does this when hes trying to explain to Clare about his condition.
He's a time traveler. You know.... cause he travels... through time.
- Screw Yourself: Teenage Henry has a different definition of self-loving. When his dad walked in on him and... erm... him, Henry decided to just stick to more traditional outlets.
- Small Reference Pools: An Averted Trope. Can seem as if Niffenegger is referencing obscure works purely for her own amusement. (Even those who have little trouble keeping up with the characters' knowledge of art and poetry may still find the incessant quotations and art analysis annoying.)
- Stable Time Loop: Niffenegger must have had fun drawing out the timeline.
- Suspiciously Specific Tense: How a future Henry accidentally lets slip to Clare that her mother is dead in the year he comes from.
- Tempting Fate
Henry: "If anything ever happens to my feet, you might as well shoot me."
- Time Travel Romance: Naturally.
- Token Minority: Celia (see below), Kimy, Nell and Charisse.
- Trauma Conga Line: Maybe we haven't mentioned this anywhere on the website, but lots of horrifying things happen to Henry.
- Troubled but Cute: Henry in his 20s certainly qualifies as 'troubled,' but after falling in love with a far more stable Henry in his 30s and 40s, Clare doesn't find it all that cute. She has to be told by a 33-year-old Henry to have patience with his younger self before she can fall in love with him in the present day.
- Twofer Token Minority: Celia, the black lesbian who had a crush on Henry's ex-girlfriend Ingrid.
- Unstuck in Time: The actual time-travel process is compared to an epileptic seizure.
- Wedding Day: Double the wacky!
- Wife Husbandry
- Which Me?: This happens to Henry all the time.
- Whole-Plot Reference: Steven Moffat partly based his award-winning Doctor Who episode "The Girl In The Fireplace" on this novel. Later on, his character River Song is based in part on Clare. The museum scene in the season 5 finale is also very familiar.
- The Windy City: The story takes place in Chicago.
- Year Inside, Hour Outside: All the time travel he does is why Henry seems to age so fast. He's not sure how old he actually is but he figures it probably amounts to several years on top of his calendar age.
- You Can't Fight Fate: Played for all the angst it's worth. It's heavily implied that Henry is operating in an Eternist Universe and everything, good and bad, that has ever happened was supposed to happen that way and there's not a damn thing he can do about it. It should be noted, however, that the writing is so good that the angst is handled very well.
- Addressed in the movie where in a confrontation with his dad about why he has not stopped his own mom from dying: he replies that he has tried, but he can never get there in time to make a difference.
- You No Take Candle: Averted; Ms. Kim, or Kimy (Henry's surrogate mother) lives in Chicago's Koreatown. If not for that, it would be pretty hinky that her English hasn't gotten any better over the few decades of the story.