BOOK CLUB: Would you want to know?


This book brings up so many moral dilemmas that I don't even know where to start. The one question that I found myself asking repeatedly throughout the book was, "would you want to know?" For example,

If you were Henry:

*Would you want to know when and how you were going to die? To me this seems horrendous, because I feel like the rest of your entire life would be tainted with the burden of knowing. How could you carry on your life as normal knowing that you had a silent countdown to your dying day in your head? In Henry's case he was able to make preparations and write Clare that letter. However I don't know if that is preferable.

*Would you want to know what your infant child would look like grown up? Of course Henry did not live long enough to see her in the present, so it was quite remarkable that he was given the chance to meet her and interact with her through this time travelling. However would you want to meet her? I feel like knowing the face of the child I know I will not live to raise would absolutely break my heart.

If you were Clare:

*Would you want to know who you were going to marry from age six? They talk a lot about this in the book -- how they seemed almost trapped by their destiny because so much of it was already in the past by the time they were living it, that they were unable to change it if they tried. (I hope this makes sense to someone other than myself...) Would you want to know?

*Would you want to know that after Henry died you would be able to see him again, one day, somehow. To me this seems torturous. Poor Clare, spending her whole life waiting for the light of her life to return. She was so immensely patient, I cannot comprehend living the life she did. I suppose it is love that makes us do strange things. She didn't choose to fall for Henry, nor could she change it. She really had no choice but to live an entire lifetime worth of waiting.

*Would you want to know when your "last time" with your partner would be (or even their first time for that matter). For some reason this part of the book really haunts me. It seems so painful to be burdened with knowing that this would be your last time making love to your partner -- the love of your life! This part makes me so unbelievably sad. When the thought, "one last time" pops into Clares head I burst into tears. Could you even imagine? So again I ask, would you want to know?

Lastly (and I'm sure I will think or additional questions) if you were Dr. Kendrick would you want to know that your unborn child had down syndrome? Of course, this is a reality that many expectant parents face, and it brings up dilemmas of religion (Kendrick stated that he and his wife were Catholic) and abortion. Obviously this is a major moral dilemma. Would you want to know?

These are all huge questions and I doubt any of them can be effectively answered, but I am interested to hear your thoughts.
Jun 01, 2009 @ 10:56 am

18 Replies



It's funny, I think many of us wonder about fate through our lives. The "what ifs" and "I wonder" questions we ask ourselves constantly.

On the one hand, I reject the idea that our lives are written. Free will should promise millions of possible outcomes to our lives, and yet... And yet, certain worries would fall away if you could know.

In the case of Henry and Clare, the chance to say goodbye - only the terminally ill get a similar chance and even then not always.

For Henry, the chance to make sure his family is provided for - I'm sure many husbands and fathers would find this comforting (and women too, but you get my drift)

For Clare, the knowledge that she will be loved her whole life - how many of us have wondered if their marriage will stand the test of time?

For both, this would be one of the few things they could know for certain in their lives. Henry's constant disappearing makes any activity impossible to plan-- a new career, a family vacation, anything.

For Henry, knowing that he won't be around to raise his daughter, but will still know her and help her on her own time journey - which must cause its own anxiety.

Still, "The Future Is Written"? it's like a bad episode of the X-Files. Definitely hard to say for sure which I'd prefer in that situation.

I think for me personally, I'd want to know. It'd kill me, but I'd want to know.
Jun 02, 2009 @ 08:31 am

Not me

I would prefer not to know. Look how poorly Henry handled it. I would curl up into a ball and never move. There are some terminally ill patients who are thankful for the time and change to say goodbye. I have lost many family members, and although saying goodbye is hard, not getting the chance to say everything is just as hard. I don't think either one is any easier than the other. I don't think i would mind so much seeing my older child, it didn't seem to upset either of them. If it were my only glimpse of her it would comfort me to know she was alright.

I don't think everything in the future is exactly written in stone, free will still exists, but the choices we make can't be undone. Even if Henry tries to go back in time and changes things (like getting a vasectomy), he is unsuccessful, because the future is happening at the same time as the present, especially for him, and you cannot change what has already happened.

I feel for Clare, she was the most heartbreaking for me. All that patience and waiting, like an eternal Penelope. I believe this is where I really cried in the book.

I don't think Dr. Kendrick knew ahead of time, did he? he was instructed not to open the envelope until after the birth. Clare tells him he has a daughter in the future, I'm not sure if I would want to know that. But to each his own.

I think, ultimately, that those who do know things in the book suffer more than those who do not. Even when Clare knows she will have a child she has to put up with present Henry's issues over it. The only one who does not appear to suffer from knowing too much is Alba. I think there is hope in her, that her story won't be the same as her father's (Henry's story is similar to his own father, their losses cause them to re-live that night, if not physically then emotionally). However the ending focuses on Clare, and it's so sad :(

Again, such a great book.
Jun 02, 2009 @ 10:42 am

Nessie you're so right!

I totally agree that I think the people who do know what the future holds seem to suffer more than those who do not. And I completely agree, the most heartbreaking part is Clare. Although she finds the kind of love that many people only dream about, she seems doomed (for lack of a better word) to a life of waiting. This is heartbreaking for me. There are a bunch of saying that come to mind, namely "absence makes the heart grow fonder" and "its better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all" but I doubt Clare would find either of these terribly comforting. She was blessed with Henry but at the same time almost cursed by him in my opinion. She is also cursed after his death with the knowing that Alba is able to see and be with him while she is not. Knowing that her daughter has the luxury of seeing Henry seems to painful.

You are correct about Kendrick also; he did not know that his child would be disabled before his birth. I was referring more to the conversation him and Henry had after the fact. Kendrick asks how could Henry have known and Henry says something to the effect of, it wouldn't have changed the outcome would it? Meaning, Kendrick would not have aborted the child even if he had known, which is where I was drawing my question from.

Also speaking of death, I am wondering what any of you have to say about the way in which Henry died? To me it seems to meaningless. He was shot?! COME ON!!! That makes me so angry. After all the hardships that him and Clare were able to overcome, why does he come to such a meaningless end?? Its so tragic, so unfair, that it makes me want to scream! But then I think that Neiffenegger did not do anything accidentally. Every little moment, every action, every event had significance at some point in the book, even if it was not obvious at the time. So then I wonder, what was the significance of Henry's death?

Jun 02, 2009 @ 10:54 am


I wouldn't want to know when/how I'm going to die because I'd spend my life living in fear, waiting to die. Part of what makes life so exciting is the uncertainty and unknown. If I don't know whether I'll be alive tomorrow, then it's best I live today to my fullest, enjoy every moment and be grateful for what I do have in my life.

If I know I will not live to see my child grow up, then yes, I would love the chance to see my baby grow up. I would want to know if my baby is happy and healthy. I think it'd make me really sad if my child doesn't have a good adult life and I know I can't change that no matter how hard I try. (That is one of the themes in this book afterall.) But if my child grows up to be a healthy happy productive person, then I think I can live (and die) in peace.

I wouldn't want to know who/when I'm going to marry from such a young age. This goes with what makes life so exciting. If I know beforehand that I'm going to marry, then I probably wouldn't bother to date different people and explore the world. I'd simply sit on my butt at home with a bowl of popcorn and my television and wait for my future husband to drop on my lap. :P

I think if my husband dies before me, it would be less painful and easier to deal with the loss knowing I will see him again one day. However, I also think that being able to see him one more time will hold me back from moving on with my life. But at this point, I think I prefer the opportunity to see him again in the future, just one more time would be better than never seeing him again.
Jun 02, 2009 @ 10:57 am


No matter how many times I read through TTW, I am deeply moved by the dilemmas Clare and Henry face, and have a hard time wrapping my mind around them-- or even contemplating how such events would affect my life were I to live similarly.

First, I'd like to addess the comment regarding Henry's death. I acknowledged the event as rather well-planned, taking into account Clare's intimate involvement (albeit's her brother who fires the fatal shot), and the placement of this fait accompli (forshadowing occurs early, and very clearly outlines the theme of human mortality as well as our inability to change what will be...from the author's perspective, at least). I cry like a baby each and every time I read this book, and I can't imagine a more perfect way to emotionally bond with a reader. :)

Moving on to the topic of knowing, I'm not sure I'd want to have any prior knowledge. This is due in part to having a personal ability to acknowledge the fact that the phrase "just one more" never holds true for me-- just one more cookie turns into 2 or 3, just one more minute in the shower turns into 5 or 10, and seeing someone just one more time would always leave me wanting more. I think that, especially, with matters of the heart, I'd prefer ignorance to supernatural intelligence...I could then hope to value each moment together for what it is, and I could always hold hope that it wouldn't be the last. From that perspective, Clare had a choice in knowing, where Henry did not, and couldn't possibly in this specific situation.

Jun 02, 2009 @ 08:49 pm

the ending

Yeah the ending seemed anti-climatic. To be shot by your wife's
family, albeit by accident in the past, seems a real let down. But I
think the ending was more about Clare than it was about Henry, poor guy
gets cheated out of his own ending! By then the reader has already
moved past Henry's inevitable death and is focused on Clare's grief.
Jun 02, 2009 @ 10:08 pm

wouldn't want to know

I agree with many of you - knowing when I'm going to die would paralyze me. I know that in some ways it should make you live life to the fullest or experience every moment with more appreciation but I think, sadly, the pessimist in me would focus rather on two things that I think Henry felt: a) that I couldn't change it (and the frustration associated with that) and b) a deep sadness about what I would miss...
Jun 03, 2009 @ 04:10 pm

No for me..

As much as I want to know about my future, I would never agree to it. I feel like I would stress about my future (and impending death) so much that I wouldn't be happy living in the present and almost feel handicapped. It would also be selfish of me to do that with my future and the children..rather than spending more time with them, I would end up in a hole and making myself more miserable. Henry feels the same way which is why he never let Claire know about their future and his death.. she would not live to the fullest had she known when he would die.

As for the ending, I too agree that the story seemed to have cut short. It would have been great if the author gave his death some more dept and meaning as she does with everything else (heck even Ingrid's death was more climatic!).
Jun 03, 2009 @ 08:53 pm

I would

I'd want to know. Everyone has to die, we already know that, but to know when would mean even if I can't change the inevitable, I can at least change how I lead up to it. And yes the book basically addresses how no matter if we know what fate has in store for us or not, we can't change anything, however I think that even if we can't change anything, we can at least change our appreciation for what we have right now. I like to think if I knew when my last hour was, I would be that much more appreciative, and happy, and would try to make my present that much more fulfilling.
Jun 04, 2009 @ 02:26 am

Henry's death

I'm going to have to be the lone voice of dissent here and say I thought the way Henry died was very appropriate.

It's like-- in a flash it was all over. Just like that. Almost the simplest thing that has happened to him, and he dies in Clare's arms. Her family's involvement is almost poetic justice. Henry "forces" Clare into his realm, and her family unknowingly frees her (not that she wanted to be freed, of course). I think it adds a really interesting dynamic to the relationship between Henry and his in-laws. They're always wondering, wanting to believe this is just a crazy coincidence, but coming to the horrible realization that maybe it isn't.

I'm realizing more and more that, as the book's title implies, this story is not really about Henry at all. It's about Clare in every way.
Jun 04, 2009 @ 06:35 am

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