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3.9 out of 5 stars
3.9 out of 5 stars
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on 30 September 2002
Having not read a John Irving novel since The Cider House Rules, I wasn't sure I could reacquire the taste for his methods of storytelling. By the very first page of A Widow For One Year, however, I was hooked. This book has the usual Irving mixture of tragedy, comedy, romance, and, of course, sex. And yes...I am man enough to admit that by the end of the book I was moved to tears!
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on 6 January 2002
I've read and enjoyed a few other John Irving books and this book did not disappoint. If you liked 'The World According To Garp' and 'Hotel New Hampshire' you'll love this book. Told in three distinct sections (much like acts of a play), it presents the life of Ruth Cole centrally, but also the many colourful characters who inhabit her world. Although readers will need to suspend their realism for some of the more unlikely coincidences, this in no way takes from the book. And the fact that so many characters in the book are themselves authors, one gets great insight into John Irving's own probably journey with this and his other books. I would highly recommend this novel, a must for John Irving fans and a good start for a first time reader.
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VINE VOICEon 8 November 2005
Forget about magical realism; forget about the exploration of grief and loss, and the complexity of human relationships. This book has an awful lot of sex. No, make that: a lot of awful sex. Still, maybe that's what people like, and maybe that's why so many are prepared to forgive Irving for falling so far below his usual high standard. I think that one reason I found this book disappointing was the the main character was not at all engaging; I didn't really care what happened to Ruth Cole, except in the first part when she was a four year old girl. In fact the first part of the book is by far the best, conjuring up real atmosphere, drama, and at times farce. I was gripped. But then we move on to Ruth's adult life and away from Long Island, and the story starts to fall flat. One thing that annoyed me somewhat was that all of the characters are writers (a bit of navel gazing on Irving's part?), and passages of their writings are embedded here and there in the story. This works well in 'Garp', but not in this book. This book is no 'Garp' and the writers in it are not of Garp's stature. Still, the book gets three stars from me. After all, it is by John Irving. Irving stands head and shoulders above most other novelists, so a mediocre book by his standards is still a good one compared with most other novels. Perhaps I was just expecting too much. Anyway, if you like Irving, you'll probably find this book to be OK. But if you're not into Irving yet, don't start with this one. 'The World according to Garp' or 'A Prayer for Owen Meany' will give you a much more favourable first impression.
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on 30 October 2002
I am at a loss as to why the second part of this book is such a disappointment, for this was exact point at which this book lost me. Told in three parts, the first part is fantastically well written - the characters are well-imagined and depicted such that you feel as if you actually know them. The sections on the upbringing of little Ruth Cole, her wayward father and the role of Eddie are simply superb - I'd love to gush on about why and how, but I don't want to give anything away. There have not been many books that I have sat and read and read and read until I've devoured some 200 pages in one sitting, but this first section is priceless. I had hoped that this would herald a return to form for John Irving after some fairly lean times.
Sadly, this is not the case. Once we are (arbitrarily) flung some forty years into the future, the remainder of the book is self-conscious navel-gazing, focusing on the trials and tribulations of being a successful niche market author. Oh John! Please! This isn't 'magic realism', it's a silly exercise in exorcising your demons, and this narcissism drags the book down with it. Part three is a little better, picking the pace up again, but the long and meandering second section took all the momentum and impetus out of the book and renders later events almost irrelevant. If you are looking for an introduction to John Irving, look elsewhere - ardent fans may lap it up, but it is certainly not his finest hour.
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on 12 October 2000
If you have never read anything by John Irving before, what have you been doing with your literary life? it NOW. However, don't start with "A Widow for One Year".
Saying that, John Irving still creates both complex and sometimes disturbing characters, more so because he enables us to see these parts in ourselves.
He describes fluidly the fear, embarressment yet natural sexuality of a teenage boy who is seduced by the grown woman he lusts after.
He also charmingly describes the obssession a child may have over an item which an adult might take for granted in the way the very young Ruth Cole has over photographs of her brothers.
If you are considering reading your first book by John Irving then try "A prayer for Owen Meany first" because that book can make you laugh out loud one moment and cry on the turn of a page, it is a work of genius.
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on 6 August 2004
I want to start by saying that this is by no means a bad book. In fact for ardent fans of John Irving it is probably a very good novel indeed. However, for the discerning shopper looking for how to start a John Irving collection, I implore you to look elsewhere. Few would deny Irving's credentials as a writer, he has shown us with many ecellent novels including "A prayer for Owen Meany" and "The cider house rules" that he is a very talented novellist. And indeed for the first section of this book it does seem he is on to a winner once again. The story of Ruth Cole as a young child is told with compassion, but avoids the trap of filling the book with sickly sweetness. It has a strong bite in the relationship between Eddie and Marion, so cleverly orchestrated by Ted himself and this heated romance together with the steady beat of Ruth's life keep the reader interested.
Where this novel begins to go wrong is when we move into Ruth's later life. She looses the idea of innocence attatched to her in her younger years and we see her far more as a woman who to my mind is filled with spite. Irving does not manage to endear her to us, or even make us understand her position, he merely creates this monstrous character from a wonderful, one. It is clear that this was a way for Irving to exorcise his own demons of being a novellist, but in this format it does not work. The book becomes limp and insipid and even the introduction of love to Ruth's life towards the end of the third part cannot make us like Ruth.
A contrived ending as well all add up to make a novel that in idea is very good, but has poor execution. Fans of Irving's work will probably lap up this offering, but to those looking to get started I advise you to try looking elsewhere.
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on 31 July 2001
This is the second novel by John Irvin I have read, after the World According to Garp. I found the novel engaging from the beginning. I loved the way he presented the characters, those fantastic characters of the children's story writer, his fascinating wife, and even secondary characters like Mr. Minty. I found the first part flawless, both funny and moving. In my opinion, the novel starts to lose its strength the moment Ruth becomes the main character. Although her diary is very interesting as we are able to observe the process of the creation of a novel from the initial idea that inspires it, I find that Ruth is not a strong enough character to pull the weight of the story, she is not as well defined as other characters, she is very judgemental and I found that I did not manage to empathise with her. The story picks up in the last part, however, it does seem a bit unbelievable...
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on 27 May 2015
After The Cider House Rules, which I absolutely loved, I had high hopes for my next John Irving. Sadly, this one didn't do it. 'Widow...' seems a very, very autobiographical book, with a preoccupation with writers, their creative process and the relationships with their readers which quickly becomes tiresome. Every single main character is a writer - the father, the child, the mother, and her lover. When they're not writers, we have: a husband who's an editor, another husband who's read more books than anybody else alive (and the books of everybody in the novel), or another father who's a professor of literature. Oh please. And then, there is a rather distasteful, repetitive obsession with breasts which, for me, turned 'Widow..' into a caricature.

And then there are numerous 'books within a book', from children's stories to a novel about murdered prostitutes, all awfully uninteresting stuff which got in the way of the proper novel, so I found myself skipping pages almost from the start. There are some gems hidden in all this mish-mash, some flashes of genius involving a deeply tragic story line, and I liked the part of the book which explored parental grief; that was nuanced and complex, done with sensitivity, and utterly convincing. Everything else, sorry to say, was neither entertaining nor particularly thought-provoking. The writing is OK, beautiful in places but marred by a stupid amount of words in italics - sometimes, 4-5 to the page. It really annoyed the life out of me, this and the far too many exclamation marks. I couldn't believe the amateurish editing.

So my advice is, if you're new to John Irving don't start with this book, it'll probably put you off this writer and it would be a shame, because most of his other books are superb.
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on 21 November 1999
As the jacket reminds us - Irving's WFOY is 'a joy to read'. There is a mellifluosness (honeyed) quality to his prose which makes it easy to scan. And his interests are quite reflexive, and self- conscious - a writer, writing about writers, and the process of the author gathering the material for his/her next work. The structure of this long book - quite rightly compared to his (self- confessed) exemplars - the Victorian novelists - makes for a challenging and involved read - a book with its head and shoulders just slightly above the others around it. And, no doubt, this 'honeyed challenge', is in large part, responsible for the joy experienced during the read. Irving revels in laying bare the processes that go on in a writer's mind - in displaying (to echo TS Eliot's words) 'the function of a novelist'. Irving (through his heroine) quotes Graham Greene's essay, where he was reflecting on the novelist as a 'guide through the unseemly'. Is it unseemly to witness Marion Cole - recently bereaved by the death of her twin sons - finding a sexual release for her grief in the young Eddie O'Hare? - (who is about the same age of her sons when they died). Is it unseemly as "we" stand with the heroine, in the closet of the prostitute, and "witness" the dreadful death scene? Would we have ever let such material range through our own minds without the guiding force that the novelist, through his heroine, has provided? I think that Irving powerfully demonstrates just what he sees one aspect of the function of the novelist to be - and be brave! Read him - you'll be impressed! This reader certainly was.
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A Widow For One Year by John Irving.

Simply dedicated `For Janet, a love story' this thumping great fat book covers the lives and loves of the Cole family, their friends and lovers over a period spanning nearly four decades. Satisfying in length and depth with delightful pointers as to what is to come, it is a properly absorbing grown up read. There is some deliciously dicey subject matter that takes you to the edge and beyond of what may be considered decent.

John Irving writes his tale in three sections, Summer 1598, Fall 1990 and Fall 1995, neatly setting out his wares in 51 usefully and aptly named chapters, using a traditional rather child's book like format. Confidently moving from The Hampton's to Europe, we are safe in the hands of the most accomplished story teller. This writer treats his readers with respect, he certainly gives us our money's worth.

Exploring the role and craft of writer, novelist, illustrator; we are parachuted into the complicated, post-disaster, fractured Cole family. Two sons have died in a dreadful accident. `The grief over lost children never dies; it is a grief that relents only a little. And then only a long while.' What a wise author. He successfully pulls off the unusual and intricate device of allowing his characters to speak to each other through their own published works - fleshing out the book with `warts and all' understanding descriptions of their humanly flawed and utterly credible personalities. This family are growing their shells over a tragedy to awful to bear without armour. They each have to rewrite their family history, building their litany of detail through constant repetition, always in their own personal way. They go 'missing' from each other and each grows differently, as you can immediately understand they must do.

Eddie travels alongside this family through 37 years of loyal love, absences, growth and challenges. He is intensely believable - especially when he weakens and wavers he is wonderfully credible - you really feel you know him inside out. We meet him as a green teenager briefly escaping from his overbearing but loving parents. We leave him, in his mid fifties, in the perfectly written conclusion, experiencing a resolution that is as good as it gets.

I loved the part when we are told about Harry, a later arrival, a policeman, and his reading life; `He read novels because he found in them the best descriptions of human nature. The novelists Harry favoured never suggested that even the worst human behaviour was alterable. They might morally disapprove of this or that character, but novelists were not world changers; they were just story tellers with better-than-average stories to tell, and the good ones told stories about believable characters'. If you too are like Harry you will so enjoy this book.

The style and breadth of writing reminded me of Any Human HeartAny Human Heart by William Boyd, which grows a similar feeling of intimacy and care for the central individual. This book has more true love in it though.

Having read `A Prayer for Owen Meany'A Prayer for Owen Meany previously, I was happy to read this book on the recommendation of a friend. Now I am pleased to see that there are several more John Irving works for me to enjoy in the future.
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