The World According to Garp
By John Irving
From the back cover: “This is the life of T.S. Garp, the bastard son of Jenny Fields — a feminist leader ahead of her time. This is the life and death of a famous mother and her almost-famous son; theirs is a world of sexual extremes — even of sexual assassinations.”
I’m still undecided on this book. I doubt I’ll reread it, but can’t really decide if I liked it or not. A few of the characters I found interesting, but struggled to feel terribly invested in Garp. I knew I was supposed to be, he is the main character, after-all. But I just wasn’t connecting. I couldn’t understand him, and found myself getting irritated with him more than anything.
There was one thing that I kept being drawn into in the story. One place where I did feel a connection to Garp. I enjoyed reading about the writer-Garp. Writers writing about writers is always interesting, there’s some extent of reading that wondering how much is personal reflection on the writing process and how much is not their own process. Most of the the passages I made note of in the book were reflections on writing, on the struggle of finding a story, on the utter insanity of pouring yourself to the page — and I really loved the way that Jenny’s writing of her autobiography was put in contrast to Garp’s struggle to find a story. A very powerful reminder that we all work at our own pace, and (as was illustrated throughout the story) a reminder that sometimes context over-rides actual writing talent. Also, you never know what’s going to capture the imaginations and interests of people.
I can appreciate that it’s a well-written book. The way the story weaves itself, tracing these lives through twists and turns, planting seeds at the start of the novel that get reincorporated much later, and intertwining people’s lives in those strange ways that they do – where certain characters and places flit in and out of your life.
I did like the afterward, written by John Irving 20 years after the original publications. It tells some about the writing, but also gives me some insights that almost makes me want to open the book again, read it again with a slightly different lens. I stepped into the book completely blind, with nothing more than the back cover summary, and the rave reviews of others, to guide me in this reading. But in the afterword Irving says things like: “It is a novel about being careful, and about that not being enough.” This is tragically echoed in the story in some powerful ways, but also in many more subtle ways that I think I could spot if I were reading with that in mind.
I love how, in this afterward, he talks about the writing, about the struggle to figure out who the main character even is (“There was a time when Jenny threatened to take over the novel, when I wasn’t at all sure if Garp or his mother was the main character; something of my indecision remains.”)
I am glad that I read this book… and very glad I read the version that had this afterwards. But I still can’t tell if I liked it or not. I feel like I should, it meets many of the requirements I have for a “good” book — it made me think, it caused me to ask questions, it entertained (at times), it most certainly caused emotional reactions. And I know many people love the book, but… I’m still not sure.
The Classics Club is a group dedicated to reading and writing about “the classics.” It’s a great group, and I’m glad to be a part of it!