The World According to Garp is the heart-wrenching life story of Jenny Fields and her son T.S. Garp. It begins with Jenny’s youth and difficulties embracing lust in all of its forms, describing her aversion to men, romanticism, sex. Still, she is filled with the natural desire to become a mother even at her young age, although she refuses to ‘need’ a man to do so. Her job as a nurse allows her to encounter a wounded, witless soldier by the last name of Garp, first name unknown. The story of how they procreate is funny, cynical and unique – it is best if the reader discovers it on their own. Events unfold, nature has its way, poor Technical Sergeant Garp passes away and grants Jenny her deepest wish – to raise a child without being tied down by a man. One Garp departs this world, another comes into it.
The life of Jenny and her son, as we follow both of them growing up, is wrought with humorous scenes, small and large tragedies, love, lust and sorrow. Upon graduating, T.S. Garp decides he wants to become a writer, and will stop at nothing to achieve his goal. His mother, devoted as always and also wishing to become a writer, joins him as they embark on a journey across the Atlantic to discover Vienna. It is here that Garp will become a man, that Jenny will finish her book, that they will grow closer as mother and son.
A new life awaits upon their return and here the review will fade, in order to let readers follow Garp with free minds as he navigates the adventures of life – adulthood, marriage, parenting, death and what comes after it.
1. John Irving is a talented writer who effortlessly manages to weave a true tale out of the intertwined lives of Jenny, Garp and all the characters that they know and love.
2. This novel expertly navigates both the light and dark patches of life, both joy and sorrow, both past and future, with a mix of derision, sarcasm and irony of the blackest kind.
3. Almost every single character met in The World According to Garp is utterly unique in every aspect. Protagonists and secondary characters are, despite their quirks and queerness, likeable. The antagonists range from a big dog to a group of fanatics to several madmen. The cast is full, well-detailed and realistic.
4. One of the great aspects of this novel is that it is absolutely complete. From beginning to end to new beginnings, Irving has the stamina to close the circle. The reader discovers old pasts, family secrets and in the end, truthful and satisfying conclusions.
5. With every page in The World According to Garp, the reader is faced with a wide array of emotions. Despite the darkness, happiness is the prime emotion throughout the novel and laughter the prime reaction, as is the case in life. There are moments of terrible sorrow, disbelief, confusion, even anger… but there is always an unexpected ray of hope to light the way.
1. Jenny Fields’ feminism and radical aversion to lust often appears exaggerated. Through Irving’s pen, we are met with hundreds of pages where love and desire are challenged by extremist militants of all kinds. There is rarely another side that is defended, there is never a fair match between the different beliefs set forth in the novel. Too many characters fall victim to this fanaticism and it is never clear why it is so easily accepted.
2. So many things happen in this novel that are out of the ordinary, that the reader can be blown away by the sheer amount of extraordinary there is. It can be argued that most banal lives are not wrought with such animation, that most humans will only encounter the exceptional a few times before moving on, and therefore it can be hard to accept the astounding events after astounding events which are seamlessly sprinkled over Jenny and Garp’s apparently normal lives. Irving’s imagination is sublime, so much so that his characters face events so unlikely that he has not other choice but to invent their actions and reactions. The truth of human existence is sometimes lost because of this.