Goodreads Review: The World According to Garp by John Irving

Two star review, originally posted here on April 17, 2019.


I went into this book knowing virtually nothing about it or its author, except for the fact that it had a recognizable name and seems to be one of those modern classics that most people seemed to have read and liked at some point. I had a free Audible credit, so I jumped right in, and… I did not like it. The first red flag was a 40 minute long meandering self-indulging preface by the author that seemed to say nothing, but I shrugged it off and, after the first 10 minutes, just skipped ahead to the book.

Things start off pretty well. Irving begins by establishing backstory for our protagonist’s mom, Jenny Fields. She’s a self-sufficient, independent thinker who doesn’t think twice about fighting back against creeps, prefers doing something useful with her life instead of relying on familial or marital connections to coast through life, and has a strong sense of self and justice. What a great character! Can’t wait to see what happens with her!

But then…

…we meet our protagonist, Garp. Garp is insanely boring. I literally can’t think of a single interesting characteristic or action from him for the entire book. He gets bitten by a dog, he sleeps with some hookers, he writes shitty books (that Irving forces us to read for a couple hours), he gets hypocritically mad at his wife, he’s jealous of his mom, he whines about everyone and everything… And that’s all pretty much it. I have no clue why there is an entire novel about this guy. He does nothing. He’s not even the kinda vanilla straight-man with whom we travel through a series of fun adventures. There are no adventures.

I take it back. There is exactly ONE interesting thing that happens in this book. ONE. It’s towards the end. And it would serve as a great climax for the book, except nothing much happens beforehand to build to it, and somehow even though there’s a flurry of events afterwards that FINALLY draw some interest, the book just keeps on dragging on and on and on LONG after everything has been resolved. We literally keep hanging around until we find out how every single character eventually dies. Every single one! Why?!

In the end, I’m not even sure what this book was SUPPOSED to be about. What was it even trying to do? According to the bits of preface that I DID listen to, its supposed to be a book about sexual outcasts, but I honestly didn’t get that.

Maybe, if we had stuck with Jenny Fields the whole time instead of chilling with her insufferable son, there would be some actual merits here. Jenny Fields is surrounded by some interesting characters with interesting histories. But instead, we have to listen to her useless son do boring shit like complain about cars speeding in his neighborhood.

Perhaps I’m missing something here, because everyone else loved this thing, and I just can’t understand why.

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