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3.5 out of 5 stars48
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on 13 January 2006
This is the only novel I have felt compelled to write a review of. Its impact upon me was profound and I have since re-read it. For such a huge novel, that is quite some undertaking.
This book is full of typical Irving-esque characters - wrestlers, tattooists, writers, not to mention an actor protagonist, Jack Burns. However, there is clearly something deeply personal in this book for the author here. The book is so vast simply because our experiences are so varied and compicated. Jack Burns emerges as a character with an psychological truth that is unprecedented in modern fiction. His memories and neuroses (maybe shared with the author?) dominate this book and each of the other characters is presented through his perceptions and experiences. Of course, this is how real life is for each of us. Everyone external to us can only be viewed subjectively and true 'objectivity' is actually impossible as long as we relate to others as humans. This is what Irving presents; a painfully real and limited human being who when confronted with agonising situations reacts in a pathetically human and limited way - just like all of us. If you find Jack an inexplicable or despicable character, you may get frustrated with this novel, but if you recognise him as a truthful portrayal of the product of an awkward and painful union of two real people you will be bowled over.
At the heart of this novel is a representation of family which has such love and empathy that it will braek your heart, if you have one. Certainly, no novel's climax has ever wrung such 'tears of blood' (Byron) from me. The psychological portrait of neurosis is incredibly accurate. It is possible that Irving has presented the reader with facts about himself wrung from years of self-analysis mixed with fiction. I can't theorise, but I can testify that he achieves a psychological truthfulness that is truly shocking to find in a novel.
Aside from this, there is enough eccentricity and weirdness to keep anyone laughing and satisfied. There are very few novels that I have made an impact on my emotional life rather than being some kind of cultural 'divertimento'. This is one of the few that have. (The other I can count on the fingers of one hand )
I have recommended this to everyone I am close to and none of them have failed to have been bowled over.
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on 9 September 2005
John Irving's longest work to date tells the story of Jack Burns. His mother is a tattoist and his father an organist, addicted to music tattoos. It begins with Jack's recollections of his travels through northern Europe with his mother at the age of 4 in search of his absent father. In a strange mixture of hotels, tattoo shops and churches Irving paints a picture of Jack's early life and his perception of his parents. Jack and his mother apparently give up the trail and settle down in Canada with no sign of his absent father.
He attends an all-girls school which has just admitted its first boys and meets Emma Oastler, an older girl, who will become his closest friend. Even at an early age, his life is dominated by older women and Jack suffers abuse in a variety of ways. He finds his niche, acting in school drama productions, particularly excelling in female roles. Sent away to boarding school in the States, Jack feels rejected not only by his father but also his mother. Unable to find a lasting relationship, he moves to LA and eventually gets a break in acting.
Then two tragedies strike Jack's life. Bit by bit, Jack starts to piece together his past. He returns to Europe and discovers that the world is not always as it seems to a four year-old boy.
Irving has created a host of dysfunctional characters, with whom I am pleased to say I could sympathise. For me, this was a great improvement on A Widow For One Year. Despite its air of sadness, the author's usual wit and humour are as strong as usual. The story of Jack Burns in some ways reflects Irving's own personal life and although, he changed the narrative from first to third person, it is this personal connnection which makes it a very poignant novel; perhaps his best work for a number of years.
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on 12 January 2008
Covering much ground, there were sections of the book I "learned" to quickly skim through...detailed descriptions of tattoos, descriptions of old Euro-church architecture, etc. Some may love these elaborations; it didn't mean much to me. Irving certainly seemed to enjoy telling us about them. But there was a point to it, I understand-- it was a part of these characters lives.

Without a doubt the book as a whole was intruiging. The story is rich with emotion and love and pain and injustice and struggle and loss and success. Just like life. And throughout every phase of Jack's life, as strange as it was at times, I really wanted everything to work out for him.
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on 3 May 2010
I am a huge fan of some of Irving's books. They grab you from the first moment and keep your attention throughout with idiosyncratic characters and slightly unreal situations. But this is not in the league of his best works.

It starts badly, with a tour of Northern Europe more in common with a travel itinerary than a work of fiction ("Look, I've been to these places and I'll prove it by describing them all in wordy tedium"). [As an aside, his foreign characters all either don't speak English at all, or speak it with such a superb grasp of colloquialisms that most native speakers would be put to shame! It says something about the lack of quality of the start of the book].

But persevere and Irving gets back to topics he can write about - New England, wrestling and sex. The rest of the novel has its ups and downs, the characters are generally too controlling or too controlled to come fully to life, and it certainly could have been much more wisely edited (it really is just too long). It was worth slogging through, but it was touch and go ...
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on 28 May 2011
I found this book way too long, which was a real disappointment because I usually enjoy John Irvings stuff. It started out well, with John Burns andd his mother looking for William his father. It had the usual amount of eccentric behaviuor from the main characters, wrestlers, tattoo artists, odd people!! but about half way through it started dragging on and on with way too much sex for a little boy to see and experience and behaviour that was weird to say the least.
Not one of my favourites I am afraid.
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on 17 March 2014
I'll start by saying I love John Irving's books, A Prayer for Owen Meany is one of my favourite books and I love the Cider House Rules, The World according to Garp,Last Night in Twisted River and a Widow for one Year. HOWEVER Until I Find you is excruciatingly dull, banal, trivial and unbelievable with a cast of characters I cared absolutely nothing for. Jack Burns is a one-dimensional sleazebag, and there isn't an element of truth in any of the other characters. The first few hundred pages where Alice is following William through the tattoo parlours of Europe is cringe worthy and it doesn't improve from there. Perhaps Irving had a book deal where he had to produce something quickly, there is none of his usual craft, insight, sensitivity or humour in this book. If it was the first of his books I had read I doubt I would ever have picked up another of his.
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on 30 March 2009
Irving sometimes produces novels that are a long and boring even though (like me) you'd want to find them gripping. I love Irving but I struggled finishing this one. The characters are difficult to relate to and rather cold with each other. One positive point though: I know a lot more about tatoos and I now know what a Rose of Jericho is.
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on 16 January 2007
I am an Irving fan, but was dismayed by this book for the first 100 slow pages which left me turning each one thinking 'so what?' That is, until I caught by chance a documentary about Irving and this book in which he gives some personal background to the strange plot. I abandoned the heavy hardback several times anyway but came back to it because the characters and the feel of the book stick with you. Irving writes about some truly thought-provoking concepts that you have to really work to understand in this novel, but by the end you feel like you are half Jack and half Dr. Garcia (if you get to the end you'll know what I mean) and not inconsiderably changed for the experience.
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VINE VOICEon 15 October 2005
"Until I Find You" tells the life story of Jack Burns and is so long it's almost best to consider it as a collection of five related novellas. It starts off promisingly enough on classic Irving territory, as his tattoo artist mother Alice takes him on a tour of Nordic countries in search of his father, a church organ player.

However, my heart sunk as the action inexplicably moves to the red-light district of Amsterdam and you realise that you are going to be on a reprise of a previous novel, namely an almost exact regurgitation of the backdrop of "Widow for One Year".

Things sink further when Jack returns to Canada and he starts school at the (almost) all-girl St Hilda's. A trio of cardboard-thin teachers take up much of the action and Alice Burns, one of the strongest characters, disappears entirely for three chapters without explanation.

The teachers are so boring and badly-drawn that they seem to only have one trait each: Mr Malcolm has a disabled wife, Miss Wurtz is inept (but strangely wonderful at organising school plays) and Mrs McQuat just has a knack of appearing and disappearing suddenly. And yet these people keep reappearing in the plot whereas other more promising areas of action are ignored.

Most annoying are the series of school plays which Miss Wurtz organises. These are described in detail and are all based on 18th century novels. I skipped this section of the book entirely, it got so repetitive.

I liked Jack's life as an actor in LA better, but even this reads as a below par Armistead Maupin tribute.

In previous Irving novels you are prepared to put up with the multiple characters and hyper-real situations because you care about the heroes, whether it be the diminutive Owen Meany or the hapless Garp. But it's hard to spare much concern for Jack who seems completely self-obsessed and worries more about getting a cauliflower ear in wrestling practice than he does about his girlfriend's abortion. You also get no sense of time passing: people behave in the same way in 1970s Scotland as they do in present-day California, and scant mention is made of AIDS or contraception despite the almost constant sexual activity taking place. This is lazy and irresponsible.

In short, the previous Irving work this most resembles is "Hotel New Hampshire" and fans of "A Prayer for Owen Meany" or "The World According to Garp" will be sorely disappointed.
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on 16 August 2015
I love John Irving's other novels, and for their sake I tried to read this, I really did. I enjoyed the first section, in which Jack and Alice travel through Europe, but after that the novel fell apart for me. Women are depicted as nothing more than walking vaginas, rated on their looks and their sexual availability. Irving takes his theme of "sex with an older woman" to extremities in this novel--the molestation of ten-year-old Jack is described in such a cavalier, matter-of-fact way that it is painful to read. There is little trauma or empathy for young Jack, and we as readers are expected to believe that every woman in the world, teenaged to middle aged, takes one look at preteen Jack and falls over with her legs open for him.

Irving has often been somewhat objectifying and penis-obsessed in his writing, but *Until I Find You* takes it to a level that is both unbearable and completely unrealistic. I made it to about page 350, but the description of what felt like the 100th woman in the novel described as "not very pretty" but who is desperate to get into bed with adolescent Jack finally did me in. The narrative has some potential in its exploration of Jack with his father and his mother, but it's snowed under a mountain of penis-descriptions, child molestation, and female objectification. The novel doesn't really seem to go anywhere, and it simply couldn't hold my interest. The turn-offs were too many and the attractions too few. Choose a different Irving novel to read.
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