I have a love/hate relationship with John Irving. I love his novels but they take me ages to finish. Mind you it is worth it as an Irving novel needs time to unravel and due to the complex (but never off-putting) plots you need utmost concentration.
Homer Wells is an unwanted orphan who is then ‘adopted’ by the orphanage’s founder, Dr. Wilbur Larch. The thing is that it also doubles as an abortion clinic, which at the time the book takes place, is illegal.
Dr. Larch wants Homer to take up his profession as an abortionist but this is against Homer’s principles and he runs off with a couple, only to find himself entangled in a complicated love triangle. As with all of Irving’s books time plays an important factor and a series of events change and shift the relationships has with all the characters in the novel.
The CIder House Rules is a masterpiece that encompasses teachings on morality , politics and racism. However I will admit that I preferred A Prayer for Owen Meany, mainly because I felt that Cider House… had some meanderings and untied loose ends which contributed nothing to the plot and I have to admit that the ending is a bit rushed and some details could have been expanded but nevertheless this is one almighty novel that doubles up as a great story as well as a morality tale.
My goodness it’s never taken me so long to read a novel but my workload has increased drastically due to our head librarian leaving, preparing loads of activities for my students and my radio programme so, although I won’t say reading is on the wayside, it has decreased a bit (however I do manage to read a bit every day)
My first encounter with Irving was not positive. It was The World According to Garp and even though I did like it I found it too convoluted in places. I bought Owen Meany back in 2005 but I gave up after a few pages because I saw the film Simon Birch before and I hate seeing a film and reading the book afterwards. Now that I have finished the book I can safely say that Simon Birch is NOTHING like A Prayer for Owen Meany, with the exception of the Armadillo bit.
The book is narrated by John Wheelwright, an American who lives in Canada in order to escape the banalities of his mother country. He is also religious and he attributes this to his best friend Meany and thus the whole novel is based upon his experiences of growing up with him.
Aside from the usual array of wacky characters, Irving inserts a lot of spirituality here, mainly he tackles the question of faith and destiny and all of this is channeled through Meany, be it a Christmas pageant (which is one of the highlights of the book) or even the death of John’s mother (which is also central to the novel) there are a lot of religious undertones which are tackled in both subtle and subtle ways.
Another theme which is discussed is the American view of war, which in this current political climate, is very relevant. Basically Irving criticises the American mentality of using war as a way of settling conflicts. Here Irving just lashes out at American morals and is very unforgiving in his treatment of them.
Do I have any gripes about this novel? no. It is perfect in every way and mostly it is an eye opener to 2011 society. Any book which manages to transcend time like that has got to be read by all and this is one hell of a must read.