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The Fourth Hand Paperback – 1 Jun 2002

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Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Black Swan; New Ed edition (1 Jun. 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0552771090
  • ISBN-13: 978-0552771092
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 2.3 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 262,478 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John Irving published his first novel, Setting Free the Bears, in 1968. He has been nominated for a National Book Award three times - winning once, in 1980, for the novel The World According to Garp. In 1992, Mr. Irving was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Oklahoma. In 2000, he won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Cider House Rules - a film with seven Academy Award nominations. In 2001, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Last Night in Twisted River is John Irving's twelfth novel.

(Photo credit: Everett Irving)

Product Description

Amazon Review

The Fourth Hand is one of John Irving's finest novels to date. A man loses his hand. His search to become whole again soon makes him realise that it takes more than a new limb to find fulfilment. The novel begins with one of Irving's typically surreal scenarios: "Imagine a young man on his way to a less-than-thirty-second event--the loss of his left hand, long before he reached middle age." The unfortunate young man is the "irrefutably good-looking" television journalist Patrick Wallingford. While filing a report from a circus in India, Wallingford's left hand is eaten by a lion. Millions on TV watch the grisly scene. As friends and former lovers watch the disappearance of the reporter's hand, it becomes clear that:
Patrick Wallingford initiated nothing, yet he inspired sexual unrest and unnatural longing--even as he was caught in the act of feeding a lion his left hand. He was a magnet to women of all ages and types; even lying unconscious, he was a danger to the female sex

Bereft of his left hand, Wallingford ("the lion guy") finds that both his career and his already active sex life blossom. But "Dr. Nicholas M. Zajac, a hand surgeon with Schatzman, Gingeleskie, Mengerink & Associates", soon seduces him with the offer of a hand transplant. Unfortunately, "there were some strings attached to the donor hand" in the shape of its former owner's widow, Mrs Clausen from Green Bay, Wisconsin. Wallingford soon discovers that the transplant is only the beginning of his problems, as he goes in search of what transpires to be his "fourth hand". The Fourth Hand is a wonderfully funny and compulsive novel, which manages to encapsulate Irving's hallmark black humour with an incredibly tender pathos and gentle wisdom. Wallingford is a marvellous, flawed protagonist, a foolish, vain but ultimately decent man, while Zajac is one of Irving's finest comic creations. Above all, The Fourth Hand is a wonderful and lyrical love story, which is destined to become a classic. --Jerry Brotton --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"A rich and deeply moving tale... Vintage Irving" (Washington Post)

"A beguiling tale of love and redemption" (Time Out)

"Peerless... Writing without a wasted second" (Guardian)

"Articulate, clever, quirky, more than a touch profound and very funny" (Mirror)

"Sharp and very, very funny, this is another of Irving's fiercely original meditations of life's inherent strangeness" (Uncut)

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Customer Reviews

3.4 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 18 July 2001
Format: Hardcover
As a fan, I was really looking forward to Mr. Irving's new novel. What would it be this time, after brilliant stories like A son of the Circus or The Cider House Rules screenplay? The Fourth Hand did not disappoint me in the end, but then again...
All the Irving ingredients are there: the unique subversive mix of the absurd and the real, crazy but real-life characters, hilarious situations, sexual and moral dilemma's, social 'criticism' (mass media),...
But to me, it lacked engagement, a necessity to tell thís particular story, which made other books like "A Prayer for Owen Meany" or " A Widow for one year" so compelling. Especially the form of The Fourth Hand bothered me. It is great that Mr. Irving tried to write a shorter book, that he keeps on searching for new ways to write at this stage of his career. But to compensate that, he is too present as a writer in the book, often commenting on the story, often describing, summarizing situations that could have been great scenes.
And somewhere in the middle there is a serious dip. I almost lost interest there. Why elaborate on Dr. Zajac when he drops out in the middle of the book? At that point, the writer is so busy with all his characters, that the story lacks direction. But as soon as he focuses on Patrick and Doris again - the main characters - the love story that has always been there emerges, its simple and honest beauty leaving you breathless at the end.
The Fourth hand is 'just' a beautiful story. Nothing more, nothing less. I would recommend it to someone who has not read Irving yet. Just to show them the door to Irving's universe and, in a gentle way, making them want to see more.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Miechelle van Kampen on 17 Sept. 2005
Format: Paperback
I'm not sure what happened here but this is certainly not Irving in his usual flying form. Although the idea behind this book has all the hallmarks of John Irving - a bit wacky with potentially hilarious plot turns - it fails to deliver. I found the novel laboured, the characters unbelievable and even the names of the characters (which Irving usually does so brilliantly) somehow very fake-sounding. It certainly does have comic moments, more to do with the character of the hand surgeon than the main character of Wallingford, and specifically the dog hell-bent on eating its own excrement.
Overall though, this book is hard to finish. I found myself not exactly disliking Wallingford, just not believing in him or caring what happened. For those of you not familiar with Irving's work, earlier novels are a sure bet (Cider House Rules, Owen Meany, Garp) but more recent ones are also good (Widow for One Year, Son of the Circus).
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By on 27 Jun. 2001
Format: Hardcover
"The Fourth Hand" is quintessential Irving with its exploration of longing and loss, its exuberant cast of eccentrics and obsessives, its extraordinary, convoluted plot and its chilling reminders of the sudden lethal violence of twentieth century America. Unlike many of his other books, it is not about a writer, but about a television journalist for a twenty four hour news channel. Patrick Wallingford loses his hand to a lion while reporting a trapeze accident at the Indian circus which figured in "A Son of the Circus", and the book follows his subsequent career, the history of his failed transplant, his growing love for the widow of the donor of his temporary new hand, and his resulting spiritual transformation. This sounds very solemn, but as ever Irving seamlessly mixes the serious, the moving and the outrageously comic, at times even the farcical, and the novel is effortlessly and compellingly readable. The author's recent involvement with film making, however, (which led to an Oscar for "The Cider House Rules" screenplay) and the linguistically superficial nature of Wallingford's own employment are consciously reflected in the style, which is much sparer and terser than in Irving's previous novels, the paragraphs shorter, and the whole book only reaching 300 pages, which for Irving is very short. The implied critique of the morality, integrity and intentions of "disaster" newscasting is devastating. "The Fourth Hand", unlike "Garp" or "A Widow For One Year", does not achieve the cathartic total immersion of the reader. It is not Irving's finest novel, but it is a good deal better than practically anything else around at the moment. Read it!
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Cunliffe TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 17 Feb. 2002
Format: Hardcover
The Fourth Hand is classic Irving. A mildly bizarre story line, highly humorous, and deeply insightful.
Patrick Wallingford comes alive on the page as a man like the rest of us, bemused by the things that happen to him, but somehow finding his way through complex relationships and startling life events. He is likeable but also flawed in many ways, and yet someone who evokes our sympathy.
The Fourth Hand is a funny book, so much so that from time to time and found myself laughing aloud, attracting the attention of others in the room. It is also sexy, and yet, the eroticism is combined with a human understanding of the characters so that it is never tacky.
I don't know what it is about Irving, but while his books can be read on a fairly superficial level, there is something in them which touches deep chords and says something about our own lives too. I highly recommend The Fourth Hand and am sure it won't disappoint any Irving fans out there.
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