I read The World According to Garp, a long time ago. It marked the arrival of this author on the literary scene in the United States and the rest of the world. I read this book with some interest, at a time when I was reading poetry mostly, and I especially remember the funny and preposterous scenes, which pleased me. There was much talk about the short story about bear, which was inserted in the novel and that was very popular amongst readers (although it did not do it for me).
A Widow for One Year, from the same author, is considered one of his best books, at least, one of the most popular and I bought it at the book fair in Nelson.
This is the story of Marion, but I could also say that it is the story of Ruth, the daughter of Marion, or Eddie, Marion’s young lover, whom he met while he was sixteen and she was thirty-nine, or the history of Marion’s husband, or Ted, a writer who writes books for children. He recruited the services of Eddie, during the holidays to be a writer’s assistant. In reality he wants Eddie to become his wife’s lover in order to increase his chances of getting custody of his daughter Ruth (he is about to file for divorce). Such planning was unnecessary, though, Marion has already taken the decision to leave her husband at the end of the summer, after making love sixty times with Eddie, who is madly in love with Marion.
These characters are or will be in time, writers. Ted, the best known and most well-off of all, writes books for children, but reject the “writer”label. He sees himself as a children entertainer. His favorite hobby, above all, is seducing the mothers of the children who read his books, and draw them (the mothers) in more or less pornographic poses. Marion, overwhelmed by grief after her two teenage sons died in a car accident, will leave at the end of the summer her husband and her daughter Ruth, whom she feels unable to love, to live in Canada and earn a living writing crime novels that sell well but do not have great literary qualities. Marion’s lover Eddie, will also become a writer and experience some success, but does not see himself as a major writer. He is just happy being able to make a living by writing. Ruth, the daughter of Ted and Marion, is by far the most respected writer of them all. She is well known and is invited to writers’ festival in the United States and Europe. She also suffers from having been abandoned by her mother.
These characters provide an opportunity for John Irving to speak about what he probably knows best: literature, the world of writers and that of publishing. He discusses abundantly, through his characters, the merits of the so-called autobiographical and creative writer to assess which type is the “real” writer . A false debate, in my opinion, because even the writer of science fiction, detective novels or fairy tales, always write, whether he likes it or not, about himself and even if it seems very far from the writer. While the one who wrote his biography and always tries to remain close to the truth will always be criticized for having embellished things or lied. A useless debate, in my view, but one that continues to nourish the literary world. Irving also evokes the writers’ festival and other pr exercises that writers have to go through these days to earn a living. Ruth / Irving hate them. As for book signings, Ruth / Irving avoid them, because she has nothing to say to her fans, whom she does not know.
Forty years after disappearing without a trace, Marion returns to Eddie and Ruth: she would not impose her grieving on her daughter or Eddie. We feel the weight of mourning ( Cynthia knows so well how to speak about it) on the novel, which is treated a few times, but is not treated in depth.
At the end of the book, Ruth finds some peace (after the death of her husband) with a Dutch policeman who is also an avid reader, Eddie finds Marion, and most of the characters have more or less tamed their demons.
This book is very John Irving like, and very New England (a part of the United States for which I have great affection). His narrative is effective, he is often funny, but he can not touch me deeply. I do not like the way he has to insert stories in his novels. They distract without adding anything (in my view). Moreover, these stories often end up finding another life after (or before, I’m not sure) the publication of the novel (the story of the bear in The World According to Garp, the children’s story in A Widow For One Year, etc.). It’s not that I find anything very negative to say about this book, except that I was not able to truly love it and I do not think I’ll read another one soon. John Irving is one of the first writers (I think) relatively well known to have gone through creative writing courses and workshops. I have noticed for some time that I more often than not do not like the kind of writers they seem to produce. I seem to prefer self-taught writers, those who learned their craft by writing and reading. It is probably too soon, however, to generalise.