I am of the opinion that the best novels are novels with unlikable, or flawed, characters. I said it before in Don't make this your first Irving novel
I am of the opinion that the best novels are novels with unlikable, or flawed, characters. I said it before in my review of The Secret History, and I’ll say it again now that I have read A Prayer for Owen Meany.
The narrator of the story is John Wheelwright, an unassuming, not exceptionally bright boy from a good New Hampshire family, who doesn’t know who his father is and regularly doubts his faith. He lives his life through that of his best friend, Owen Meany—never brave enough to follow in his footsteps or challenge his motives. He often calls Owen ‘Owen Meany’, much like Jesus is often referred to as ‘Jesus Christ.’ This kind of tricks you into thinking that Owen Meany is indeed a bit of a phenomenon—too special to be called by only his first name.
Owen Meany has it all figured out. I admire him for the way he deals with his lack of height, his odd VOICE and other physical shortcomings, but at the same time he annoys the hell out of me. Irving brings Owen Meany to life in such a way that he immediately gets under your skin. And it’s Owen Meany’s tenacity, courage and unfaltering faith that keep him there.
You can’t help but wonder why John isn't more upset that his best friend killed his beloved, perfect mother on the baseball field. Owen Meany tries to convince John that it was predestined—that he was sent by God to accomplish certain things on Earth—and succeeds. John has no problem giving Owen Meany the benefit of the doubt, yet he furiously condemns Owen’s parents (John repeatedly describes Owen’s mother as ‘retarded’) for telling Owen certain highly improbably things about his birth that shape his life and the way he sees the world.
If you have never read an Irving novel before, I wouldn't recommend you start with this one. On the one hand, it contains Irving’s token sense of humor and some passages literally made me cry with laughter, such as the description of Uncle Alfred’s boating skills, and the event with Dr. Dolder’s VW Beetle. On the other hand, the novel also launches into descriptions of Christianity and rants against American society (either through John, the narrator, or through Owen Meany’s CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE SCHOOL NEWSPAPER and his DIARY ENTRIES) that you may only accept if you feel you know the author’s style and previous characters and themes well.
Even though, in my opinion, Irving is spot-on in his analysis of the tragedy of the Vietnam war and the desensitizing effect of television (which “gives good disaster”), it’s a bit like listening to a good friend going off on a rant—you just nod and give them some time to vent, simply because you love them and accept that they cannot be perfect all the time.
That said, Irving’s use of foreshadowing is nothing but brilliant and it absolutely makes this novel. All along, I knew what was coming, but the setting and unfolding of events was so unexpected and disturbing that, for two or three days, I left the book on my nightstand with only a few pages to read because I dreaded the outcome so much.
I guess that, in the end, I cared much more for Owen Meany than I thought I did. If there were an Owen Meany in my life, I’d be a Christian too. ...more
I absolutely loved Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, liked The Little Friend, and strangely enough had no expectations regarding The Goldfinch at all. First because the plots and storylines of the first two books are so different, and second because I didn’t even know 'The Goldfinch' was about to be published until I read a review in the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad (yes, I live in a bubble sometimes—can’t help it).
I’m glad I didn’t take that (in my opinion unnecessarily harsh, two-star) review to heart and dove into 'The Goldfinch' with an open mind, because it was subsequently blown away.
'The Goldfinch,' as told by the narrator and hero of the story, Theo Decker, follows his times and trials after he tragically loses his mother at a bomb blast at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art at the age of 13. Sheltering from the rain, Theo’s beloved mother (his father walked out on them and they have no clue as to his whereabouts) takes him to an exhibition featuring ‘The Goldfinch’—the first painting his mother “ever really loved.” During that visit Theo becomes infatuated with a red-haired girl, who’s there making the rounds with an old man. After a brilliant scene describing the mayhem and aftermath of the bombing, Theo ends up walking out of the museum with that very unique and priceless painting and a ring given to him by the old man, who was fatally injured by the blast.
The ring and the painting propel Theo into a life ‘After the bomb’ and into the—to him—caring, comforting world of antiques restorer James Hobart (or ‘Hobie’), the former business partner of the old man. This world offers him a refuge from the aloofness of the wealthy Park Avenue family he ends up living with, the pain of losing his mother, and the looming threat of having to live with his grandparents from his father’s side, whom have never taken an interest in him. Theo’s infatuation with the red-haired girl, who is also in Hobie’s care, continues and they bond over having shared, and survived, the experience of the bombing.
Even though Donna Tartt has so exquisitely woven profound themes into this novel, together with a good dose of narrative suspense, and has created not characters, but people—so real that they seem to have had lives before and after they were drawn into the story—it’s the friendship between Theo and his Ukrainian friend, Boris, that steals the show.
Theo meets Boris when his father shows up out of the blue and drags him away to the sandblasted, desolate suburbs of Las Vegas, which are marred by foreclosures. Spurred by the boredom of living in the ‘burbs and the absence of caring parents, Theo and Boris form a strong bond the way only teenagers can. They take care of each other, sharing everything—from a bed, to food, and copious amounts of drugs—and never really take notice of that fact until they are forced to say their goodbyes in a scene that ends with my favorite sentence out of the whole book:
“More than anything I was relieved that in my unfamiliar babbling-and-wanting-to-talk state I’d stopped myself from blurting the thing on the edge of my tongue, the thing I’d never said, even though it was something we both knew well enough, without me saying it out loud to him in the street – which was, of course, I love you.”
You can throw a lot of words at 'The Goldfinch'—Dickensian, apocalyptic, cartoon-like, and I’ve even read a review that called the book ‘a turkey’—but the only word that comes to my mind is ‘masterpiece.’ Because 'The Goldfinch' is nothing short of that; as precious and unique as a lifelong friendship, and the painting itself. ...more
This book is as much a gift to adults as it is to children. A beautiful, heartfelt story accompanied by gorgeous watercolor illustrations. My five-yeaThis book is as much a gift to adults as it is to children. A beautiful, heartfelt story accompanied by gorgeous watercolor illustrations. My five-year-old daughter can't get enough of it, and neither can I....more