The World According to Garp – John Irving: A Review

Posted 25 November, 2007 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 21 Comments


Title: The World According to Garp
Author: John Irving
Date Finished: November 25, 2007
Pages: 437
Rating: 4.25/5

Not really quite sure how to summarize this one. Or explain my feelings. I read this one for the Decades and Book Awards Challenges and put it off, put it off, put it off. I did like this book–a lot, but I didn’t really know what to expect because I had heard so much praise for it. The best way that I can describe it is that it is like Tom Robbins but less blatantly metaphorical and less shocking. Although there is a lot of shock value in this book.

And sex. In fact it had a lot of the same sexual themes as Flesh and Blood (minus AIDS) although Irving is in many ways a little more subtle in his terminology and descriptions than Cunningham. The book begins with Jenny, a nurse taking care of patients during the war–particularly a Technical Sergeant Garp whom she has sex with in order to conceive a child (because she doesn’t want to get married or have a baby the “conventional” way). The book is about her son, Garp, from the time he is a baby until…well…his whole life. :) The book discusses the intricacies of his marriage and affairs, his relationship with his children, the heartaches and joys of his life.

I really liked this book–but it was tedious at times. Garp is a writer in the novel, which is a major part of the plot. Little snippets of his works are included within the book but I found myself getting bogged down in these stories. They didn’t take up a great length of the book, but I found them distracting and poorly written (which I guess maybe they were supposed to be?). Another thing that I found distracting was the narrator; the narrator is omniscient and mostly just a narrator, but sometimes he made his presence a little too noticeable. I’m not sure how to explain this except that the narration sometimes felt contrived. Not like the narrator of The Unbearable Lightness of Being who I thought was entertaining and endearing. Overall a good book and won’t be my last Irving–but maybe I’ll read a little Robbins first.

21 Responses to “The World According to Garp – John Irving: A Review”

  1. Mrs. Savoie

    I’ve always liked Irving novels, but he is in need of a good editor. He does tend to get bogged down. I really like The Cider House Rules, too.

  2. this one ranks in the top three of Irving’s books I’ve read. By far, then number one is A Prayer for Owen Meany – if you haven’t read that one, I highly recommend it! I also love Hotel New Hampshire, as well as Cider House Rules.

    I agree that Garp drags in spots, but I am a huge Irving fan, so it didn’t slow me down!

  3. This is my favorite book. One of the hilarious things (like you mentioned) is that Garp is such a terrible writer! His mother becomes a sensation in the book world and he can barely make a dent. I just think it is a great novel.

  4. I’ve heard a lot about this book, but until now I didn’t know what it actually was about. It sounds like something I’d like to try eventually.

  5. *Bookgal – I’ve tried to read The Cider House Rules, but think I need to revisit it now that I’m a little bit of a better reader.

    *Wendy – I remember you telling me about how much you liked Garp. I kept that in mind while I was reading–and will one day read Owen Meany as it is on my bookshelf already!

    *Kookiejar – I’m glad you liked it so well. I wonder if you’ve read anything by Robbins? Very wacky!!

    *Nymeth – I’m not really sure what it was about! :) A lot of things really–a lot of focus on women’s issues. I’d recommend it.

  6. This is one of my favorite books ever. It was Helen saying she wanted to be a reader when she grew up that made me realize that I wanted to have a double major, one of them literature. Disappointing that Irving’s newer books don’t live up to his earlier work.

  7. One of these days I have to get around to this book. I’ve heard good and bad about Irving. Never read any of his work though.

    Glad you liked it!

  8. I find I’ve lost my tolerance for a lot of books in which the protagonists are authors. It’s been done to death, and is often used by the writer as an excuse to be lazy (ie., the character is preturnaturally observant, or gets to work from home, or moves out to the rural haunted house, simply because he’s … a writer!), or indulgent (i.e., posting the author’s poetry or stories or essay-lectures as ‘part of the story’).

    There are some writers who can have author-protagonists and make it work well, of course, but many more who don’t.

  9. cj


    Every time I see the title of this book, I think of the silly movie. It’s one of the few movies I didn’t watch completely.

    I wonder, does that mean I wouldn’t like the book?


  10. *Heather – Hmmm…rural haunted house. Is that a reference to House of Leaves? Its been a while so I’m trying to remember what the man’s occupation was. In this case I didn’t really like the intrustions of Garp’s writing, but I also think that part of the book might be partially auto-biographical? This book was my intro to Irving, so I don’t know too much about him/his writing.

    *CJ – The book was pretty silly as well. I haven’t seen the movie, but I did have a really tough time picturing Robin Williams in the role. I’m not sure if you would like this or not, but I will say that it wasn’t an “easy” read.

  11. Trish—“Is that a reference to House of Leaves?”

    Actually, sadly (and perhaps most indicative of what I’m saying), it wasn’t a reference to one particular book. If I stopped to think about it I could probably rattle off at least five that fit that description, and I have a *particularly* bad memory (and stopped reading books like that for the most part because I got sick of seeing the same plot over and over).

  12. *Heather – Yikes! :) I don’t know if I can really remember too many specific books where the protagonist is also an author. I’m struggling through one right now (Snow) where the narrator is first person POV but not he’s necessarily a character and may/may not be the actual author. It’s really bothering me because I think it’s a cheap trick on the author’s part and not very believable (I’m sure I’ll have lots more to say about this when I finish the book and blog about it).

  13. *Kookiejar – I would recommend him if you can ever find the books in your pile (if its anything like mine I can only imagine!). :)

    *Dewey – Yikes…not good that they go downhill. :0 I own about half a dozen, but this is the only one I’ve read so far…

    *Stephanie – I’m sure my review doesn’t help at all. I liked it but didn’t think it was fantastic. Maybe because of they hype, though.

  14. Care

    SO WEIRD! That I just finished reading Incredible Lightness of Being AND just mentioned in a meme that my dad told me that Irving wrote TRASH and so I’ve never read it. Actually, it’s also weird that I didn’t rush out and buy this book just to piss him off… but I have never read Irving yet. Guess this is a sign I should?

  15. I’ve yet to get through a John Irving novel, but I loved the beginning of The Cider House Rules. It just required too much concentration because there was such incredible detail. And, I had a 2-year-old when I tried to read it. I’ll have to give him another try.

  16. I found your meme (from June) that shows you have not read Prayer for Owen Meany, which is my favorite book by John Irving. And several of my friends have told me I would really like The Cider House Rules.

  17. In my mind, Mr. Irving can do no wrong. In my opinion he’s one of the best contemporary writers.

    The Hotel New Hampshire is one of my very favorite books ever.

    I’m a fan of Tom Robbins, but I wouldn’t have thought to compare his and John’s style at all.

  18. Sorry take so long to respond. Bleh!

    *Care – I’ll read more Irving–not really sure if its considered trash or not (don’t believe so). My opinion usually differs from my parents.

    *Bookfool – Yes yes yes, I agree. It took a lot of concentration to get through this and I’ve attempted Cider House Rules a few times years ago. I’m a more patient reader now.

    *Bonnie Jacobs – I own both of those books (bad habit of buying too many books), so eventually I’ll get to them. Thanks for the recommendation.

    *Toryssa – I haven’t read enough of his books to agree/disagree with your comment. I did see some similarities in Robbins’ and Irving’s style, but maybe I haven’t read enough Irving to make a fair comparison. Thanks for coming by.