John Irving’s World of Fiction: Almost As Bizarre As Reality

July 22nd, 2005 · 2 Comments
by Booksquare

We have a friend, who, when encountering yet another ridiculous moment in life, says, “You can’t make this stuff up.” It is true that nobody would believe things that happen when some humans get together. Thus is the beauty of John Irving’s work — he comes very close to the stuff of real life. It may be dredged from his imagination, but if you think it can’t happen next door, you need to work on your eavesdropping skills.

This is why we’ve been intrigued by the reviews of his newest book, Until I Find You — the one he switched from first person to third as part of his extensive (or awe-inspiring, depending on your perspective) revision process. Though most reviewers seem to like the book, they also seem to be cautioning readers to crack the binding at their own risk. Unless the reviewer is Michiko Kakutani whose continued scathing reviews seem to perplex Irving:

He thinks critics should recuse themselves from reviewing his work if “they are essentially opposed to 19th-century plotted novels, to sexual farce or graphic explicitness, to embellishment, or ornate and baroque forms of storytelling. Why would they bother? No wonder they’re going to be impatient with a writer like me.”

It is an intriguing notion — if you simply do not connect with an author, for whatever reason, what is the purpose of continuing to read and review the work? Is it the expectation that the new book will suddenly make everything that happened before better? Is it the belief that one can be fair, despite the fact that there is no connection with the work? At what point does the exercise cease to be reviewing, becoming a venue for the reviwer’s cleverness?

File Under: Books/Mags/Blogs

2 responses so far ↓

  • ding // Jul 23, 2005 at 1:34 am

    what’s the purpose?

    hope. and taste.

    we hope one of two things (or both things, serially): one, that the author will improve or two, that we will change our mind about the author.

    the second hope is distantly related to that second thing, taste. we continue to review an author armed with the realization that our tastes change. while a.s. byatt made me grit my teeth in frustration and disgust back in 1996, she now strikes me as near a literary goddess. did anything significant change with byatt? no. my taste changed and so did my eye.

    (by the way, i am enjoying your blog. i’m glad i stumbled over here.)

  • Booksquare // Jul 25, 2005 at 3:16 pm

    I agree with your hopes, but wonder if it’s a fair review. Of course, Katakani’s reviews tend to make me laugh, so maybe the goal is being achieved. I do agree that tastes change (which is why I am now able to appreciate Hemingway — for so long, his style left me cold, now I appreciate the sophistication of his work). As for Byatt…maybe I’ll achieve your eye some day because I’ve never had a comfortable reading experience with her.

    And I’m glad you stumbled over here as well!