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"In the World According to Garp, we Are All Terminal Cases"

  • Jul 12, 2010
John Irving is the rare breed of a writer who began with some pretty good success critically.  His earliest works such as Setting Free the Bears, The 158 Pound Marriage and The Water Method Man actually opened up to critical success.  All of those books didn't exactly sell very well, however.  Rather they were quite unknown.  In 1978, John Irving published The World According to Garp and the result was a runaway bestseller.  It was a book that was filled to the brim with lunacy and sorrow.  A book that, at some points, you weren't sure if you were supposed to be laughing or crying.  It takes place in a world that seems quite bizarre in and of itself, but it's almost impossible not to believe.  Even when things are getting pretty bizarre. 

The World According to Garp is about T.S. Garp.  The bastard son of Jenny Fields.  There are two fronts to the story in The World According to Garp.  The first is Jenny Fields.  A woman who wanted a child but didn't want to have to go through all the work and emotional attachment.  A woman who later would have views on sexuality so bleak and unusual that for her life she'd be viewed as a sexual suspect.  But we know Jenny Fields is one tough woman and that she can handle her own.  This is demonstrated brilliantly in the opening pages in which Jenny wounds a soldier trying to take advantage of her in a movie theater.  When Jenny writes an autobiography aptly titled "A Sexual Suspect," she becomes famous and a feminist leader.

Then, of course, there is Garp.  As the novel begins he is born, but we watch him grow.  Going through a world filled with lust.  He wants to be a writer and as he follows in the footsteps of his mother he almost becomes as famous as her.  On the other hand, part of what makes Garp's story so enticing is what happens once he becomes a family man.  As a family man we begin to understand what The World According to Garp is.  His own fears of losing his children, of losing those he cares about and that the world is just an overall dangerous place. 

As I said, the book has moments where it's hard to tell if you're supposed to laugh or cry.  At one moment you're reading about Garp's bizarre conception (not to mention a few moments leading up to it) the next you're blindsided by tragedy.  The World According to Garp is black humor.  It's also one that showcases many of Irving's classic themes.  Sexuality, Vienna, Absent Parents etc. 

The World According to Garp may be a little too dark for some people, though.  You're reading a very dark story that's filled with humor, but also a lot of tragedy.  It strikes a lot of rich humor, but when it gets dark and brutal... it can hit you over the head with a sledgehammer.  There are moments that are shocking to see.  Others that are heartfelt.  It's a dark comedy at it's best, but it manages to capture humanity, even in some of the most bizarre moments of the book.  Simply put, The World According to Garp is a rare gem in fiction.  It's a world almost impossible not to believe.  And we're not just seeing it through Garp's eyes.  We are also seeing it through Jenny's.  At one point Irving even admited he wasn't sure just whose story it was.  Was it Jenny's or Garp's?  It's pretty clear that it's both of their story, but it's even clearer that Garp is at the focal point once he grows from a boy into a man. 

The World According to Garp was made into a film in 1982 starring Robin Williams as T.S. Garp.  The movie in and of itself was very funny, although one of the things about the film that's quite unique and interesting is that they were actually able to adapt it at all.  John Irving novels are extremely tough to adapt to film because the books usually cover an entire lifespan of specific characters.  We are literally with Garp throughout his entire life.  We are also with Jenny throughout the majority of hers.  The movie sticks as close to the book as it can, but The World According to Garp is too long and too complex to be made into an absurdly "accurate" film.  The film is, for the most part, pretty good.  There's a lot left out, but that's what time constraints do.  The fact that the film was as good as it was is pretty surprising considering the complexity of its source material.

This was John Irving's breakout novel and it happens to be one of his best.  If you ever become interested in reading a John Irving novel, The World According to Garp should be on that reading list.  It shows Irving's strengths as both a writer and a storyteller.

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July 16, 2010
I skimmed through your review because my eyes are really itchy but I'll be back--just came to drop you kudos.
More The World According to Garp reviews
review by . May 24, 2010
John Irving is brilliant, and brings another wild cast of colorful characters to 'Garp'. T.S Garp (no, the "T.S." doesn't stand for anything) is the illegitimate son of a feminist nurse, Jenny,  whos views on men, sexuality, and especially lust are rather bleak, to say the least. The story chronicles their lives together, then moves on with Garp as he begins his own family. Jenny is ever-near,  and Garp's family goes well beyond the biological, eventually including …
Quick Tip by . June 25, 2010
There's a reason this book got Irving his fame. If you read nothing else by John Irving, make sure you get this one.
Quick Tip by . June 15, 2010
Quick Tip by . June 10, 2010
I could read this book over and over.
review by . July 05, 2009
Hilarious and serious at the same time, "The Word According to Garp" is among my top 10 favorite books. John Irving began writing it in the wake of the radical feminism of the early 1970's. Recently, Irving concluded that the book is about "a father's fears" but also acknowledges, "it had seemed at one time, when I was beginning the novel, that the polarization of the sexes was a dominant theme; the story was about men and women growing farther and farther apart." …
review by . May 24, 2009
The first time I experienced "Garp" was as a teenager in my friend Steve's basement, some five years after the novel's 1978 publication. Steve was telling me about that part in the story when Garp hits a car that happens to be occupied by his wife and her student lover. Many details of his account can not be shared on this public forum. I was agog.    "And then what happened?" I asked. Steve didn't really recall, except something about women with their tongues cut out. It was …
review by . January 04, 2001
I just love Garp - he is one of my favourite literary characters. His life, which he yearns to be boring and normal, is a reader's delight, from his unorthodox conception to the trials and tribulations of his marriage.But this book is not just about Garp, it is about finding the unusual in every day things, about rejoicing in sadness and about making the best of what you have. It is a truly delightful book, and I rank it just as highly as I do Irving's other great masterpiece "A Prayer for Owen …
About the reviewer
Sean A. Rhodes ()
Ranked #6
I'm a more analytical person. I believe that the purpose of the review is not for me to give you my opinion but for me to give you an analysis and help you decide if you want to get it. If you reading … more
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About this book


"Garp was a natural storyteller," says the narrator of John Irving's incandescent novel, referring to the book's hero, the novelist Garp, who has much in common with Irving himself. "He could make things up one right after the other, and they seemed to fit."

Irving packs wild characters and weird events into his classic--officially recognized as such in a Modern Library edition with a new introduction by the author--while amazingly maintaining the rough feel of realism in every scene and the pulse of life in every heart. Many novelists of his time might have populated a novel with a novelist protagonist whose life and books comment on each other and the novel we're reading. Transsexual football players, ball turret gunners lobotomized in battle, multiple adultery, unicycling bears, mad feminists who amputate their tongues in sympathy with the celebrated victim of a horrifying rape--Irving made them all people. Even the bear is a fitting character.

In a crucial episode, Garp's wife's seduction of a young man coincidentally occurs at the moment when Garp is delighting their young sons with a reckless car trick (one of the few scenes beautifully, eerily, heartbreakingly captured in the film version as well). Many authors would have been content with the harsh comedy of the scene, but Irving respects its integrity, and he builds the rest of the book on the consequences of the event. How does he get away with his killer cocktail of ...

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ISBN-10: 0525237704 (hbk.)
ISBN-13: 9780525237709 (hbk.)
Publisher: Dutton Adult
Date Published: April 24, 1978
Format: 1st ed.
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