22 June 2009
John Irving: THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP
John Irving's 1978 novel The World According to Garp became a best-seller at the time of its release, and remained one for some time after. In the years since, it's come to be regarded as a work of some moderate literary significance--unfortunately so, in my opinion. Because it has taken on this facade of respectability, I'm glad that I've read Garp: I'm now familiar with the story, and can pass on or withhold recommendation of it as I see fit. To be entirely honest, I probably won't be recommending it all that often. Garp suffers primarily from exactly that which also makes it a somewhat worthwhile read (this is confusing, but not oxymoronic. In fact, the same thing happens to many would-be-literary books). Irving devotes most of his energy, it seems, to writing about Garp's writing, and as a result, the reader becomes highly aware of all the literary and plot devices Irving employs. In short, when reading Garp, it's impossible to ignore the actual writing, which to a postmodernist might make the whole project worthwhile. Unfortunately, however, because so much of Irving's effort and awareness goes into this aspect of the novel, other--and arguably more important--aspects seem to be overlooked. Perhaps the most glaring of these is Irving's characterization, which seems flat and monotonous precisely because everybody seems more like a plot device than an individual. Result? Not a bad book, but not a great one either. Give it a C+, maybe a B-.