I finished reading ‘The World According to Garp’ (by John Irving) this morning, and my first thought was that I wanted to read it again – straight away. Considering that I hardly ever re-read books, and if I do, there’s usually some significant passage of time between readings, I think it’s fair to say that I really, really liked this book. Could it become my new most favourite novel? Well, I’m not too sure about that, but it isn’t like anything that I’ve ever read before – it isn’t like anything that I could have imagined ever reading. It is, however, one of those books that I am so glad I read; I’m so happy that something in my mind told me I had to buy this book at the Lifeline Bookfest.
I read ‘Garp’ over the course of several months (shockingly, I don’t think I’ve finished a novel since about late April!). It’s not an overly long book, but I pretty much only read it on my daily commutes to and from work (when I wasn’t too tired or distracted with other thoughts) and sometimes a bit at lunch times if I had a late lunch and no one else was around (or they were also reading). I even took the book to New Zealand on my recent holiday. I think I only had the chance to read it once while I was there, and then again on the plane back, but that doesn’t matter. If this book was a person, it’d be a loyal, trusted companion.
‘Garp’ is one of those books that I wish I could recommend to everyone. The only problem is that, because of the content and the stuff that Irving writes about, I’m a bit hesitant to go around telling everyone to read it. It’s a bit upfront, and there were parts that made me cringe, and there were a lot of parts that made me wonder how could Irving have possibly thought of that? But all in all, I wouldn’t want any part of it censored; it wouldn’t be the same. Still, it wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea.
One of the things I really liked about this book was that it was extremely well-written. I suppose that kind of goes without saying, though – I don’t think that I can like a book so much if it wasn’t well-written, even if the story was good. I’ve already mentioned in a previous post that I was quite impressed by Irving’s use of semi-colons; I’ve never read a book with so many semi-colons (or I’ve never noticed before). I swear I was never properly taught (if at all) how to use semi-colons, but part of me would be ashamed if this punctuation was allowed to become redundant because people weren’t taught how to use it, or were too afraid to try to use it.
Anyway, before I go off on some tirade about how the education system failed to teach me about semi-colons, let’s go back to ‘Garp’… I suppose one reason why I kind of connected to ‘The World According to Garp’ (enough to analogise it to an actual human) was that, despite the bizarre events and characters, it was quite relatable. Garp worried about a lot of things – most notably about his children:
“There was so much to worry about, when worrying about children, and Garp worried so much about everything” (p.262)
I wouldn’t say I’m a compulsive worrier, and I don’t think most of my family and friends would describe me as someone who worries a lot about many things, but I do have tendancies toward what I’d like to call “worst case scenario thinking”. For example, when I fell down and hit my head while snowboarding, I spent a lot of time wondering if I might have a (mild) concussion. Another time, when I came home from work and no one was at home, when I’d expected people to be at home, I wondered if there’d been some sort of emergency I hadn’t been told about. I suppose I don’t usually express or show worry, but worst case scenarios come easily to me, as they do for Garp.
“Late-night phone calls – those burglar alarms in the heart – would frighten Garp all his life. Who is it that I love? Garp’s heart would cry, at the first ring…” (p.286)
I feel like I could go on and on about ‘Garp’ but all I really need to say is that it was a high impact novel, and Garp was a great character – a memorable character. He was also inspiring; when he wrote, he inspired me to write (whether I did or not is irrelevant). I’m not sure that I could write about the same sorts of things that Garp did, or that Irving did, but I do agree with (some of?) Garp’s sentiments on writing, and I think this is a good guiding principle: “fiction has be to better made than life” (p.429).