The I and J authors have been surprisingly difficult to find, although it’s been easier with surnames than it was with first!
My I is John Irving and his book, The World According to Garp. For me it’s one of those books, like The Fountainhead, which is always mentioned but very few people have actually read. I’ve had it for a while but hilariously, haven’t read it. The interesting thing about it is that I couldn’t find out what it was about – the back of the book gives nothing away and I didn’t want to use Wikipedia because that tends to give a page by page plot rundown, with no spoiler alerts.
So, for those of you in the same situation as me (fearful of spoilers but interested in the plot, here goes. It’s about Garp. And the world according to him. Ta dah. The book begins with Jenny Fields, a war nurse who wants a child but not the hassle of a husband. In the early pages of the book she slashes a would be paramour with her scalpel, which she carries in her bag for just those situations. At this point I thought the story would follow her life. She gets pregnant by a dying gunner called Garp, whose brain was so damaged by his injuries that he can only repeat his name. She names the resultant son Garp. Just Garp, at the beginning, but eventually giving in and bestowing him with initials – T.S.
She and baby Garp move into an all boys school where Jenny is the nurse. At this point the focus changes from Jenny to Garp as he grows up with the rest of the live-in children. The rest of the book follows his loves, his children and his running, entangled with subjects such as what makes a successful book, feminism, monogamy and the overall responsibility we have for other humans.
Garp’s an author, but much to his dismay Jenny becomes an author first, when her highly feminist novel A Sexual Suspect, becomes an international bestseller and a bible for disillusioned ladies. After that, Garp lives in Jenny’s shadow and the more she becomes the figurehead for beaten and bruised women, the more resentful he gets.
The World According to Garp is well written and interesting. It’s made more interesting by the inclusion of some of Garp and Jenny’s) writing throughout, defined by different font. Normally this irritates me in a book, but this time it helped to move the pace along and show the reader that there’s a change in environment. These books within books serve to deepen the layers of the novel, without meaning to sound too pretentious. When reading it I had dreams of unicycling bears and starving French armies, which I always think is a good indication of how good a book is – when it gets to you on a subconscious level, and leaves you thinking about it for weeks afterward.
Aside from being a story about a man who’s also a writer, lover, father, son, runner and wrestler, it also has a couple of stand out tragic episodes, tinged with really dark comedy. I don’t want to give anything away but the story builds and builds to a complex climax interwoven with all of the previous markers in the book. It made me read an extra thirty pages before going to sleep just so I could find out what happened. Unputtdownable, I guess you’d call it.
I’d recommend this to anyone who fancies a memoir/life story that’s a bit different – more thoughtful, thought provoking and well-written. I’m looking forward to reading more John Irving, in fact I think The Cider House Rules will be the next one.