Monday, 21 December 2009

Thinking about John Irving

A few weeks ago my wife came home with a copy of John Irving's "Last Night in Twisted River", which has had really good reviews, and its arrival was a lovely and much appreciated gesture. A few years back I'd have been over the moon and I would have been able to cite chapter and verse of it and look forward to talking lots about the nuance in it. So why is it that it's still lurking by the bed, and sometimes creeping into the briefcase to come to work, but largely remaining unread?

I first encountered John Irving when a friend, conscious that I was going through a phase when I wanted to read books that were both haunting and sad, gave me a copy of "The Cider House Rules". That led to a summer when I raided all the local second hand bookstores for his work, and read all of them, loving some of them more than others, but unquestionably seeing him as the sort of author I wanted to have on my shelves,

When John Irving's good he's very very good. "A Prayer for Owen Meany" is still perhaps the best anti-war book, that doesn't really mention war, ever written. I've started to come think however that he's not quite the utterly reliable standby I used to think he was.

I say this for two reasons. First, a few years ago, stuck in the cultural wasteland of Washington Dulles I bought "The World According to Garp", thinking I could reread it in the back of a rickety United 767 as it bumped me back across the Atlantic. Second time around I didn't get on with it in the slightest, and discarded it in exasperation not long after Canada was left behind. This might have been whim, or circumstance, but then I came across "Until I Find You", which I enthusiastically bought, and have singularly failed to finish, finding it more tawdry and unpleasant than I wanted. It's still on the shelf, but to be honest it's on borrowed time before it makes its way to a charity shop.

With any other author I might think that this was just a case of me falling out of tune with him and move on, but I've since revisited others by him ("A Widow for One Year" working on a pretty consistent basis) and the memories I have of that summer mainlining his work is still a time I remember fondly.

So - should I launch into "Twisted River"? The first few pages seem promising, and its had genuinely good and thoughtful reviews, but there's still a reservation in the back of my mind.

Any thoughts gratefully received.

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