The Time Traveler’s Wife Book vs Movie Review

The Time Traveler’s Wife By Audrey Niffenegger (2003)

The Time Traveler’s Wife directed by Robert Schwentke (2009)

This was requested by Saphirrewitch, so I hope you like the video and be sure and comment your thoughts.

I don’t know if Saphirrewitch is a big fan of the book, but to anyone watching who loves the book I want to warn you that I will be starting this video with a book rant because I had a lot of issues with this story and there is so much I need to get off my chest. But if you love this book, then you can use the chapters to skip over the rant and get right to the book vs movie comparisons.

I also will be getting into some spoilers for the sake of this rant, so if you don’t want the ending ruined, don’t watch any of this video, I guess.

Plot setup

For those who haven’t read the book or watched the movie, I need to tell you the set-up of this story so that you can understand some of my complaints a bit more.

This is the story of Clare and Henry; he is a time traveler but he can’t choose when or where he travels. It is almost like a seizure, where something will set it off and suddenly he is transported to a different time and place. He usually returns to times/palces where something significant has or will happen, but it can also be totally random.

So when Clare is 6 years old she is in a meadow in her parents property (they are very rich with a huge property and so the parents can’t see this meadow she goes to even though it is on their land) but when she is 6 this man in his late 30’s appears and tells her he is a time traveler who just happened to appear in this girls backyard.

From here, he visits her throughout her adolescence all the way till she is 18. He visits her from the future, and over time he reveals that in the future, he and Clare get married. She had a little girl crush on him anyway, but this turns into a love for him and she is happy to know that when she is older, they marry.

We then get Clare when she is 20 and she finally meets Henry in real life because up until now she has only seen him when he visits from the future. In current day he is younger than she ever saw him while he time traveled to her, and this Henry doesn’t even know who Clare is. But she reveals how she knows him and they start dating and soon marry.

Book rant

I went into this book with an open mind, but I had so many complaints. And as goes, the more I disliked, the more egregious this book became as it all stacked up! For starters, we start with Clare as a girl, hearing about the many times Henry came to visit her. When she is narrating the story as a young girl, like 6-13, I hated the narration style. I rarely like book narrated by children and this was no exception. Then when he visits when she is a teenager, she tells him about a date she went on where the guy physically abused her and so she tells Henry about it and he helps her get revenge on the guy. This was so cringey and poorly written. It was supposed to be a Hell Yeah moment for Clare, as well as something that makes us like Henry as we see how he gets back at this guy for her. But it was so cheesy and cheap. I’m all about stories of female revenge, but again, this was so cheesy and stupid. So much of this book reads like a teenage girls fantasy targeting other teens, rather than a book written by a grown woman, for adults.

But also, this whole thing with Henry visiting her throughout her adolescence was uncomfortable in so many ways. He is grooming her and making her see him as the perfect guy and getting her to be okay with his time traveling. If they met as adults, she could be a grown woman who could weigh the options of this marriage. But here, she never doubts because she has been primed to love him and accept him as her soulmate.

When they do meet, he is younger than she has ever seen him and he is pretty rough around the edges. When she gets a visit from older Henry, she says how he isn’t “him” yet and he tells her she just needs patience and that due to her influence, young Henry will change and become the better person that she knows him to become. Literally the whole thing behind the cliché of girls falling for jerks, “I can change him/he will change for me.” And he does, so the story supports a harmful trope. Girls don’t get with a guy if you don’t love him as he is!! Don’t get with someone that you want to change.

And then, she has her best friend, Charisse, whose boyfriend is Gomez and because this is written like a teenager’s wishfulfillemnt, Gomez of course harbors a crush on Clare throughout the years despite him marrying Charisse and having kids together and Clare and Henry marrying and having kids. Charisse knows he loves Clare and talks to Henry about her fear that Gomez would leave her to be with Clare. If he is so obsessed with her, why stay with him and if you are going to stay with him and value the marriage then stop hanging out with Clare.

But that cheesy aspect isn’t even the worst part, the worst part is when Gomez and Charisse are boyfriend/girlfriend, before Clare meets Henry in real time (she sees him from the future when she is 18, then doesn’t see him at all until meeting in real time when she is 20), she sleeps with Gomez. She later tells Henry about this and she is racked with guilt because it feels like she was unfaithful to Henry in a way. Henry is okay with it though since it was that in between time, plus when he last saw her at 18 he had told her to go out and explore the world and date other people. But why does she not feel guilty about betraying her so called best friend?? That is why you should feel guilty! Yet apparently when around Charisse she has no guilt and feels nothing at all in that regard.

And then this gets worse, once Henry has died, she is alone with Gomez and he makes a pass at her and the two begin to have sex. While with Gomez though she is imaging Henry and is “transported” in a sense to one of the times they had made love and she even calls out Henry’s name. Then Charisse comes home with the kids and Clare rushes into the bathroom to get her cloths on. She then thinks, what have I become? And I’m like, good she finally feels remorse for getting with her best friends now husband. But nope, she then is like, “I have now become the traveler”. Uuuugh, like are you really trying to make this romantic is some cheesy tragic way right now you pos Clare?!

Having every guy around in love with Clare is such a dumb trope in books like this, and then her betraying her best friend and it not being seen as bad thing as far as the friend goes is so messed up.

But there is still more I want to complain about. This book has so many pointless dream sequences! No one wants to hear about someone pointless dream, and we especially don’t want to hear a fictional character’s dreams in a book that is already too long. We get some pointless dreams early on, then we even get chapters with titles like “baby dream” and “feet dreams”! When I saw each of those chapter headings, I was just like noooo not a whole chapter dedicated to stupid dreams that serve no purpose!! Are you kidding me?? Why did the editor not tell her to cut these??

Speaking of this being too long, she must have been trying to reach a word count because multiple times we gets lists of things we don’t need to know. Like they go to a sushi restaurant and she lists off what they order, she then is going through a grocery bag and listing everything Henry has bought (yes there is something splenetic in the bag that comes into play, but we didn’t need to know about the 15 other items), as well as so much talking about punk music which Clare and Henry bond over. I don’t need to hear all these different bands being listed off I did not pick up this book to read about punk music. We also hear so much about Clare’s paper art which again, I do not care about the details of any of her silly art projects.

There is honesty more I could complain about, but I think I have gone on long enough.

But in case you can’t tell, this isn’t a book I would recommend. It wasn’t romantic, it was too long, there were so many frustrating cliches and tropes, I didn’t like the characters, and while it could have been a thought-provoking story about the double-sided grooming situation, it instead plays the manipulation as being romantic.

And with the characters being unlikeable, I do want to clarify that I like reading books about unlikeable people. I love Ottessa Moshfegh’s books, and basically all of her characters I don’t like. But she writes these people with such complexity and nuance, but that just isn’t the case here. Also this book writes these two people like we should be rooting for them and their flaws-like Clare being a terrible “best friend” is written like the author didn’t even realize how messed up that was of Clare on behalf of the best friend. I don’t need an author to blatantly tell me when a character does something that is wrong, but again this book wrote about the affair as if Charisse wasn’t even a person whose feelings matter. Which again plays into the teenage fantasy where the main character is the only one who matters and her friends are just accessories to her story whose feelings and life don’t matter.

Now that the majority of my complaints are out of the way-let’s get into the plot details!

Having a baby

Once Henry and Clare are married, she eventually gets pregnant. However she miscarries and after several miscarriages, they assume that the baby has the time travel gene and when it gets stressed, it time travels and then dies.

Henry reaches out to a geneticist and this man does tests and helps figure out the reasons behind Henry’s condition. He doesn’t offer any reasonable solutions to their pregnancy issue though. While Clare wants to keep trying, Henry says they need to stop trying because it is too dangerous for Clare. In the movie he also tells her when he has been to the future, he never sees them with a baby which honestly seems like am messed up thing to say to her.

In the book, Henry decides he is going to get a vasectomy without telling Clare. However, when he is in the clinic, the stress makes him time travel to the meadow and he doesn’t get the surgery. In the meadow, Clare is 15 and he tells her that he and adult Clare are arguing about something, and that he just tried to do something that would really upset adult Clare. Young Clare wants to know more, but he won’t say. He then forcefully kisses her despite her resistance and when done, she pulls away and tells him that for her, that is their first kiss.

I know Clare ends up becoming his wife but forcing yourself on a 15-year-old when he is in his late 30’s is so gross.

He then goes to current day and tells Clare about the meadow. She remembered what he had told 15-year-old her, and she guesses that he had tried to get a vasectomy. She then tells him to go ahead and get it done because she is tired of fighting about it.

In the book, a future Henry had visited Clare and told her that in the future they do have a baby. So, she knows that it will happen in some way and she feels relieved and has a new confidence.

In the movie, he goes through with the surgery and after getting it done, he travels to the meadow. In the movie, Clare is 18 and the same thing happens where he kisses her. This wasn’t as upsetting as the book since Clare here is played by Rachel McAdams and she is 18 rather than 15.

When he goes back to present day he tells her where he was and she again remembers he had told her back then, that he had done something that would upset adult Clare. He then reveals that he got a vasectomy. Clare feels betrayed by this and then says,

“You tricked me. You came to that meadow, and you forced yourself in the heart and mind of a little girl. What, you think that I wanted this life? This husband that disappears without any warning?”

He then says, “You had a choice.”

To which she responds, “I never had a choice.”

Manipulating each other

This scene was amazing in the movie and is something I kept waiting for in the book. For Clare to mature and over time, realize what a messed up situation she and Henry are in. He groomed her as a child, and it seems like she never has any true agency because he was always there telling her what would happen in life. He tries not to say too much, but like when shopping for a home, it doesn’t matter what Clare thinks because Henry has seen their future home and they keep looking till he finds the one he has seen in the future. She knows she will marry Henry, because he comes from the future where that has already happened.

I know Henry can’t control when or where he goes, so it isn’t his fault he keeps returning to the meadow. And when Clare meets Henry, she gives him a list of days and times that she met him at the meadow, a list that future Henry had originally give to young Clare. She herself forces herself on him when they first meet in real time.

But Henry was 28 and Clare was 20, so while she has the “I can change him” attitude and works to mold this younger Henry into the older version of him she knows from the meadow, it isn’t the same as the grooming he did to her when she was in her formative years while he was decades older.

In the book too we learn that Henry took Clare’s virginity when she is 18. He refuses to have sex with her prior to that, despite her pleading, which is supposed to make us see him as a decent person. But waiting for the day she turns 18 is just kind of gross and the fact that in the future they will marry, doesn’t change the fact that he was a 40 year old man, manipulating a teenager and having sex with her. If anything, being the first man she was ever with, just solidified himself as her “dream guy”. He should have refused to ever be with her until they met in real time. Thankfully the movie doesn’t have this detail of them being together when she is 18.

But this manipulating they each do to each other and this cycle they are trapped in of who is controlling who, is really fascinating when you think about it and I wish the author had written about it in a more sophisticated way rather than having it all come across like something the reader is supposed to see as romantic. The truth is, Henry and Clare are in a toxic relationship but it is told to us like it is healthy, albeit also tragic.

Alba

But Clare eventually does get pregnant and stay pregnant, and she has a baby girl who they name Alba. In the movie, Henry had a vasectomy but one day they get a call in the night from a Henry from the past who has traveled to this time and it is cold and he is asked to be picked up. Clare leaves present day Henry sleeping and goes to pick up past Henry. While with him, she instigated sex and this is how she gets pregnant.

In the book, past Henry shows up in the middle of the night and as he sees Clare and Present Henry sleeping, he feels an overwhelming lust for Clare. So while she is still half asleep, he gets in bed and has sex with her. This is how she gets pregnant in the book. So much better in the movie!! I like that she is the one who instigates and controls the situation, and in the book having her be asleep when he starts things up with her while other Henry is in bed sleeping just seemed weird.

Before Alba is even born, Henry travels to the future where she is ten years old. She is thrilled to see him, and he finds out here that he dies when she is five.

Alba is also a time traveler, but as time goes on, we see she has learned to control it better. At one point, young Alba is visited by and older Alba which was a cool scene when Clare asks Henry who Alba is talking to and he says they are both Alba.

Due to this visit of older Alba, Clare eventually finds out that Henry dies soon.

Book ending

In the book, Henry gets hypothermia from one of his travels and his feet get amputated. When he is still getting used to not having his feet, he time travels to Clare’s youth and her father hunts and Henry gets shot accidently and dies from the wound.

Through the following years, Alba will see Henry from the past at various times, but Clare is never visited by him. She finds a letter he had written to her which tells her he doesn’t want her waiting for him and wants her to live her life. But he does say that he went to the future once and saw Clare as an old woman, so she has that to look forward to.

We then see Clare in her 80’s, and we read how all of her says are the same and that she spends her days waiting for Henry. Uuugh, what a stupid ending. This is not romantic, move on Clare! Henry has been dead for like 50 years at this point.

Movie ending

In the movie, Henry gets hypothermia but does not get his feet amputated. Instead, he is just in a wheelchair. Same thing happens though where he travels in the past and is shot.

We then go forward some years and Alba is in the meadow at her grandparents’ house, when past Henry shows up. She calls to Clare, who comes running out and she and Henry run to meet each other. She asks why he didn’t tell her he would be showing up, and he says because he doesn’t want her to spend her life waiting for him. Then he soon disappears, and Clare and Alba walk off together.

Changes from book to movie

There is so much in the book that wasn’t in the movie but to be honest, there wasn’t much in there that I missed! There was a part when Henry is talking to his dad (whom he has a strained relationship with) and he tells him that he has traveled to the past and seen his parents with him as a baby. His mom died when he was 6, and when he sees his dad before the death of his mom, the dad had been so happy. In present day he is telling his dad this and says, “When I see you like that I wonder what it would have been like to have been raised by that dad.” Something along those lines, which wow, what a gut punch but a great line. In both, overtime, he and his father repair their relationship after he gets with Clare.

We also see many more times that Henry visits young Clare and they even go out and do stuff together.

There are multiple characters not in the movie at all, such a a mother figure of Henry’s named Mrs. Kim as well as various friends of his, one of which supplies him drugs because he tries various drugs in an effort to control the traveling.

There is also his girlfriend from before he meets Clare, named Ingrid. They had an unhealthy relationship and she ends up committing suicide. Henry from the future travels to her shortly before he himself dies, and sees her the very night she kills herself.

We also see more of his work life at the library, which the movie doesn’t get into at all.

Gomez and his wife are in the movie, but there is not cheating here.

Book vs Movie

I won’t drag this out-the movie wins! I really disliked this book and found it so frustrating. The movie was very enjoyable though and Rachel McAdams is perfection.

There were things I did like about the book like how he can go back and see his mom in the past and Alba seeing her dad, those were some tender moments that were very touching.

I also did like their wedding, hoe Henry travels and older Henry shows up, then young Henry returns again. The movie keeps this and has a part when young Henry comes back and he says, You wish I was him don’t you? Because he knows she prefers him when he is older and “better” but in the movie she then says, But you are. Which was a sweet moment and showed movie Clare as loving and accepting him as he is, rather than book Clare that wanted to change him.

There is a 2022 tv show adaptation, and I did read on reddit that the show is faithful to the book, while also getting into the nuance of this circle of manipulation she and Henry are in. Part of me has no desire spending 6-8 hours of my life watching something based on this book, and yet, if it is more nuanced than the book I could be persuaded to check it out. So if you have seen the show, comment whether you think I would like it or if it just plays it all as romance like the book does in which case I have no interest in it.