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‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’ Offers Different Versions of a Love Story And Its Lovers


Who sets the course when it comes to love? Do we truly have a choice in the people we fall in love with, or do forces beyond our means dictate where our hearts go?

These are the kinds of questions asked of readers through Audrey Niffenegger’s 2003 bestselling debut, “The Time Traveler’s Wife.” The novel offers a love story as sensational as it is untraditional. When art student Clare Abshire has a chance encounter with librarian Henry DeTamble, she’s thrilled to reconnect with the man she’s known since she was six years old; for Henry, it’s his first time meeting her. Diagnosed with a genetic abnormality called Chrono-Displacement Disorder, Henry is prone to slipping in and out of time against his will, frequently revisiting his past and connecting with his future wife throughout her childhood. Cherishing their moments of happiness and enduring the heartache and hardships of their unusual life, Clare and Henry strive to live as a normal married couple, while knowing their life can never be normal.

Niffenegger’s novel was adapted into a 2009 film starring Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana as Clare and Henry. Just this past May, the novel received a second adaptation as an HBO series starring Rose Leslie and Theo James. Sadly, the show’s viewers will only get to see half the story as “The Time Traveler’s Wife” was cancelled after one season.

Having reread sections of the book to prepare myself for watching its adaptations, I found the enchantment the story placed on me seven years ago was still intact. Today, I’d recommend the book as “an investment read,” not only because of the altering shifts in the lovers’ timelines but because it’s a story of love despite time and deserves the reader’s undivided attention.

While both adaptations succeeded in portraying the unpredictable nature of time travel, I couldn’t help comparing the distinct versions of Henry and Clare as portrayed in film and on TV. McAdams aced Clare’s unshakable devotion to her husband: Through her performance, I was brought to tears watching Clare’s heartache in carrying out a relationship that requires more waiting for someone than being with them. Rose Leslie, in the HBO version, channeled a fierce and frustrated Clare that, despite her passion for Henry, wonders whether it’s too late to change the future. In the video diaries she creates to document her love story, Leslie’s Clare evokes amusement in being married to a time traveler and weariness in loving someone who is frequently sent slipping through time — and leaving her behind.

Even with the multiple versions of Henry offered in the novel, my expectations of his portrayal were high. Bana’s Henry sparked my interest within minutes of the film beginning; while Theo James’ Henry convinced me only after the third episode. Whereas I envisioned Henry as a gallant gentleman, James’ Henry seemed more focused on survival. Where James was pragmatic and often brash, Bana was gentler,both with himself and in his interactions with his wife as a child.

Though I’ll admit the film adaptation followed the novel more closely (and chronologically), I can respect the artistic choices made in the series, which brought certain details to light to alert viewers of what’s to come.

Watching “The Time Traveler’s Wife” in 2022, I’ve noticed viewers have looked upon the story with unfavorable eyes, claiming that, in visiting his wife between ages 6 and 18, Henry was grooming her. And while I can’t deny the logic in this theory, still I ask what the protocol is for meeting your future spouse.

Another question I’ve heard is which person shaped the groundwork for the love story. Doesit start when Clare reconnects with Henry, or when Henry travels back to Clare’s childhood?

If these questions intrigue you, do as I did and visit all three versions.

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