Thursday, November 27, 2003

Book Review : A Widow For One Year by John Irving (1998)

The author:
John Irving (born 1942) is the author of the book The Cider House Rules which was later turned into the Oscar-nominated movie directed by Lasse Hallstr̦m starring Tobey Macguire, Charlize Theron and Michael Caine. Irving also wrote the screenplay for the movie version of Cider House, as well as for another of his book A Son of the Circus. He won an Oscar for The Cider House screenplay. His most well-known work in the literary circle would arguably be the bestseller The World According to Garp, which has also been turned into a movie (Irving acted out the part of a wrestling referee in that one) Рseems like this guy has a knack for churning movie-worthy novels most of the time!

The book:
I bought this book together with four other novels at RM5 each (good bargain or what?) from a certain Angela Rao who was moving abroad and needed to get a whole houseful of stuff cleared up. Although I have seen the movie version of Cider House, I consider this as my first ‘real’ encounter with a John Irving novel. What attracted me was a remark at the back of the cover by a Katherine Knorr of Literary Review- “Gripping, full of horror and humour”.
Horror and humor rolled together? This I gotta have.

A Widow for One Year is centred upon the life of Ruth Cole, from the time she was a 4-year old child in a dysfunctional family, through the complexities of her own life and the lives of those attached to her up to the time when she’d have been a widow for one year and is about to fall in love for the first time. The book is roughly divided into three important periods, each indicated by an event of great significance that would bore its mark on Ruth’s life and the person that she’d become. Left by her own mother (whom she watched making love to a 16-yr old Eddie) to be raised by her father (who had an endless string of affairs with mostly married younger women), Ruth went on to become an internationally successful author career-wise but still fails to fully commit herself to love and marriage.

The read:
Irving managed to infuse almost seamlessly a whole myriad of genres in this book that readers will be taken on a journey through a story jazzed up with liberal dashes of humour (shreds of pornography blown over the street), summer romance (writer’s assistant had an affair with writer’s wife), the ups and downs of friendships (best friend got together with Dad), eventful driving lessons (never, ever turn your wheels to the left in anticipation), some bad sex (hehe ain’t gonna put a description here), a whodunit (a murder in the red-light district of the Bergstraat) and charmingly long-titled children’s tales (The Mouse Crawling Between The Walls, A Sound Like Someone Trying Not To Make A Sound).

The characters’ development was rendered unassumingly with precise details that you wouldn’t just be able to merely ‘see’ the characters in your mind, you could almost smell them! You’d be acquainted with their lives’ stories, their ambitions, their principles and their values, twisted as it was for some. I found myself empathizing with the characters, flawed as they may be in their ‘lives’, finding answers and justifications for their actions in the course of the story. Irving used a lot of recollections and flashbacks as well as the ‘story-within-a-story’ style in giving the characters depth, explaining the events and building up the anticipation towards the crucial points. He has a tendency to put doses of humor in situations you don't normally associate it with, I was all but choking with mirth at these moments and had to put on my poker face so as to keep myself from laughing out loud to the amusement of a coachful of strangers.

The book is very well-written and the read was very pleasant, I simply went on and on for more that it even made me miss my stop once – I had to get off and catch the next train back - placing this one in the hard-to-put-down category.

The verdict:
4 out of 5
jam tarts

No comments: