Martin's Reviews > Until I Find You

Until I Find You by John Irving
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did not like it
bookshelves: 2007books

I have very much enjoyed the other novels by John Irving I have read (Garp, Owen Meany, Widow for One Year), but I did NOT in any way enjoy "Until I Find You." All the classic Irving tropes are here (wrestling, prostitutes, New Hampshire, older women, people of small stature), but all are deployed in an absolutely forced, joyless, airless manner. The best thing I can say about this novel is that Irving's prose is typically readable. That is also the ONLY positive thing I can think to say about the book. The entire text feels like an exercise in expanding the relatively banal post-modern quote that prefaces the text, except that the quote (generally about the fallibility of memory and storytelling) is about four lines long, and the novel is 820 seemingly endless pages. And at the end of the text, I didn't feel that the quote had been the slightest bit illuminated or developed or enriched. (I don’t want to spoil anything, but the prevailing feeling I have about the novel is: that’s IT??)

The story hangs together on contrivance and uninspiring, unsurprising "twists." Previous Irving books create worlds where unbelievable acts of fate or outlandish characters become truly believable. Irving follows the old professorial dictum to "make the familiar strange and the strange familiar." Yet the world created in "Until I Find You" fails to cohere. The characters never sound real when they speak; no one’s actions ever make sense to us, nor do we (the audience) believe that they even make sense to the characters themselves. Never at any point did I truly care about a single character in this novel, and no one ever achieved anything other than the sketchiest inner life or set of motivations. Managing to keep each and every character a two-dimensional functionary within a novel so enormous is actually an accomplishment, though a dubious one, to be sure. With prose so fluid, I found myself turning page after boring, contrived, unbelievable page, waiting for something – ANYthing – to hook me, for some coincidence to startle me, for some connection to be revealed to me. But page after page (after page after page…) disappointed. There was simply no depth, no truth, no emotion.

I recently read Anna Karenina, and was shocked at the amount of activity that takes place within each and every chapter, and to each and every character. Every person in Tolstoy’s novel has a rich inner life and wonderfully nuanced viewpoints; those were 1200 pages that felt like 200. "Until I Find You" is the polar opposite: you could convince me that I have been reading that book nonstop for the last three years. It could be 800 pages or 8,000.

There’s really very little else to say about this lifeless cinderblock of a book. I enjoyed almost nothing about it, and can only reiterate my surprise and sadness at being so utterly disappointed by a book I had been so excited to read, written by a novelist I had previously enjoyed so much. What a sad waste.
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Reading Progress

June 3, 2007 – Shelved
Started Reading
November 1, 2007 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-13 of 13 (13 new)

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Caroline Watson-Felt I'm currently reading this novel and, like Martin, have read - and enjoyed - a number of Irving's other novels. Although I'm mearly 1/3 through the novel, I already agree with a number of the sentiments stated in Martin's review - I'm waiting for more to happen. The old Irving plot staples are deffinitely there and, frankly I'm getting tired of a few of them - a male main character who seems a bystander to his own life, all the different ways Irving defines women - the aggressive young unattractive teen-girl, the cold mother figure, the feline-like monied sex-vixen, and the old woman who represents the "old" new england ways... the boarding schools, the wrestling, the prostitutes, broken marriages, the womanizing older man, the list goes on and on. In previous novels these staples were linked and came together in a web to build a larger picture, a larger message - here though, none of them give sight to a deeper side of the story. So far, I feel I'm waiting for the profound depth and character questioning of the Cider House Rules; I'm waiting for the sensitive life altering friendship and guidance of the close boy-hood friendship of Owen Meany; I'm waiting, desperately, for Irving to finally write a woman well! I have professed in the past to adore John Irving's work - and I do still - but I'm afraid that all signs so far point to an Irving story lacking in the best of Irving and my disapointment in "Until I Find You." Hopefully, I'll feel differently when I complete the epic tale.


Patrick Yes, I definitely agree with you about this one. He really should have stopped writing novels at least 10 years ago.


message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

I thank the reading gods that he DIDN'T! Can't wait for his next one.


Carly Svamvour Well, I like his novels, in general, but know when I open one that it's going to be long. That aspect of Irving, I've gotten over.

In this book though, there is just TOO MUCH that doesn't need to be there.

I'm not even what you would call 1/4 of the way into it . . . in particular, I'm at the part where Jack's in grade one at St. Hilda's. Emma's in grade six.

It's the vernacular . . . the way of speaking that distracts me.

When I was in grade six, it would have been ten years before this time . . . I'm figuring on Jack's grade one year as being 1966? I think it was 1964 when they were overseas and Jack was 4 . . . not sure.

But 60's . . . even with the new age way of life that was around 1967 - the hippie times, the flower-power times, just before 'Hair' appeared on the stage in Toronto, some of these expressions weren't popular.

In one instance, Emma uses the term 'unfuckingbelievable' . . . I'm not objecting to the four letter word - it's just a word, really.

But it wasn't the 'in-thing' to say around that time. The first time I heard it said, in that way, was early eighties. And I doubt very much the grade sixers were using it.

No - I certainly don't want Irving to stop writing novels, but I would like to see him stop assuming his characters think exactly the way he does.

His little boys are entirely innocent and seem to get drawn in by older women . . . his young girls are anything but innocent.

Like Cider House Rules, Jack is such a sweet innocent thing - the girls are just hell bent for getting their legs open for whoever's interested.

In general, I enjoy his stories - Last Night in Twisted River was a blast . . . but did you not see it there too? Danny, right from the start is the boy being led by loose women.

I must give him credit for his older male characters though - I will never forget Ketchum.

What this story - Until I Find You - needed a Ketchum. I don't see him here.

The most exciting character in the way of an adult male here is Tattoo Peter and we hear very little about him.

Maybe Irving just hadn't grown into Ketchum when he wrote this one.



Carly Svamvour I'll return to this lineup of comments when I'm farther into the book.




Kelly Junno I agree that the book is uninspiring. It's funny because when I was reading it, I enjoyed it (probably because of the writing), but afterwards, I just felt kind of meh about it, annoyed even about how contrived the storyline was and how I never really cared about a single character.


message 7: by Tammy (new)

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John ADD is the challenge of our time. I hop around and read snippets and 'speed read' all the time and few good authors can hold me long enough to even get intrigued ... Irving can - and does. Unfortunately - re most of the comments above - ADD kicks in again. Read the book. Enjoy.


Bram I have been a huge John Irving fan but this book took forever to get going and from most of the comments, never really did.

I too am tired of the innocent male corrupted by older females. The wrestling and tattoo parts bored me to tears.

The first 200 pages (after Jack and Alice stop looking for good old William), are all about Jack being molested. It seems matter of fact. His mother doesn't notice. He's oblivious. I am only half-way through the book, but I will complete it.

I started this book at the end of January and am only now at page 400!


Ariel How can you compare this novel to Anna Karenina?


message 11: by Karin (new) - rated it 1 star

Karin Tikkanen I totally agree! The earlier Irving were wonderful, and I totally loved a great number of them, but as of late he has list the gift of creating deep, emotionally entertaining and involving narratives. He sure did some proper research for this one (I have a great interest in European tattoo history from the 60's and 70's myself), but he muddles up the facts, character presentation is vague and half-hearted, and it very much sounds like something by a high-school student who indiscriminately tries to get as many "facts" into her/his report as possible, without any notion as to narrative prose.
This is Irving at his worst.


message 12: by Patricia (new)

Patricia Put it in the trash about halfway through. Although I have enjoy some of Irving's other books, in this one he seemed obsessed with the protagonist's penis. After a while, it just wasn't interesting.


message 13: by Cher (new) - rated it 2 stars

Cher Staite Thank God I"m not the only one. Little more than half way, I got bored with the repetitiveness of the rhetoric not to mention this man desperately needs a strong editor.


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