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4.5 out of 5 stars
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on 25 June 2017
Very intriguing read, a controversial subject very well handled, Food for thought!
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on 31 January 2011
This novel entertains - and indeed instructs - on many levels.

This is a story about a doctor, Wilbur Larch, who runs an orphanage but who also gives illegal abortions in early 20th century USA, one of his orphans, Homer Wells, whom he wishes to take over the trade (both trades), and Wilbur's back story, plus Homer's "forward" story through to his mid-40s. It also covers the life of Melony, a fellow orphan, the Worthingtons who run an orchard and develop the cider house rules, and the black apple pickers who visit the Worthingtons each year and live in the cider house. The plot is all that this might suggest and more: rambling, episodic, but never less interesting and surprising through all the novel's 700 pages. It is in part, indeed, compelling.

The story is also "about" transgression: the giving of abortions; sexual morality more generally - adultery and deceit - committed by very likeable characters; the rules of the cider house developed by the Worthington family, but also the "real" rules of the migrant workers; and the migrant workers' transgressions of those rules. At this level too, the novel is never less than interesting and surprising - in fact mostly it's deeply thought-provoking.

There are continuous references to two novels of Dickens - Great Expectations and David Copperfield, and to Jane Eyre. Irving is also asking us: is this what a "Victorian" novel would look like today? This too could prompt a lot of reflection - and a lot of admiration for what Irving has achieved in purely literary terms.

So: strongly recommended. The only thing you will have read that is like this, is perhaps, other novels of Irving. A very remarkable - and enjoyable - book. (Though A Prayer for Owen Meany is even more strongly recommendable...)
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on 23 September 2016
Totally engrossing!
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on 26 May 2014
I bought this book for our local book group meeting for discussion. No criticism of the book, though it does go on on and on a bit and the subject matter is certainly worth discussion. My criticism is that I bought the book as a used copy, but it was not in a state to be sold - pages underlined, all pages dscoloured and yellow and it was in such poor condition that the charity shop I help to run would have sent it for pulping. It certainly was not in the good condition described by the vendor.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 24 April 2008
The Cider House Rules is a good example of John Irving at his best - it's a long, rich, complex and always fulfilling novel. Those who are familiar with Irving's other books will recognise the basic premise - it follows the life of an American man in unconventional circumstances - but his books are too complex and quirky to be formulaic.

Homer Wells, the protagonist, is a well developed central character, and he is supported by a cast of vivid and eccentric supporting acts. Irving describes all of his characters, however minor, in great detail - occasionally almost too much. As in all Irving books (that I have read) an important role is played by a dominating, overpoweringly strong female character who influences Homer in his early life. This character is present in everything I have read by him thus far. At least this incarnation is more likeable than some of the others I have encountered.

Wells grows up in an orphanage run by the saintly Dr Larch. An important theme of the story is abortion - Larch performs them illegally but safely, after seeing the horrific consequences of 'back street' abortions. Irving clearly conducted a great deal of gynaecological research, and the process of abortion is described in graphic detail. Therefore anyone who finds this topic upsetting should steer clear of the novel.

One of the best things about this novel - as with all Irving's work - is that it's never clear what is going to happen. Like real life, it is a journey and a surprise. There is no clear end point for the reader to reach, therefore it remains surprising and fresh throughout.

My only real criticisms would be the very long chapters - which make it hard to pick up and put down - and a tendancy towards a little too much detail at times, especially with regards to non-central characters.

Overall though it's a very well written story and has more humour than a lot of Irving's books. Not as good as 'A Prayer for Owen Meany', but probably the best of the rest.
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on 18 October 1999
John Irving is an outstanding and extraordinary writer. He can write about quite secular events with such an injection of magic and beauty that no scene is anything but fascinating. His development of characters and the authors relationship with them leaves one constantly devastated to have to finish the book and consequently their relationship with the characters.
The Cider House Rules is an epic book that never disappoints. The glowing honesty of the two main characters Dr Wilbur Larch and Homer wells his protege is the key to the success of this book. They are bright shining knights or as John Irving suggests, Princes of Maine and Kings of New England. Read it, read them all!
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on 11 February 2002
The Cider House Rules is an engrossing saga that slowly draws the reader into the lives of Dr. Wilbur Larch and the young orphan, Homer Wells. Not only does it follow their unusual relationship over many years but woven into the story is a series of sub-plots, involving secondary characters, which build the book into a true drama. Often quirky, but quintessentially human, the characters are given colour by compelling descriptions of their, often odd, attitudes, beliefs and interactions with others - the historical and geographical details are all effortlessly woven into this beautifully crafted story. In the context of a novel, social commentary abounds in the story without ever voyaging into the realms of a historical novel or descriptive narrative - the book stays constantly loyal to the journey through life of Dr. Larch and Homer. The true strength of this book is how it subtly draws you in, at first the behaviour of the characters seems completely alien and they appear to be a product of a bygone time. However, as the book progresses you pick-up poignant insights into their motives. For me, the true genius of this book is the empathy you feel with the characters, especially those that are not immediately appealing. This is a very human book which deals with the subject of abortion, often a taboo subject, particularly in American society, with human feeling and without passing judgement.
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on 20 January 2002
Most people come across Irving via "A Prayer for Owen Meany", which has a startling fanatical following. "Cider House" is a better story: ok, its hardly concise, ok, he lulls you almost to boredom before dropping the gore on you, or better yet, making you laugh out loud - ever wondered what goes through a toddler's mind sliding down a hill in a cardboard box and having his forward progress halted by a corpse ? - but sometimes, as in this book, his prose becomes poetic. Let it roll over you, if you've never read Irving, this is the one to try.
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on 7 January 2001
Although I consider myself fairly well-read, I had never picked up a John Irving book in the past. I actually bought this book because I'd heard about the movie. (sidebar: DO NOT see the movie after reading this book-it is surfacy, american pap with the depth and passion removed.)
I found this book completely engrossing. It was so touching and passionate while telling a tale largely involving the difficult, delicate subject of abortion. The characters are well-written and, even though most would be considered misfits, the reader gets under their skin and roots for them, even the defiant Melony.
This is a must-read for anyone who enjoys a novel which tugs at the heartstrings while being thought-provoking.
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on 19 July 2006
One of my favourite books. If you haven't read Irving before, I'd recommend starting with this or "The World According to Garp". If you like those, go to "The Hotel New Hampshire", "A Prayer for Owen Meany" and then the rest.

I'm not good at long books, but don't baulk at an Irving; though I often feel they could be a bit shorter really. Nevertheless, always a fantastic read.
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