This is the life and times of T. S. Garp, the bastard son of Jenny Fields—a feminist leader ahead of her times. 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. It is a novel rich with "lunacy and sorrow"; yet the dark, violent events of the story do not undermine a comedy both ribald and robust. In more than thirty languages, in more than forty countries—with more than ten million copies in print—this novel provides almost cheerful, even hilarious evidence of its famous last line: "In the world according to Garp, we are all terminal cases."
JOHN IRVING was born in Exeter, New Hampshire, in 1942. His first novel, Setting Free the Bears, was published in 1968, when he was twenty-six. He competed as a wrestler for twenty years, and coached wrestling until he was forty-seven. Mr. Irving has been nominated for a National Book Award three times—winning once, in 1980, for his novel The World According to Garp. He received an O. Henry Award in 1981 for his short story “Interior Space.” In 2000, Mr. Irving won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Cider House Rules. In 2013, he won a Lambda Literary Award for his novel In One Person. An international writer—his novels have been translated into more than thirty-five languages—John Irving lives in Toronto. His all-time best-selling novel, in every language, is A Prayer for Owen Meany. Avenue of Mysteries is his fourteenth novel.
This book is one of my favorites. Because I like it so much, I'm not going to say much, except that it's always worth reading, even if you have read it before. There's a scene in this book it's a revealed that a high-up publisher gives all his manuscripts to his cleaning lady, and she's the one that tells him whether they're worth publishing or not. When he asks her why she read a particularly disturbing novel, she answers "To find out what happens next." Later, she adds, "A book's true when you can say "yeah! That's how damn people behave all the time." This says a lot about John Irving. I love John Irving in particular, partly because I'm always wondering what's always going to happen next, and partly because, despite all the outrageousness of his characters, they behave the way real people behave. Of course, I wouldn't want to be a John Irving character,because terrible things are always happening to them. They're orphaned, abandoned, stranded, confused or unhappily pregnant. They're the victims of rape, car accidents, and infidelity. They're a mess (and Garp may get the worst lot of all) but that's why I like them. Some authors fade to black when things get gruesome, messy, or explicit, but John Irving never does (and life never does). Some authors use disasters or deaths or drama to end their novels, but John Irving understands that those things aren't really closure, they don't really end anything; they just force you to get up and continue, wounded or not. I could continue for a while, about John Irving, and why I love him, but as they said on Reading Rainbow, "Don't take my word for it..."
A dry witted, sarcastic masterpiece, the funniest novel Irving wrote and dealing with the creative process, free love, emancipation, and parenthood.
A cool fact about Irvings´ writing style is how he mixes epic descriptions with prosaic, short passages and especially hides shocking plot twists in a way that creates ultimate WTF moments that leave the reader staggering between laughing and catatonia. And he does it again and again, one reads, doesn´t expect something because everything is easygoing, subtle, and funny and again, insidious out of nothing, bam, in your face, the next attack in the quality of a high class thriller.
Another trademark is that the characters are often partly omniscient, extremely smart, and close to mentalists and oracles, but stay stoic and ultra badass cool regarding their own fate, happenings around them, the world in general, quite kind of Chuck Norris style like „John Irvings´ characters don´t get surprised by calamities, calamities are awaited by emotionless superhuman psi powered protagonists and then ignored.“
The novel gets really dark towards the end and I guess that the one or other reader might not finish it for this reason, but the allegories and metaphors around abuse and how society and victims react to it, leave room for endless discussions and interpretations. And when I say dark I mean worse than normal horror with jump scares and then it´s over, this is a terror that stays forever with one in the readers' mind.
When the novel was released in 1978 the themes, especially transsexuality, sexual abuse, and feminism, were surrounded by, for today's standards, unbelievable conservatism, bigotry, stigmas, and hatred and the reason why Garp was Irvings´ breakthrough may lie too in the unique way he dealt with those topics and brought them to a broader audience. And his genius, of course.
I had heard so much positive about this book...that it was on my 'Books to Read Before I Die'...list.
Well, I will die with having read 1/2 of it. I kept reading, I guess...because of how great it was supposed to be. I mean...John Irving! I got to the half way point and thought..."Where is this going?!" I then realized I really didn't care. And put it down. Page after page, I finally came to the realization there wasn't enough of a story/plot to get me to turn another page.
I'd say that "Lolita" and "Love in the Time of Cholera" are the two best written books I've ever read. But if I had to pick my all time favorite book I'd probably go with "The World According to Garp". Irving takes us on the path of T.S. Garp's life from conception to death and I was enthralled every step of the way. This book is full of humanity, full of both light and dark humor, and full of insight into the human condition. Irving took over from Charles Dickens and put his own unique spin on telling a tale and creating characters that stay with you. I'll also add that while the movie based on it is less than a masterpiece (not that it wasn't a valiant effort to condense a lenghthy complex story), Robin Williams gave an admirable performance that showed he had a lot more range and substance as an actor than most people probably realized at the time, and John Lithgow was nothing short of glorious. But this not a movie review, so let me conclude by stating that if you are a fan of masterful story telling and larger than life but still quite realistic characters, pick up this book. I'm jealous of everyone who gets to accomplish what I can do no longer - to read this wonderful book for the very first time.
Beautifully bawdy, is there any other way to describe it? Sex is funny--far from the holy institution many make it out to be--and John Irving understands that. There's the usual--academia, Vienna, sex, New England, handicaps, stories-within-stories, squash, bears, whores, wrestling, writers, circuses, India--but this is one of the books that helped cement these elements as 'the usual' when discussing John Irving. The World According to Garp is hilarious and surprisingly violent. Charming but not sugary--at times there's much not to like about TS Garp and he seems like the world's biggest deadbeat, but it makes him human and simply adds to the appeal. What I really want is for John Irving to tell me a bed time story like the one Garp tells Walt and Helen--oh wait, he just did, though the version I got is much too long for a single night and would have to be told like One Thousand and One Nights.
Indeed there are enough freaks & sufficient eccentricity here to make this a SUPER enjoyable read. It lacks what the only other Irving novel I've read so far, "A Prayer for Owen Meany," has plenty of: principally melancholia. It deviates to a semibiography of a writer, from an incredible birth story involving a strictly asexual nurse and a vegetable (memento from the war) named Garp. The name is onomatopoeia. She becomes an early figure of the feminist movement. Hilarity ensues...
The son, Garp, is a writer who becomes one to "conquer the girl." Forgive my disgust for this Norman Rockwell portrait, this American fairy tale convention...
But wait a minute. This is like a distortion of a Rockwell American dreamscape, really. There are mutilations aplenty. Garp's life is one of self-awareness & inflated-to-the-point-of-exploding superego. There are poetic afterthoughts and wondrous threads of whimsy. But though I must admit parts read like my all-time-fave "Confederacy of Dunces" (keeping colloquialisms intact!), this is No masterpiece. But it IS a front runner in modern-day fiction... and I can't help but think that this one started all these moder-day melodramas rife with style (emblematic quirks in character, caricaturization of "serious" players...) over substance (...depth).
Oh My ---I think I need to read this again........ Maybe I was on drugs the first time I read it.................(wait: I didn't do drugs --even during the 60's while living in Berkeley .....I was a straight arrow)! Maybe that was my problem........
Help.............I must read this book again! I have my reasons --I'm leaving it at that!
Dull, dull, dull. Boring people doing boring things. Even the sex is boring.
I've spent some time wondering whether everyone is so boring because it's the world according to Garp, and Garp himself is boring. The novel is cleverly structured (it could be a literary theorist's wet dream); Garp himself is a novelist, and shards of his work appear throughout this novel, including the third chapter of his third novel, The World According to Bensenhaver. (Excuse me if I got the name wrong). Both start with rape (well, in the case of Garp, that's pushing it, but the relationship is clearly intentional). Lots of clever stuff that might be interesting to think about... Is Garp so boring because his (boring) mom ascribes all the world's problems to "lust," which she understands about as well as the Victorians who put dresses on table legs? (I shouldn't demean the Victorians; they had it all over her.)
There's plenty of stuff that could be interesting. There's plenty of stuff that could be funny. There's even plenty of stuff that could be sexy. There's a scene that could be interesting, hilarious, and sexy, when Garp's mother hires a high-class Viennese prostitute to explain "lust." Since the prostitute doesn't speak English, and the mom doesn't speak German, Garp (who's just graduated from an exclusive prep school) has to translate. But this scene doesn't work any better than any of the others.
At the end of the day, Garp is a book about boring people being boring.
This broke my heart, then broke my heart a little more every time. Why did I continue? Habit, I guess. It’s damn well written even if not really a dazzling ball of a time. I always read through the pages no matter how upsetting because something better might happen, or something else. I guess in this case it paid off because, if you’re reading this, then I’ve written a review. I promised myself I’m going to write something worthwhile, but honestly I feel like this won’t live up to the sincerity, this’ll probably be crap. I just hope it’s the kind of crap that’ll make you feel better, or the kind of crap that’ll emphasize something important you already know, or the kind of crap that feels real, like my experience with this book. Well, here goes.
The World According to Garp is a powerful caricature of life’s odds and evens, a condensed experience of what hearts go through in all the years you’ve had and all that’s left. The novel tells the birth, life, and death of T.S. Garp, father, husband, son, writer, feminist, wrestler, and cook. His joys, his troubles, his weaknesses, his anxieties, all abound in the pages.
There really is a sort of characteristic richness to American literature that separates their body of work from other countries, and there is no better writer who exemplifies this literary richness like John Irving. It is a dying form really, works of grand narratives and sweeping lifetimes. But maybe in this dying field this book of fatalities called The World According to Garp is one of the best ever written. I know, it is quite unfair to generalize this as a book about deaths, quite hard to really pinpoint what the central theme is. It mires itself in a whole range of issues from feminism, rape, sexuality, infidelity, and parenting to name a few. In any case, it’s a book about life, fittingly, chock full with deaths. It’s also a very forward-thinking book about women and their plight, especially for a book written in the 70s. It’s a book about a lot of things, somewhat a little too muddled at times, but it’s its got its heart in the right place, and a lot of heart it has.
One of the more significant elements to this novel is marriage. I’ve always approached the topic with careful apprehension. Not because of any experience, my parents’ marriage is fine despite its blemishes, better than most I would think. However these days I’m not sure about how practical it can be, especially among my disillusioned generation. Despite that, Garp’s marriage gives me a little insight to the flawed sensibility of marriage, if not its perfection. I have never forgiven nor tolerated infidelity. I’ve suffered at the receiving end of it, and it is one of the worst experiences a human can withstand. In my experience, I never forgave her. Yet in this case, I understood how married people can survive it. How marriage can work despite rough, gruelling patches. How parents, husbands, wives can learn to forgive, if not for each other, then for their children. I felt hurt reading this, but I felt love despite the faithless nature of human beings. Its raw emotions got through to me, I felt the glasses in my heart break and mend. I don’t want to seem impressionable, but after some thinking maybe marriage might not totally be a bad idea after all, just maybe.
There is this recurring theme in the novel of an ‘under toad,’ called as it is because Garp’s youngest son, always warned to be careful of the sea’s undertow by his parents, mishears it as ‘under toad’ and has always imagined a giant toad hiding under the sea ready to drown him if he ever strays too far. This symbolic under toad would go on to represent the anxieties and fears of Garp and his family, especially with regards to death. A living being, an amphibious undertaker, whose presence one never detects until it has come and plucked you with its tongue like an insect to be devoured. It does seem like an appropriate analogy. Like the underwater current transformed into a giant amphibious monster, maybe we do indeed transform death into a monster of our own imaginings. And maybe what we dread and loathe is something different from the final departure of a beloved. Often we fear the monster inside our heads, but then maybe what we fear is, in reality, a peaceful current taking those we love into the eternal sea we too shall reach one day. Is it really so dreadful? Maybe life really is like that, maybe the things that hurt appear from time to time, cloaked with our anxiety amplifying our pain. Usually it’s the surprise that elevates our suffering, coming out of nowhere, not unlike a slippery beast ensnaring its unsuspecting prey. It hits us when we are most vulnerable and we crumble as a result. You can’t blame people for seeing it worse than it is, but you can help the bereaved feel that life still has more in store for them, that life is still rich, that people come and go but our memories and our stories can never be taken by the monsters inside our heads. And in the same space occupied by our monsters, our anxieties, there lies our memories and the stories of the angels we hold dear. Life is bittersweet, but it’s not so bad, right?
“Horace Walpole once said that the world is comic to those who think and tragic to those who feel. I hope you’ll agree with me that Horace Walpole somewhat simplifies the world by saying this. Surely both of us think and feel.”
Garp always says that life is a tragic comedy, he’s not wrong. In life our strongest memories are often associated with either laughing or crying. Not opposite emotional responses but two beautiful things. When we cry it helps lessen the pain we feel, when we laugh it provides an outlet of joy we can share to those around us. They’re both infectious mechanisms as well, these outward manifestations of emotions like sadness and mirth enable us to empathize to the people who exhibit them. We all experience one or the other, sometimes, amazingly, both at the same time. Isn’t that also a nice aspect to life?
People are born, they fall in love, have children, make mistakes, they cry, they live through their mistakes, they forgive, they make mistakes again, they learn, they laugh, they grow old, then they die. Haha. Life is funny, is painful, it’s messy, it’s meandering, it’s even repetitive, but hey, it feels real, so does this book.
My introduction to the fiction of John Irving is The World According To Garp. My familiarity with the author was limited to two film adaptations of his work that I've seen: The Cider House Rules which I recall well, and The World According To Garp, which has fled my memory. That meant I opened this book, published in 1976, with few expectations or comparisons. Stuffed with vignettes that alternate between the picturesque, risque, silly and tedious, I was often tickled by the writing and at times moved by the insight Irving soaked from his characters, but like a party guest who sticks a lampshade on his head, the author wore me down and I wanted him to stop.
Irving qualifies as a good storyteller and knows how to begin a chapter well, and a novel:
Garp's mother, Jenny Fields, was arrested in Boston in 1942 for wounding a man in a movie theater. This was shortly after the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor and people were being tolerant of soldiers, because suddenly everyone was a soldier, but Jenny Fields was quite firm in her intolerance of the behavior of men in general and soldiers in particular. In the movie theater she had to move three times, but each time the soldier moved closer to her until she was sitting against the musty wall, her view of the newsreel almost blocked by some silly colonnade, and she resolved she would not get up and move again. The soldier moved once more and sat beside her.
The narrative begins with a 22-year-old nurse named Jenny Fields, whose family is based on the New Hampshire shore at Dog's Head Harbor and maintains a small fortune from their ownership of a shoe factory. Feeling detached from her family, Jenny attends Wellesley to major in English literature, but drops out when she suspects her parents and older brothers expect her college enrollment to result in dating and marying a well-bred man. She finds a practical vocation with a very comfortable uniform and goes into nursing, carrying a scalpel in her purse for close encounters like those in the movie theater.
Applying herself to the maternity ward at Boston Mercy, Jenny Fields determines that she'd like to find a man to make her pregnant one day (in one try) and then go away. This offends both those who think she's joking and those who suspect she isn't. As Garp wrote of his mother's dilemma: "Her colleagues detected that she felt herself superior to them. Nobody's colleagues appreciate this." Transferred to a trauma unit, she cares for Technical Sergeant Garp, a ball turret gunner who catches flak that amounts to a prefrontal lobotomy. Capable of pronouncing one word ("Garp"), Jenny Fields surmises that her patient is a Goner, but small and neat and as mindless as a young child.
Thus was the world given T.S. Garp: born from a good nurse with a will of her own, and the seed of a ball turret gunner--his last shot.
Hired as a school nurse at the all-boys prep school in New Hampshire her father and brothers attended, Jenny Fields lives on campus and her son--known as "Garp"--grows up in the infirmary annex. Later named head nurse, his mother continues her education by building the most renowned private library at The Steering School and sitting in on classes, determining which would most benefit her son when he becomes a student. She overlooks athletics and when a teenaged Garp searches for a sport not involving balls, stumbles onto the wrestling program, befriending the divorced coach and his teenaged daughter, Helen Holm, who initially mistakes Jenny Fields for her estranged mother.
Garp writes a short story every month from freshman year to graduation. To impress Helen, he determines that he'll be a writer, making college pointless to him. Helen suggests he travel to Europe and when Garp discusses the idea with his mother, she decides to go with him. Selecting a postwar, post-Soviet occupation Vienna, on the advice of his English teacher and mentor Mr. Tinch, Garp discovers that Jenny Fields has some writing to do of her own. While he mostly pens puffed up letters to Helen, Jenny Fields completes her autobiography. Titled A Sexual Suspect, Jenny marches it into the office of a publisher in New York and not only sells it, but becomes a feminist icon.
Garp seduces Helen with the short story he completes in Vienna. Garp's first published work becomes, in the view of his wife Helen, the best he's ever written. Garp and Helen begin a family immediately, overwhelming Garp with anxiety and over-protectiveness of their two sons, Duncan and Walt. His lust diverts him into short-lived affairs with babysitters and later, swapping partners with a married couple whose husband Jenny meets at the English department of the state university she teaches at. These human blunders become fodder for Garp's novels, each more poorly received than the last. Throughout this, Garp struggles to make sense of it all.
In the Yellow Pages of Garp's phone directory, Marriage was listed near Lumber. After Lumber came Machine Shops, Mail Order Houses, Manholes, Maple Sugar, and Marine Equipment; then came Marriage and Family Counselors. Garp was looking for Lumber when he discovered Marriage; he had some innocent questions to ask about two-by-fours when Marriage caught his eye and raised more interesting and disturbing questions. Garp had never realized, for example, that there were more marriage counselors than lumberyards. But this surely depends on where you live, he thought. In the country, wouldn't people have more to do with lumber?
Garp had been married nearly eleven years; in that time he had found little use for lumber, still less for legal counsel. It was not for personal problems that Garp took an interest in the lost list of names in the Yellow Pages; it was because Garp spent a lot of time trying to imagine what it would be like to have a job.
I frequently laughed during The World According To Garp. Any literary character dwelling on the frustrations and eccentricities of writing, relationships and the greater world (just like Irving!) has my attention. The writing is the very definition of droll and often slapped a grin on my face. Jenny Fields is a character of terrific integrity and while I grew exhausted by how Irving uses her as a feminist icon and a political figure to Make Points, she is a memorable character. While Irving is given to rants, the novel at least has a point of view and is often entertaining to read.
Along with the good comes stuff I don't like being made to read. Irving includes Garp's Vienna short story in its entirety and excerpts from his novels within the text. John Steinbeck, or one of his characters in Sweet Thursday, called this "hooptedoodle." Like Steinbeck, I like that authors write this stuff, I just wish I didn't have to read it, preferring it be tucked away in an appendix instead of disrupting the story. Irving seems to have a very high opinion of his gifts as a satirist but when he gets stuck on ridiculing feminism, I started to skim too. It wasn't that I agreed or disagreed or didn't think he wasn't clever, I just don't want to read jokes like this from a male author in 2019.
Actually, I dislike all jokes, which is what The World According To Garp devolved into for me, a joke book. Characters are maimed, maim others, are maimed again and ultimately killed off in spectacular ways. Rather than emulate life, which often goes unfinished, every character is given this cruel send-off. Irving's fans might call this "satire" but I got to a point where I just needed it to stop. It's a clever book, a vignette-driven book that wore out its welcome for me. As a novel that's really five or six good short stories with recurring characters, I enjoyed picking the pieces off the plate that I liked and dumping the rest.
4.5/5 stars. Right from the beginning, I saw that this was going to be one of Irving's quirky masterpieces. So many weird and crazy things were happened as we followed Garp and his mother, Jenny, but each quirky thing I encountered only made me fall in love with the book even more. "The World According to Garp" is the story of Garp who got his ear bitten off by a dog as a child. His mother is a nurse who got pregnant through very worrisome measures. The book is the story of Garp from beginning to end, and it's a story that takes you from Vienna to New Hampshire, from generation to generation. Like most of Irving's other novels I loved this book so much! It plays with narratives interestingly as Garp is a writer, and we get to actually read excerpts of his writing (quirky excerpts, I might add!). It's a story about feminism, loss and transsexuality as well as so many other things, and if you're a fan of John Irving it's a must-read!
I had heard great things about this book. It deals a lot with feminism, parental paranoia, and the challenges of career ambitions. I kept assuming this book was on the brink of something totally earth-shattering, so I kept turning the pages, and it never came.
I heard about this book for the first time in early eighties ; this was a specific time in Poland . I ignored it completely escaping into music and books . Catch 22 , Birdy , One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest , World according to Garp . Those are some examples from my reading list from that period . And I think one does not have to be too much insightful to see the common denominator for these readings .
World according to Garp , the most known Irving's novel narrates about this strange thing called life . We’ve got almost everything here : sex , love , writing , bears on bicycles , maimed people and all sort of misfits ; death is always tragic and lust mercilessly punished . This is a book people love or hate or love to hate . Ones say it’s too vulgar , obscene , too literal in some descriptions . Yes it is and what of it ? But it’s also touching , makes you laugh and cry .
And in spite of all its grotesqueness , dark humour and tragicomic accents , what's more , despite the killing of almost all the characters , is full of life . It’s America in distorting mirror , melange of caricatural behaviours and strange relationships . No , I didn’t dream about America . Not in geographical sense . For me America was state of mind , mixture freedom and positive craziness . And all this Garp gave to me .
And this statement that in the world according to Garp , we are all terminal cases somehow does not worry me at all . I know , there is a life after Garp .
Right from the opening chapter a lot of talk of masturbation and inappropriate erections....what was I getting into? The world that Garp inhabits is a strange wonderful world full of rich peculiar characters and absurd situations. The more I delved the more I was enticed by the world of Garp. I loved parts of this more than others but what I loved I really loved. What kind of man is John Irving to write such an interesting book and character with such groundbreaking issues.
This book really has so much to offer. Garp is full of contradictions and inner turmoil being the son of a leading feminist mother, he enters this world under questionable methods, Garp was always destined for an interesting life. Such diverse characters bring so many social issues to the fore, there is so much covered and artfully written how can you go past a book that thrusts rape, mutilation, feminism, sexuality, transgenders and depression and still entertain with humour. Garp having a prominent feminist mother conflicts with his own ideas of masculinity and gender identity bringing tumult and acute anxiety to his world, Garp is a multilayered complex character, often portraying the internal processes of a tortured writer causing the omnipresent Under Toad to lurk beneath the surface.
This book is a wonder, on one hand it's depressing as hell, there is death (a lot of death) references of rape is a recurring theme but amongst all the heaviness and serious issues what it's best at is finding the flaws but also embracing the eccentricities, these are the people that colour Garp's world and it's a joy to behold.
Though my life has felt rather full, time-wise, I did want to come back and say a little bit about how much I dug my first John Irving novel.
Though Dickensian is an oft-quoted descriptor, it fits The World According to Garp quite well. Aside from the eponymous lead, there's a sprawling cast that bounces all across the social, sexual, and political spectrum. There's a bevy of absurd situations that I had me eyebrow-raising at the novel's onset, but cherishing by the novel's end.
Though the novel follows T.S. Garp from cradle to grave, I was astonished by how easily Irving switches between characters, plots, and subplots in order to deliver a fully realized vision of Garp's world. Whether its the social commentary on extremism, the vilification of those who are intolerant, or a look at men's insecurities, Irving does a commendable job switching up subject even if they happen to orbit around the same themes. Indeed, though the novel goes in many different directions, it all feels thematically interconnected.
While thematically rich, I think it might be the writing and tone of the novel that struck me as most effective. I've rarely read a novel that so seamlessly slips from absurdist comedy to family tragedy without feeling like two different novels. Personally, by the time Garp leaves school for Vienna, I had full trust in whatever direction Irving wanted to steer me. The portions of the book that act as stories-within-stories (one of Garp's short stories and the first chapter of a novel) are exceptionally readable and help the main narrative pivot in its next direction. Luckily, the book is a pleasure to read: not too verbose, but rich in descriptive passages.
Overall, a really enjoyable and sumptuous novel. I thought Irving's commentary on sexual orientation, gender dysphoria, and gender discrimination was oddly woke for the time in which it was written. I'm sure a lot of the book wouldn't go over super well in today's climate, but I found it to be humanistic and thoughtful. This is the type of book that I would have loved to have studied in university, though I think it is a bit more appropriate and relevant as a more mature adult. It is also the type of book on which one could write endlessly, but I've got a lot more Irving in my future based on this book, so I'll cap it off there.
Finally, a big thanks to my wife on selecting this one for my birthday: she always seems to pick winners!
"Mind you, it's awfully well written", Wolf had said, "but it's still, somehow, soap opera; it's too much, somehow." Garp had sighed. "Life,"Garp had said, "is too much, somehow. Life is an X-rated soap opera, John," Garp had said.
The world according to Garp is very much like a soap opera, full of situations and incidents that we don't usually see in real life. The world around Garp is full of craziness and absurdity. Many a times Irving stops just short of being unrealistic. While many of his stories are far from being plausible, they are still possible without breaking any rules of the universe. Even with all sorts of zaniness, Irving manages to keep the narrative under remarkable control. And despite everything, the novel still has a great semblance to real life. The fears and the concerns of the characters, the emotions which drive them, are same as our own. Irving takes one on a journey that ranges from boundless happiness to deep sorrow, from love to hatred and all that variety of emotions which real people feel in real lives. As a bonus to everything that this novel offers, it is quite some fun to read. It is an entertaining soap opera.
In the life of a man, his time is but a moment, his being an incessant flux, his sense a dim rush-light, his body a prey of worms, his soul an unquiet eddy, his fortune dark, his fame doubtful. In short, all that is body is as coursing waters, all that is of the soul as dreams and vapors.
I have a confession to make : I have great admiration and respect for the talent of John Irving, and this novel is one of the finest examples of the heights his art can reach. But I cared little for Garp and his tragicomic life rarely moved me beyond intellectual stimulation. I had a similar reaction to Owen Meany, another BIG novel from Irving, which makes me wonder a little why I feel both stories are manipulative of the reader and more than a little conceited, while my favorite remains "A Son of the Circus".
There are plenty of answers between the many pages of the present novel, and of the novels within a novel included in the text, since Garp the protagonist of the story is also a writer. Meaning a lot of pages describe how to write, what to write, the publishing world, the critics, even the readers reactions.
There are so many themes (and I had a metric ton of bookmarks that I have already discarded) that it's a hard choice where to begin. I went with the Marc Aurelius quote both because it captures perfectly the way Garp looks at the world around him, even from an early age, as a post-graduate student in Vienna, and because it caused me an inappropriate fit of the giggles, given the fact I had read about the Roman emperor/philosopher only a couple of days before in another novel:
“I think you’re going to find Marcus Aurelius particularly useful.’ ‘For what?’ I asked. Nightingale hesitated. ‘Quoting, mainly,’ he said. ‘And thus maintaining an air of erudition and authority.” (Ben Aaronovich)
I don't think mr. Irving would mind my misuse his tone setting quote. First, because he also likes to mention other authors and books in his novels (Garp states that Joseph Conrad is his childhood favorite), and secondly because throughout the novel the tragedy walks hand in hand with the comedy. Garp becomes a writer not because he wants to become rich and famous, but because he has great empathy for the suffering of others, because he wants, with all the powers in his possession, to make the world a safer place for parents and children. He wants to keep the Under Toad away or, if that is not possible, to offer some consolation and support.
Would it ever surface? Did it ever float? Or was it always down under, slimy and bloated and ever-watchful for ankles its coated tongue could snare? The vile Under Toad.
Another possible starting point is to go back to the beginning, to Garp's mother, and look at the novel as a morality play about the sexual revolution in post-War America. Irving himself mentions this in the foreword – that his initial subject was the way men and women drift apart, despite loving each other in the beginning.
In this dirty-minded world, she thought, you are either somebody's wife or somebody's whore – or fast on your way to becoming one or the other. If you don't fit either category, then everyone tries to make you think there is something wrong with you. 
I did like the militant / liberating part of the novel, especially in the context of a recent drift back in society towards intransigence and condemnation of 'otherness'. I could even say that I found Jenny Fields more likable as a character than Garp, her son. She's a pragmatist and a common sense preacher, while he is a bunch of nerves and contradictory impulses.
Jenny Fields discovered that you got more respect from shocking other people than you got from trying to live your own life with a little privacy.
After growing up in a college campus, mother and son go to Vienna, both to discover their abilities as writers. While Jenny Fields discovers the importance of opening phrases, Garp discovers decadence and alienation. Here are a couple of illustrative quotes:
That sentence  inspired others like it, and Jenny wove them as she might have woven a bright and binding thread of brilliant color through a sprawling tapestry of no apparent design.
and, Years later, Garp read in a critical introduction to Grillparzer's work that Grillparzer was "sensitive, tortured, fitfully paranoid, often depressed, cranky, and choked with melancholy; in short, a complex and modern man."
'The Pension Grillparzer' is the first of stories within stories in the present novel and, according to Garp's publisher, to his wife and even to himself, the best he ever wrote. I tend to agree, mostly because it has something the rest of Irving's work lacks : briefness. It's a short story instead of a doorstopper. The other reason I love it is because it is a lot more honest than his efforts to impress either by shocking his readers or by clever turns of phrase.
"Liars and Criminals," Grandmother said. "Mystics and refugees and broken down animals." "They were trying hard," Father said, "but they weren't coming up with the prizes."
In this condensed form is the credo of Irving's art of the novel. We are all terminal cases, but at least we get to try. The end is known before the start of the performance, but the show must go on. And a novelist is supposed to make stories better than life, to make them make sense as well as entertain. It's all a circus show with tragic clowns trying to get a laugh out of us, make us forget our troubles for a moment, before we have to go out into the night, alone. Writing a response to an angry reader, Garp the writer mentions this:
I am ashamed, however, that you think I am laughing at people, or making fun of them. I take people very seriously. People are all I take seriously, in fact. Therefore, I have nothing but sympathy for how people behave – and nothing but laughter to console them with.
In another place, as he grapples with writer's block, Garp rages against psychiatrists who oversimplify a man's personality. He plans to become a marriage counselor, but his wife Helen is unimpressed:
"You're a writer," she told him. "Perfect qualifications for the job. Years spent pondering the morals of human relationships; hours spent divining what it is that people have in common. The failure of love, the complexity of compromise, the need for compassion."
That's because a writer starts by observing the world, digesting the information, even the one coming from direct, personal experience, before reorganizing it on paper. I do believe that the reason Irving's novels are a great 'imitation of life' is because he writes about the things he knows intimately – his own childhood in a New Hampshire college campus, his years of wrestling, his tribulations as a writer, his relationships with other people. The mistake most of the readers and critics make, at least according to Garp, is to use the novel to search for autobiographical elements. Nothing could be wronger.
Usually, with great patience and restraint, Garp would say that the art of fiction was the act of 'imagining' truly – was, like any art, a process of selection. Memories and personal histories – "all the recollected traumas of our unmemorable lives" – were suspicious models for fiction, Garp would say. "Fiction has to be better made than life," Garp wrote.
also, "Christ," Garp said, "it sounds as if I wrote a 'thesis'. It's a f-cking 'novel', it's a 'story', and I made it up!"
So, without looking for autobiographical elements, Garp becomes a writer, marries, has children, cheats on his wife, joins the Swinger movement ( "Oh boy," Helen murmured. "This is the last time I try to save anyone's marriage except my own." ) , becomes a feminist, then an antifeminist, experiences joy and devastating loss, publishing fame and hate-filled criticism – he is full of Life, for a while, and then he becomes immortal through Art. Who can ask for more? even if it's only a fictional character in a story?
Of course, 'The world according to Bensenhaver' is his most original, even if it is an X-rated soap opera – which it is. But it's so harsh; it's raw food – good food, but very raw. I mean, who wants it? Who needs to suffer such abuse?
As usual, it's up to the reader to digest this raw material and decide if it is abuse or food for thought. One of my favorite characters in the book is Jillsy Sloper, the unlikely proof-reader at the New York publishing house, the woman who reads because she must, not because she wants to escape or to be entertained.
If you ask me, that's just like men: rape you half to death one minute and the next minute go crazy fussin' over who you're givin' it to – of your own free will! It's not their damn business, either way, is it?
From Jillsy I naturally jump to Ellen James, a mute victim of rape, and another character I found more memorable than Garp himself. She refuses to become an icon for a radical movement, and only wants to rebuild her life as best she can.
I'm not an antifeminist! They make everything so black and white. That's why I hate them. They force you to be like them – or else you're their enemy.
I didn't plan to end my review with these two clarion calls, but that's the way the dice rolled for this 'sprawling tapestry of no apparent design', this 'X-rated soap opera' , another BIG story from John Irving that I can now cross off my TBR pile. I'm not in any way disappointed for the time I spent in the company of Garp and his circus of freaks. I even think a second reading of Garp would prove as satisfying as the first, but there are so many more books beckoning. Even 'Hotel New Hampshire' at some point in the future.
There are grand novels that are literary, and there are grand novels that are not literary, but they are cool and singular and have a freshness and uniqueness that transcends normal literature; they become something more than just good books with literary merit. This book is none of those things, but it feels as if John Irving was given an assignment to write a book that fits the above description: a cool, epic, tragic, sprawling novel. But he fails. This novel is not grand, cool, or literary. It is sprawling and tragic, but those are only good qualities if combined with those other, more important qualities.
The beginning, regarding Jenny Fields, is better than the bulk of the book about Garp. Like the novel that birthed him, Garp is not cool; he is not a person with whom I would like to spend time. He is literary, I guess. He's a writer, and he likes Dostoevsky and Conrad.
There is one incident, one event that is executed well: the moments before it utilized to add poignancy to the crushing occurrence. There is also some good fiction within the book. The first chapter of one of the novels that Garp writes is presented to us in full, and it is good. But these things do not save the novel from being below average; they only save it from being absolutely horrible.
The last third is too expository and almost unreadable. I didn't care for any of the characters, which is not a must for me; if the writing were better I wouldn't need to care about the characters' hopes and fears.
Irving seems to be piling up catastrophes because a creative writing professor once told him to do terrible things to his characters. He's too eager to rip a body part off a child or give someone a quick death. This is fine if there is a nice build up or it was a vital part of the story. But generally, throughout the book, things aren't executed well, and much of the tragedy seems gratuitous and even senseless.
A 600 page, cohesive novel is not easy to write, even if it is below average. Also, many people admire and love this book; evidently the author did something right. On the other hand, I am reminded, as I often am, of a great philosopher's words:
"The person who writes for fools is always sure of a large audience."
Ci sono degli autori che sono poco letti o che sono caduti in oblio, che non fanno tendenza, John Irving per esempio. E ciò nonostante la sua produzione sia quantitativamente parlando feconda, e anche meritevole da un punto di vista qualitativo, secondo il mio modesto parere.
John Irving è innanzitutto un autore inconfondibile credo che la riconoscibilità - attenzione non il ripetere se stessi – ma l’aver una propria peculiare cifra stilistica sia un pregio notevole per un autore. Infatti la sua scrittura si riconosce, forse accade per ogni autore ma Irving ha un modo di raccontare e di creare fiction che indubbiamente riconducono a lui. Potresti per gioco aprire un suo romanzo a caso, cominciare a leggerne una frase nel bel mezzo di una pagina e capiresti al volo chi è l’autore, come un neonato che vede a mala pena intorno a sé ma sa riconoscere, tra mille seni, quell’unico seno della madre, o come quando da lontano si riconosce una persona cara solo dal modo di camminare, dalla sua andatura tipica quelle spalle erette o un po’ all’in giù, quella falcata allegra o spenta, come si abbandonano le braccia o la testa che si piega da un lato.
Un altro merito di Irving è saper confezionare delle storie o, meglio, saper tratteggiare dei personaggi che rimangono a lungo, direi per sempre, scolpiti nel cuore. Garp per esempio o Owen in Preghiera per un amico, o anche la stramba famiglia di Hotel New Hampshire, personaggi che hanno uno smalto che resta brillante nei ricordi, senza mai sbiadire.
Eppure i romanzi di Irving non sono perfetti né esenti da difetti, sono spesso troppo lunghi e alternano parti che ti strappano il cuore, ti strappano il riso e parti che invece sarebbe igienico saltare. Ma è un maestro nel maneggiare tragico e comico con un senso di levità surreale, per esempio riesce a rendere buffa la morte dei suoi personaggi, come fosse un evento, uno tra i tanti che costellano la vita e non l’Evento, perché sì, insomma, dobbiamo dire che i suoi personaggi muoiono molto nei suoi romanzi, forse anche troppo e la lacrima e il sorriso si contendono continuamente la pagina.
Tornando al libro Il mondo secondo Garp è la storia di Garp della sua originale madre, icona suo malgrado del femminismo più becero e dannoso; è la storia della famiglia di Garp moglie, figli, amanti annessi e connessi, ed è anche la storia della fatica di essere scrittori (sì Garp è uno scrittore), di come si concilia la scrittura con la vita di famiglia, dell’ispirazione ballerina che c’è e non c’è e che quando latita deve essere rincorsa come una lepre un bracco. Ma nel romanzo si toccano anche temi importanti lo stupro, l’emancipazione delle donne, la cura dei figli, il loro iperprotezionismo che poi non serve a salvarli.
Garp è un eccentrico, ma non troppo, ha una sua visione specifica del mondo appunto il mondo secondo Garp, ma è un giovane uomo molto quadrato e metodico i cui spigoli non si smussano quasi mai, fissa dei paletti nella sua vita e non li sposta, raramente li supera, ma Garp è anche fondamentalmente un buono, e i buoni di Irving non sono mai stucchevoli, sono dei buoni veri, non so come dire.
Ho anche letto in qualche posto che nel libro abbonda il sesso, non è precisamente così, anzi non è proprio così, anche se, un sesso non romantico ma quasi grottesco e perverso, rappresentato da un fatto in particolare che stupirà moltissimo chi lo leggerà finirà per avere un ruolo importante nell’economia della storia.
"The World According to Garp" was recommended to me at university by a friend, back in the olden days when there were not even any smart-phones, can you believe it? Anyway, I started reading this masterpiece one sunny day, and by the end of the next sunny day I'd finished it, satisfied in the knowledge that I had just completed a book that deserves the accolade of masterpiece. Did I tell you I like this book? Irving's work is nothing short of genius, and one of my three favourite books ever (the other two are Crime and Punishment and Catch-22). I love the unconventional when it comes to fiction, and TWATG is certainly that. Funny and sad, optimistic and fatalistic, this work takes you on a magic carpet ride with a cast of some of the most outrageous, lovable and grotesque characters you'll ever encounter in a book. From Garp's stubbornly focused mother, Jenny, to lusty Garp himself, and the show-stealing transgender Roberta Muldoon, these folks leave you breathless as they careen through their roller-coaster lives. Gender roles - such a hot and controversial topic today - was foreshadowed as a big social issue by Irving all those years ago. And sexuality as a theme is also pervasive, which itself has to be interesting to readers, right? And of course, everybody's favourite topic, death, gets plenty of airtime. There are some very unusual sticky ends that score high marks for originality and perverseness. So, do yourself a huge, huge favour, and get a hold of this book. If you haven't seen the movie with Robin Williams in the starring role and John Lithgow giving a superb performance as Roberta Muldoon, watch it. It's also a beauty!
While a large portion of bibliophiles read and adored The World According To Garp during their adolescence, I was too busy reading of apocalypses brought on by green meteorites, three-pronged killer plants and the bomb. Reading it now I understand the attraction that it may have had to a teenager, but I question what a teenager would have taken away from it. Because I know that I am questioning what I have taken away from this book at my age, and I even question the motives and the meaning of this book, if there is any.
While the novel starts off innocently with a coherent voice and some sense of reality, the progression of the novel, and indeed Garp's life, is a progression into soap opera and a ridiculousness that undermined the whole novel for me. I might be too dim to realise that this was the author's intention, or even too dim to see a bigger message here, but it seems that this novel goes so far into not taking itself seriously that I can only surmise that this was just a great big wank for Irving.
I can only try to discern any message that the author had on sex, lust and individuality by glossing over the complete mess that he smears over any message by presenting farcical situations in an otherwise traditional setting and by using Garp's writing to mock the novel that it contains. Just when you start to feel for a character, or start to see a message coming through you are presented with an over-the-top death, killer fanatics, Tootsie style drag or some other contrived scenario that makes you go "Ugh". Maybe this was the intention of the author, I'm too dim to tell.
While I am critical of the motives of the author and story there is still a lot to enjoy here. The outer characters I have a lot more sympathy for and they were a joy to read about. Even Jenny in her way was a pleasure. There is some damn fine writing going on here. Writing that will stick to your sides and and keep you reading despite being about a character that is a selfish, bumbling and likeable asshole.
So I can see why teenagers would gravitate to this story. It was Kurt Cobain before Kurt Cobain. It's full of extremism, sex, lust and lost people. Everyone is a figurehead for something. I just wish that the smear of undermining bullshit wasn't there.
The first of Irving's blockbuster novels that won the National Book Award for Fiction in 1980. Be forewarned that there is a hyper-focus on sex in this book. It can be shrugged off for the most part. But he is consistent in this area and unabashedly remained true to a motif of explicitness throughout the book.
So I didn't fall in love with any of the characters. Helen, Garp's wife, is perhaps the most likable of the characters but she herself has a lot of baggage and is embroiled in several affairs over the years including being caught in the act during the infamous car accident scene towards the end of the book. Garp's mother, Jenny, is perhaps the most memorable character. She seems to be somewhere on the autism spectrum. Jenny clearly accomplishes the most of any of the characters including her work for women's issues.
Lest we think Irving is clueless, he does make fun of his own tendency to obsess in writing about sex. In the book within the book T.S. Garp is also a bestselling writer and his latest book is entitled 'The World According to Bensenhaver'. Garp is maligned and attacked by women over his chauvinistic attitudes. He also writes a lot about wrestling which I did not find terribly interesting.
4 stars. It is clear from the first pages of The World According to Garp that Irving is a mega talented writer. I probably don't give him enough credit but this is a memorable book that is tied up with a neat bow and one I won't forget soon. His writing seems effortless at times and it's easy to follow his plot lines. I just wanted him to write about something different. Eventually he did just that with his masterpiece Cider House Rules -- a more mysterious and better constructed novel.
i have an ongoing love affair with john irving, and it all started with this book.
i read it for the first time when i was a tad too young, and it has had a freakishly large impact on me. it is not necessarily grand or epic in any sense, and the story is ridiculous and morbid and almost fantastical with its excessive insanity. now, i want to look at it with a condescending and adultlike detachment, believing life has a much higher purpose than wading through the soap opera depicted here. but what i learned, again at a too young age, is that the dirty, dark and crazy melodrama is the best part of any existence. the juicy stuff is what makes us tick.
this book is a must-read. it goes rather quickly, rollicking through the lives and sexual escapades of the characters without much time to catch a breath. you will keep reading just to know if something more ridiculous will happen soon, but find yourself surprised at your attachment to the characters. even when irving becomes a bit obsessive with description, it only paints a deeper image in your mind. it is also unbelievably moving - there is a section that i tend to skip now, simply because i will start sobbing too hard if i read it. but i also find myself laughing out loud to other parts, frequently through the tears.
i learned what a douche bag was from this book. that was an awkward conversation with my health teacher...
I'm not a John Irving fan. Before this,I tried the Hotel New Hampshire. It didn't interest me. I see a lot of positive reviews of Garp. I found the humour pretty crude. There wasn't much of a story,and I really couldn't care.
The background to this book, is more interesting than the story itself. Seems John Irving didn't know who his father was,and threatened his mother,that unless he was told,he would invent one in a book. His mother,also found Garp,too explicit for her.
"Svet po Garpu" je roman koji je ne samo vrlo interesantan, nego roman koji je vrlo pametno napisan. Zaista neverovatno slojevit, simboličan i bitan, ali u isto vreme i jako duhovit ali i tragičan i tužan kada je to potrebno. Jedan pravi rolerkoster emocija, i tvrdim da će se ovaj roman dopasti mnogima; posebno ako mu date šansu i ne ostavite ga po strani samo jer broji 600 strana.
Masterful storytelling. Definitely a page-turner. My first time to read a book by John Irving (born in 1942) and I am quite impressed. Well, had I read this five years ago, I would have rated this with 5 stars. It is well-written, full of interesting themes (foremost is feminism), memorable characters and events. Funny and tragic at the same time. Many images will stay in your mind after finally closing the book. However, it felt too much that in the end, it seemed: whoa, can this happen in real life? Irving made almost all pages worth your while as if he wanted to please you so you won't find anything wrong with it. It was as if he really wanted to succeed as a novelist. He did actually. This book, published in 1978, became an international bestseller and won the 1979 National Book Award. This book came up after his three earlier novels only got lukewarm reviews from the literary critics (Source: Wikipedia).
The main characters is T.S. Garp the son of a strong-willed nurse Jenny who does not want a husband but only a baby. There is this dying WWII soldier, Technical Sergeant Garp who gets an automatic erection but who cannot masturbate because of his damaged hands so to relieve him, nurse Jenny does her thing until one night when the soldier is about to die, she gets on top of him and that's how Garp comes to this (their) world. The rest of the story is about Garp as a son, husband, family man, sex addict, wrestler and a struggling writer. There are so many memorable dialogues and scenes that I could not pick up a favorite but the ones that will stay forever in my mind are the sex scenes (well, common now, Irving wanted us to remember them that's why he described them very vividly and unique, right?) while the dialogues or thoughts that I will always remember are the ones pertaining to Irving's seemingly obsessions about dying. There is a scene (or scenes actually) where Garp is imagining how his relatives will die. "When it comes to life, we are all terminal cases." He creates those scenes in his mind that made me cringed. This sometimes comes into my mind too but I am a firm believer of Covey's Begin with the end in mind or the power of mind and so I would not want to attract those images and they might come true. So, whenever it comes to me, I always think of other things.
In the end, if I would continue the title as a sentence? Here it goes: "The world according to Garp..." is tough and full of tragedy and laughter is one way of enduring it.
This is one of the memorable books I've ever read. Well done, Mr. Irving. Can't want to read your other books like "A Prayer for Owen Meany" (my next and it has to be this year) and "The Cider House Rules" (maybe next year as I saw the film already).
I hope the Good Lord will bless you with more years to write, sir.
I really enjoyed this one. John Irving writes characters that speaks out on the current political trends, which till now is still relevant. The different character arcs are also developed to be surreal yet real enough to evoke their importance in their impacts in their surroundings. The contrast of Jenny being killed by a man who hates women, and Garp killed by a woman who hates men, really speaks volumes of the stories’ poignancy and piquancy.
New favourite. Irving can really write literary fiction with strong character development. I’d say it’s a long read, and the first chapter might be a turn off for some, but it’s Irving’s style, and it’s this style that resonates realness and relevance.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.