on June 11, 2005
Garp hooks you right from the start, when you meet his fiercely independent-minded mother, Jenny Fields, a nurse who slashes a leering soldier in a movie theater in the WWII era. Poor Jenny has no interest whatsoever in men (she is not gay...she just has no sexual interest in anyone). But the irony is, her wealthy, conservative family believes that she is rutting like a rabbit.
Jenny may not be promiscuous, but she definitely has some unconventional ideas. She wants a baby, but does not want to become involved with a man to get one. Since artificial insemination was not yet mainstream in the 1940s, she finds a vegetative soldier with whom to perform her insemination.
T. S. Garp is the result (he has no first name, just initials, in honor of the fact that his father was a Technical Sergeant). Most of the story is his, but Jenny still plays a prominent role throughout. Garp's life is unconventional, and that's putting it mildly. I won't go into detail, because I don't want to ruin the delight of reading the book and discovering it for yourself.
It becomes even more confusing when Jenny writes a book called "A Sexual Suspect," detailing her unusual life and views. It becomes a best seller, and now Garp not only knows the truth about how he was conceived, but everyone else in America knows too because the book is a best seller.
Garp is surrounded with an entertaining (and sometimes frightening) cast of supporting characters, including his wife Helen, the snobbish Percy family whose members go by nicknames such as "Cushie" and "Pooh" (his intimate relationship with one member will play a major role in his undoing at the hands of another), the horny neighbor "Mrs. Ralph," a trio of prostitutes in Vienna (one of whom wants to both mother him and have sex with him), and the lovelorn ex-football-player-turned-transexual named Robert Muldoon.
Crazy things happen to Garp throughout the book, but interestingly enough, there isn't a major point or a build-up to some sort of moral. It's more like "Seinfeld"...a book about nothing. Yet it's also a book about everything...feminism, sexuality, adultry, ambition, and even death. It's about the life of Garp, and isn't that pretty much how anyone's life is? Maybe the things that happen to most of us aren't as surreal as what happens to Irving's characters, but life is truly just a series of events and that's why Garp's world is, too.
There are some sad and disturbing parts, like the fate of Garp's youngest son. This book is loaded with humor, but it's black comedy to be sure. If you're looking for cheerily upbeat reading, this isn't the place to find it.
But I urge you to give it a try...and please, for the love of God, DO NOT watch the movie beforehand (or even afterwards). Some things are perfect as-is, and this book is one of them. But try it for yourself. Pick up a copy! Another book I need to recommend -- very much on my mind since I purchased a "used" copy off Amazon is "The Losers' Club: Complete Restored Edition," a funny, highly entertaining little novel I can't stop thinking about.
on February 10, 2005
THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP by John Irving, is the story of an ordinary man with an extraordinary life. This man is T. S. Garp, illegitimate son of famous feminist Jenny Fields and Technical Sergeant Garp (hence the 'T. S.'), a severely wounded American soldier. Before Ms. Fields was famous, she was a feminist by nature, and though she wished to have a child, she did not wish to have any sort of relationship with a man. So when Technical Sergeant Garp is brought into the hospital where she works as a nurse with shrapnel in his brain, Jenny realizes that she has found the perfect father for her son. The rest of the story is as amazing as the manner in which Garp is conceived. It chronicles his life as a struggling writer living in the shadow of his mother's fame. The only true immortality is the written word in "The World According to Garp." Garp spends most of the novel attempting to write his classic, the book that will make him famous and thus immortal. I was reminded at time of the work of Jackson McCrae, especially his BARK OF THE DOGWOOD or his CHILDREN'S CORNER --the writing is just that good, deep, and well constructed. Irving helps convey the theme to the readers by constantly using foreshadowing. There is little that happens in this novel that the reader does not have at least a slight inkling about prior to its occurrence. Whereas with other authors this may have made the story boring and predictable, Irving utilizes this element in a way that keeps the reader guessing, occasionally hinting at things that do not actually happen or things unrelated to the main story. Overall, the theme is expressed clearly but not blatantly.
on April 9, 2004
John Irving is a very thorough and gifted storyteller. I had familiarity with some of his previous work, but only recently discovered "The World According to Garp". In reality, the story does not have a real life lesson or moral. It is just an interesting and entertaining tale about a strange life. As odd and unlikely as many of the characters may seem, one must suspend disbelief and be entertained.
T. S. Garp seemed to doomed to live an abnormal life. Even the manner in which he we conceived is odd to the point where it is not believable. Garp grows up without a father and a mother who describes herself as a "sexual suspect" because she is an unwed mother. Garp grows to maturity at the all boys school which his life seems to revolve around. In his childhood, his mother is a nurse. Through his mother's life, she compiles interesting tales that compile her book. This book makes the reluctant head of the women's liberation movement and vulnerable to radical groups like the ficticious Ellen Jamesians. The alignment with the feminist movements leads to the eventual demise of both Garp and his mother. Along the way, we an interesting cast of charaters. Roberta is the best friend to Jenny Fields, Garp's mother. However, Roberta was once known as Robert or #90. In fact, she once played Tight End in the NFL. Garp also becomes closely associate with Ellen James, the reluctant martyr of a feminist group who cut out their own tongues.
Despite an obvious shadow cast by his mother, Garp's goal in life is to become a successful writer. He does finish three stories. All of these stories are included in the book. Each of the stories give a little into Garp's character. The first two stories are a little drab. However, the third story is actually well done. I almost wish I could read the actual product. The stories written by Garp are included in the book. My only objection to this is that they interupt the momentum of the story.
The book is very well written. I find in remarkable how thorough John Irving is in his writing. Additionally, many parts in the book are genuinely funny. Once I started the book, I found it hard to put down. It is a great book for dedicated fiction readers.
on July 28, 2003
Absolutely amazing, I was skeptical in the beginning to read this book. I saw The World According to Garp: The Movie, and thought it was an awful concoction, of strange sexual behavior and weird characters I felt nothing for.
Just recently a co-worker of mine urged me to read a John Irving novel (THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP) and the thoughts of the film came back to haunt me. I told him that I hated the movie Garp, and wasn't sure I wanted to read any thing he had written. I have been reading for 20 years and have seen every novel since Cider House Rules come out in hardcover only to glance at it with prejudice, thinking to myself "there is that guy who wrote that Garp book, which became that awful movie." So naturally, I was hesitant, when my co-worker recommended it.
So one day I walked into the local Borders and started to check out the Irving Novels; When this younger guy was peering over my shoulder, and asked me if I had ever read any of Irving's novels? I said No! Never; and he told me if I do read any of them, I have to read GARP first. I began to get nervous. Is this a conspiracy against me to read John Irving? Later that week I saw an old tattered copy of The World According to Garp, for a Dollar on a used book table on Broadway; I thought this must be an omen. So, I purchased the book, and started to read....
Absolutely amazing, absorbing and one of the best novels I have ever read. Irving's words flow to me like a hot knife through butter. I felt apprehension while reading, because I would read the story and wonder how the story was going to continue without sounding too campy or silly. Irving never let me down, he would manage to keep the story going no matter what mud was thrown into the mix. Reading the book was like easing into a warm bad, easy to get started and I was quick to lose track of time.
Reading, The World According to Garp was like watching a Truman Show esq, story, Garp is an individual we watch from all angles, from the points of view of his mother, wife, children and trusted friends and enemies and Garp himself. We are show his infidelities, his insecurities, his neurotic episodes of dealing with his mother, wife, children, sexual exploits, his problems as a writer, etc. The story, is quirky and unpredictable with just the right amount of sincerity, you can't go wrong with. I fell in love with Garp and for the first time in my life I became misty at some moments in the book, especially the ending. To make me misty, is good writing. As I read on, I started to frequent used book shops to see if I can find other copies of Irving's novels. Let me say that there are not too many in circulation, which leads me to believe that people are hard pressed to give away their Irving novels because they are something you want to hold on to. I will say that if you want a Grisham, Nora Roberts, or a James Patterson novel there are plenty to find at the used book stores. If you should find a Irving novel in a used book shop and you haven't read it, buy it or it will be gone when you return in the future. I loved THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP, and will read more Irving novels in the future. 6 stars******
on July 19, 2003
I am glad I read this before any of Irving's other books--this meant I could consider the plot original and refreshing in its absurdity. The characters' quirks and situations are bizarre, yet Irving wove their interactions so subtly that they seem realistic; the effect on the reader is only empathy/sympathy for the characters, mixed with delicious irony. The foreshadowing is effective (except maybe one too many "God knows what happened to ___s) and fits seemingly improbable events together very well. I liked the depictions of a writer's struggle and was especially delighted by the respect paid to readers as well--something no book I've read has mentioned.
That said, this book may pale if you read it after _A Son of the Circus_ or _Setting Free the Bears_. These books (and possibly others, based on reviews I've read) recycle the same character types and themes. Always Vienna, writers, transvestites, and bears . . . I strongly like _The World According to Garp_, but his other books seem to diminish it by using so many of the same elements. Sometimes this works (as in a couple of Pat Conroy's books, which don't copy as blatantly), but with Irving it just feels tiresome. But still, Garp is a *great novel when it stands alone.*
on January 7, 2003
It's hard to cut this story down in a few, trite summary lines. "The World According to Garp" isn't simply an epic account of a man's life; it also covers his mother's life, his wife's life, and his three kid's lives - all right up to their individual deaths. It also accounts for several peripheral character's lives as well, including a former NFL player who had a sex change.
And that's the strength of Irving's novel - the varied, interesting characters. Each of them bounces through the story, all having extreme sexual issues - each character's concept of sexual relations clashing with each other's. This material may turn some readers off, but Irving doesn't treat it salaciously. There are also large sections of stories that Garp "wrote" within the book. Though they stall the progression of the central story, they are vivid diversions that I didn't mind reading.
In his new Afterword, John Irving claims that he didn't know what the central premise of his epic Garp manuscript until his son told him it was about "fear of losing your children". I disagree. Sex and lust recur so often in "Garp", it's a theme that cannot be considered as anything but central to the premise: lust leads to misery.
on January 2, 2003
Picking up and reading The World According To Garp is like being told what art is, in relation to life, because no one ever knew the words to describe it before-- or (to my knowledge) since. After reading only the first few chapters I was quick to remark, to anyone who asked, that Garp was "well written, haphazardly constructed" and it is (to the author's credit and not as a strike against him), every bit as much as life is. Because of the manner in which the book was written it took me a few months to get through it-- it would take me days to reflect on the importance of a single *chapter.* In the afterword of the 20th anniversary edition John Irving states that his son, Colin (at the age of 12), told him that The World According To Garp was about a father's fear of the death of his children or of anyone loved. Irving agreed, I do not. Death, and the fear of it, are certainly themes in Garp but no more than many of the other perils of life are: fear of failure, mistrust, disappointment, being unfaithful, pretension, anger, depression, etc. etc. And that's not even mentioning the positives: true love, the joys of sex, lifelong friendships, short friendships that teach lifelong lessons, overcoming disabilities, overcoming criticism, and if the whole book were as fresh in my mind as the jam packed epilogue I could probably add to these lists for days. To say that The World According To Garp is even mostly about any one thing would be belittling the story and the artist who was brave enough to write it. At any time that you get to thinking the lows in your life are too much, you can pick up John's book about Garp's life and have him fill you in on how full of **** you are. Not to say that Garp's life was overly miserable, just that it was life. He was born and he was taught and then he lived and he learned, he lost his way and got caught up in crusades that were never his own, then he had just enough time to find that way again before he was gone. You can tell almost that much about the book just by reading the chapter titles, the meat is in the 600 pages that enlighten you on exactly how. Most of you will never read those pages, though, because there is no mystery to be solved and no dragons to be slain. If Garp hadn't come highly recommended by someone I trust, I would have never gotten through it, either. I would have never laughed with and at it's characters (as it did), cried with and for them (as it did), and fallen in love with them or sometimes simply got attached to them (as, of course, it also did). Leaving The World According To Garp is wanting to go back to it, until you realize that you've always been in it, still are, and until your own death, always will be. If you walk through life with no spiritual beliefs, no direction outside of that your elders or contemporaries give you, no Bible-- then Garp is you Bible. It will not tell you how to live your life, just that if you do your best, life is always livable. I've read a couple of books that I like better than The World According To Garp, but never one as good. It's more interesting than a lifetime subscription to The National Enquirer.
on October 16, 2002
... there's The World According to Garp to remind you. This book--which is at times hilarious, absurd, heart-breaking, outrageous, and tender ... often all of them at once--is one of the most profound books I've read in a while. As Garp described one of his own books, The World According to Garp is at once funny and serious, and above all it is "true." Irving often steps out of the bounds of what would normally be called common, or at least literary, decency, but the result is to remind us that the world we are living in is really an "X-rated soap opera," just like Garp's, full of comedy and tragedy, love and loss.
"To be full of Garp is to be full of life!" writes one reviewer, and I could not agree more. The World According to Garp was one of those books I wished would never end, but at the same time I was content with how it ended. Well before the end of this book, Garp and his family felt like a part of my own. If you have not read this book, what are you waiting for? Go out and read it! If you have read this book, count yourself fortunate: The World According to Garp is one of the most imaginative and enjoyable books out there.
on August 28, 2002
"The world according to Garp" is the story of the life of a common person, that could be any one of us mortal people.
TS Garp's life, though, is an original one. Since his unusual conception, to his sudden death, we get to know who he was, and who were the people that were part of his life.
John Irving is very good in developing unusual characters, like Garp's mother, a nurse turned into a beacon of feminism through her autobiography; or Roberta Muldoon, an ex-football player who became a transexual. Garp's life is full of accidents and neurosis, though he claims he wants to live an usual kind of life. In fact, this book is a little of neurotic itself, to be read in a fast pace though the events in it seem quite slow and consecutive; but when you stop a little, you have to think about just what happened.
I don't know if it's intentional, but Irving describes Garp in a way that he could be one of his disturbed characters (Garp is a writer). Some of the best parts in the book is when Irving writes using Garp's hands; there are entire chapters "written" by Garp, filled with his stories, and it's very difficult for an author to change his style of writing in the middle of a work, something John Irving does quite naturaly.
In all, a beautiful and interesting book.
on July 12, 2002
Alot of the time when I read a book that I really like, I come on here and read the 1-star reviews of it, hoping, in most cases, that there won't be any. I was truly surprised to read some of the 1-star reviews on this book.
Some said that this book wasn't as good as John Irving's other works such as "A Prayer for Owen Meany". Well, while I agree that "Owen" is truly a masterpiece, and it is better than "Garp", it doesn't surpass its older brother by much. "Garp" is just as involved and just as endearing. The characters are so real because Irving understands the trick to creating interesting characters: you must understand that nobody is normal! Everybody has something in their life that is utterly bizarre. If we all lived in suburban households with 2 parents, 2.5 kids, and nothing to worry about, things would be boring. So it makes sense to have bizarre characters like an udwed mother who impregnates herself with an unresponsive patient, or a linebacker for the Eagles who had a sex change.
Another review of this book called it depressing, and I have to disagree completely. While Irving's novels often have sad endings, they aren't depressing. Although his characters often die, they are such good-natured and strong-willed characters, that their memories live on in the hearts of their loved ones and, therefore, in the hearts of their readers. The characters in an Irving novel only die in the physical sense.
I highly reccomend this book. It is absolutely amazing in that it takes the life of a seemingly ordinary man and turns it into an epic. Even twenty years after it's publishing, it is still an excellent piece of fiction.