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4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
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on 14 May 2015
This book seemed to go on for ever and left me feeling exhausted and wondering why Irving had written it. I love The World According to Garp and Hotel New Hampshire, but I didn't feel the least bit interested in or engaged with any of the characters in this book. I recognise that it is well written, but I just didn't 'get' it. A slog and a half. And far too heavy to read in bed!
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on 27 October 2009
I agree with those reviewers that found this something of a difficult book to get into - I nearly gave up about a quarter of the way through. The central plot - the capture of a serial killer - takes a long time to get established, and you're faced with a great deal of meandering, back story and tangential sub-plots along the way.

But with the introduction of the intriguing Nancy, the story picks up pace, and when Martin Mills joins the scene it gains a real comic momentum. Irving says the defining theme of the novel is alienation - the 'central' character feels he belongs nowhere - but for me it was far a more a novel about sexual ambiguity, and the consequences thereof.

Irving mentions Rohinton Mistry in his introduction to the audio version of the novel, but I think this is a much finer book than "A Fine Balance". "A Son of the Circus" actually has the balance that Mistry's book lacks - an ability to offset tragedy with humour, pessimism with optimism in a way that gives a much richer picture of life in India. Doubly ironic, given that Irving freely admits to having so little experience of the place.
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on 12 April 2000
As an Indian living in Bombay, and a fan of Irving since I was sixteen, I was pleased to see that, except for one or two bloopers, Irving's India facts are mostly right. (For that time and given his caste, MrIrving, Farokh's secretary would never have had as modern a name as that. And the basic premise of a character like Inspector Dhar succeeding .... rather unconvincing) .That is a credit one can bestow on very few foreign (Caucasian?) authors writing on India. And its funny! But, in the wake of Garp , Meany and Hampshire, this book fails to deliver. Where is the essential tragedy that makes for a quintessential Irving? Why do you finish the book not caring at all about any character, least of all the rather irritating Doctor? Two stars only .... because Garp and Homer Wells deserve better.
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on 13 September 2013
If you already know John Iving, you'll know what to expect.
If you don't, WHY NOT?
It's a great introduction to his writing, and hefty enough to keep you going for a good while.
If you are still alive, you won't be disappointed with this book!
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on 21 June 2013
Typical gripping John Irving book. Funny and sad. If you love India and have travelled around the wonderful mystical country. You get lost in the story and the characters . It is one to re-read over and over and would m
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on 3 June 1997
Wonderfully entertaining from start to finish. Having lived in India I must highly compliment David Colacci (the narrator) for the authentic accents he applied to all the characters. It was such a perfect portrayal of all I remembered of Bombay that it brought back all the sights, sounds, and smells I remember of that facinating country. Although John Irving stipulates that he had never lived in India, he wrote as if he was sitting on a balcony in Malabar Hill, recording all he saw before him. I hated to place that last cassete in my player and urge any one who is curious about life in India to listen to this book.
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Enjoyed reading this book. It was different and I could not wait to see what happened it was exciting read
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on 13 March 2014
This took me a time to get into but once I was engaged I could not put it down. A memorable book
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on 20 August 2016
Re-buy of this book that I was so taken by when I first read it 20 years ago. A great read.
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on 14 July 2002
John Irving's leitmotifs make for a curious collection. Wrestling; veneral disease; bombs; car and other freak accidents. Vienna; bears; sex-change operations; dwarves. Prostitutes; New England; precarious marriages and necessary infidelities.
When a critical mass of these Irving fetishes appears within a few pages, one can nearly hear the slow-motion crack of a bat nailing a baseball way, way out into the stands.
One of the most interesting features of his work is the convoluted logic which allows each of these themes to be worked into his lunatic subplots. Irving has the wonderful sadism of the best story-tellers, dragging out a chain of events over pages and pages.
"A Son of the circus" is the first Irving novel to make use of the wider world (i.e. not Vienna or New England). Irving sets down the massive machinery of his unsummarizable plots in India. India is a fitting world for him, with all its hugeness, sectarian chaos and multi-everything diversity.
Tom Wolfe has sharply criticized Irving for returning with a mere topography of India, and not a journalistic dissertation. This criticism, while not entirely unfair, is surely irrelevant to Irving's purposes. He has no pretence about being another Joseph Conrad or Ryszard Kapuscinski. Why compete with Salman Rushdie as India's novelist when Irving can bring his own mad vision to an unfamiliar nation?
"A son of the circus" involves a large number of typically bizarre components. An exhibitionist aristocrat named Lady Duckworth after whom Bombay's most prestigous social club is named. A Bombay-born, North Americanized orthopedist who adopts a beautiful boy for whom he writes movies scripts. A serial killing man-turned-woman who draw winking elephants on the stomachs of her victims. In such company, drug-smuggling hippies and a circus full of dwarves are nearly banal.
The chapter headings (such as "The Doctor Dwells on Lady Duckworth's Breasts", or "A Misunderstanding at the Urinal") are surely among the most wonderfully berserk in modern literature.
Irving's character studies are a masterful blend of punning names, verbal tics, and physical features rendered as Homeric epithets. According to the whims of his plots, Irving can suddenly inject a previously flat character with detailed history and motivation.
The concentration on form required of a novel which swalls the structure of a murder mystery whole results in a certain diminishment of emotional energy. While this cast of characters can make you laugh hysterically, unusually for Irving, it can't make you cry. Peerless in his mastery of the comedic epic, second-rate Irving is still first-rate American literature.
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