John Irving’s The World According to Garp is a literary novel originally published in 1978. It follows the life of T. S. Garp, a writer, as well as his mother, an asexual and unwitting feminist icon.
The World According to Garp is an extraordinarily complex book. There’s a lot going on, a lot of interesting and bizarre characters, and many key themes, including infidelity and sexual identity. There is also a very welcome commentary on people (the literati) who read way too much into novels, particularly concerning the author’s intent and autobiographical bleed-through. Irving is a very entertaining writer. His prose keeps things interesting, for the most part, even when there’s not a lot going on in the story. His characters are fascinating. The situations he puts them in are thought-provoking. Irony abounds.
There are issues with the story, however. The World According to Garp is so full of sex that quite a large section of it reads like Garp’s sexual biography. In the first half of the novel, there is scarcely a female character that Garp does not pursue sexually. Infidelity is a key theme of the novel, but even so, the sex is unnecessarily focused upon, and the book suffers as a result. There are other problems with the storytelling. The book’s climax, which comes in the middle of the book, is dramatic, but contrived. The ending is somewhat poignant, but it is also predictable.
There’s a lot of death in The World According to Garp, but according to Irving, it’s okay, because the book is about life. This is well and good, but ultimately comes across as hollow given that there’s no mention of eternity. Shortsighted at best.
The World According to Garp is recommended, but not to the squeamish or narrow-minded.