A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving

Posted 18 July, 2013 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 27 Comments

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Title: A Prayer for Owen Meany
Author: John Irving
Narrator: Joe Barrett
Published: 1989; Pages: 627
Audio Duration: 27 hrs; 20 min
Genre: Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5

In Short: Owen Meany is unusually small and has an unusual voice, but he will prove to his best friend, and narrator, Johnny Wheelwright that Owen is the INSTRUMENT OF GOD (caps are Owen’s, not mine).

Why I Read It: This book has been on my shelf for years. I’m sure I bought it because a blogger told me to. I was finally given the kick in the pants to read it from Estella Society who is currently hosting a readalong (#MeanyRAL) and my book club is also reading this month (my suggestion).

Thoughts in General: A few things I think you should know about A Prayer for Owen Meany (don’t worry–mostly structural things rather than plot things): It’s a long book and the chapters are even longer. While the book was intriguing from the get-go, it took about 200 pages for me to feel the pull to pick up the book after I had put it down. Johnny Wheelwright, our narrator, is writing the story retrospectively and he’s kind of a grumpy curmudgeon who whines a lot in his present time. And while the main part of the book, the past, is mostly told in a linear fashion, it isn’t always linear and just when you think a topic has been exhausted it is brought up all over again. The past does not die for Johnny Wheelwright and he has a tough time letting go.

Now, while all of those things (the length, the linear-but-not-really-plot, the grumpy old man, the plotlines that we keep revisiting) made me quibble along the way and often caused me to read at a snail’s pace, there came a time in my reading when I realized that every piece of the novel has its crucial place. I keep wanting to say that the whole of this book is greater than the sum of its parts, but without the sum of its parts the book wouldn’t have been quite as masterful. I think it is rare to find a book that fits together so perfectly. Maybe too perfectly…but ohmygosh talk about feeling all the things.

So what is A Prayer for Owen Meany about? It’s about undying and devoted friendship, it’s about discovering who you are and what your purpose in the big picture is, it’s about reconciling with the past and the mistakes that are passed down from generation to generation. It’s about God and politics and war and Thomas Hardy. It’s about baseball and Christmas pageants and cherry-red tomato pick-up trucks. The Voice and a dressmaker’s dummy. As Johnny Wheelwright would say, “Remember that?” But mostly the book is about the miracle that is Owen Meany. He’s a curious character who is difficult to put a finger on but he’s also absolutely unforgettable.

Bottom Line: My goodness does this book pack a punch. Every once in a while I read a book that steals the breath from me and this was one of those books. I have a feeling Owen Meany will continue to stay with me in a way that Garp did not. If you’re looking for a book that you can sink your teeth into, a book of epic proportions that will make you laugh and cry, a book that you will continue to carry with you in your heart–I very much recommend A Prayer for Owen Meany.

A Note on the Audio: The most striking thing about reading Owen Meany is that Owen’s dialogue is always marked with capital letters. So how does this translate to audio? A cross between a hysterical Vizzini (think Princess Bride) and pipsqueak. Barrett does a fantastic job with the narration of A Prayer for Owen Meany but his actual voice for Owen Meany did take some time to get used to–and I think that this is the point. Besides this, some might find Barrett’s narration slow and his voice a little too raspy, but these elements also fit the tone and mood of the book. I’m not entirely sure whether I preferred my reading time or my listening time, but in the end I deliberately chose to read the last portion of the book rather than listen to it.

Have you read A Prayer for Owen Meany? Do you have a favorite John Irving novel? What about the movie Simon Birch–seen it?

Also! Give me more books like this. What was the last book that stole your breath?