The World According to Garp by John Irving

I can’t describe how much I loved this book and John Irving’s exquisite story-telling.

To try and summarise the plot of this novel would be pretty impossible but its complexity is what makes it such a great book. I love how throughout the whole novel I had no idea what was coming next – while many novels have unexpected twists, I usually find that the general progression of the story can be anticipated with reasonable accuracy, but this novel was as unpredictable as it was un-put-down-able. In some ways the story is chaotic with so much going on yet it is exceptionally written so that every detail is exciting rather than tedious and extraneous.

The novel is tragic and comic in equal measure – a perfect balance of actual laugh out loud moments (pretty rare to find a book that is genuinely hilarious) and heart-wrenching empathy. The characters are wonderful creations with wacky but somehow totally believable oddities. Irving’s characters and the things that happen to them are totally obscure and yet perfectly normal.

A book’s true when you can say, “Yeah! That’s just how damn people behave all the time.” Then you know it’s true.

I also really enjoyed the meta-fictional element of the novel; the main character, Garp, is a writer (pretty similar to A Widow for One Year which I also loved!) and the novel considers many elements of the process of writing. For instance there is a passage about believability in storytelling. Garp tells his son a story about a dog in Germany and later his wife asks if it is true:

Every part she believed was true; every part she didn’t needed work. If she believed the whole thing, then the whole thing was true.

It makes you consider Irving’s own writing and seems to be a bluff or double-bluff or double-double-bluff about any autobiographical details that Irving may or may not have used in the novel.

Irving also includes some of Garp’s own writing and I loved the story within a story idea. It makes me want to be a writer myself!

The epilogue is a brilliant ending to a brilliant novel. All the loose ends are tied up and the fate of each character is addressed. Perhaps some would see this as a lazy way to end but it is completely satisfying and in my opinion the only way this story should end (as I know it must end eventually, not that I wanted it to!)

Irving wrote that he hoped that Garp would “cause a few smiles among the tough-minded and break a few softer hearts”. I’m sure he achieved this with this superb novel. Garp is a favourite and I can’t wait to read the rest of Irving’s work – A Prayer for Owen Meany is next, watch this space…

the art of fiction was the act of imagining truly… fiction has to be better made than life

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