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Life Changing? Not for me.
on 26 September 2008
Having greatly enjoyed `The World According to Garp' I was looking forward to `A Prayer for Owen Meany `which has the reputation of being Irving's best book. But I was sadly disappointed and remain somewhat baffled by the praise heaped on this novel - it is not dreadful, but not wonderful either.
I didn't warm to Owen, while at times intriguing I found him increasingly annoying as the book progressed. THE DECISION TO HAVE ALL OF HIS SPEECH IN CAPITALS DOESN'T HELP AS IT FEELS LIKE HE IS SHOUTING & LONGER PASSAGES ARE DIFFICULT TO READ. John Wheelwright the narrator is bland and dull, only distinguished by his love of Owen. Which leaves only the supporting character to add interest, I'd have liked more of Johns', Mother, Grandmother & his cousin Hester.
My second problem is that the book is too long by at least 200 pages. The basic plot elements would make a decent novella. Once Owens fate is mostly revealed, about half way through, narrative & character getting lost in a long wade through dull and often repetitive diversions on religion, Vietnam, contras, Johns boring life in Canada. Before we finally get anywhere near a conclusion. I was tempted to give up about 2/3rd through, only carrying on in hope of a revelatory ending.
My biggest problem though is that while Irving seems to be trying to make points about faith and religion. It isn't clear what they are, and the whole thing becomes increasing turgid. Some claim this book as life changing (though without saying how their lives have changed). They are I think reading it as an endorsement of faith, but I'm not sure if that is the intention. Irving twice quotes Thomas Hardy on `living in a world where nothing bears out in practice what it promises incipiently' and the underwhelming nature of the key `revelations'' here (Johns father, the detail of Owens fate) seem to fit with that view. But it is such a mess of ideas it is difficult to know what Irving intended.
A novel I will remember, but couldn't recommended.