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The World According to Garp Mass Market Paperback – November 3, 1990

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Editorial Reviews Review

"Garp was a natural storyteller," says the narrator of John Irving's incandescent novel, referring to the book's hero, the novelist Garp, who has much in common with Irving himself. "He could make things up one right after the other, and they seemed to fit."

Irving packs wild characters and weird events into his classic--officially recognized as such in a Modern Library edition with a new introduction by the author--while amazingly maintaining the rough feel of realism in every scene and the pulse of life in every heart. Many novelists of his time might have populated a novel with a novelist protagonist whose life and books comment on each other and the novel we're reading. Transsexual football players, ball turret gunners lobotomized in battle, multiple adultery, unicycling bears, mad feminists who amputate their tongues in sympathy with the celebrated victim of a horrifying rape--Irving made them all people. Even the bear is a fitting character.

In a crucial episode, Garp's wife's seduction of a young man coincidentally occurs at the moment when Garp is delighting their young sons with a reckless car trick (one of the few scenes beautifully, eerily, heartbreakingly captured in the film version as well). Many authors would have been content with the harsh comedy of the scene, but Irving respects its integrity, and he builds the rest of the book on the consequences of the event. How does he get away with his killer cocktail of slapstick and horror? Because it's simply what we all face daily, rearranged into soul-satisfying art. "Life is an X-rated soap opera," according to Garp, and who can contradict him?

Rereading Garp 20 years later, one is struck by how elegantly Irving structures his bizarre and complex story. Take the two most celebrated bits in the book, the Under Toad and Garp's story "The Pension Grillparzer," which shimmers like an exquisite Kafkaesque insect in the amber of the novel. When Garp warns his son about the "undertow" at the beach, the boy imagines a monster out of Beowulf who lurks beneath the waves to suck you under: the "Under Toad." It's funny at first, but we soon find that the Under Toad is a metaphor with teeth--he connects with a prophetic dream of death in "The Pension Grillparzer," set in Vienna. Garp's son's last words are, "It's like a dream!" And as Irving--who studied at the University of Vienna--can certainly tell you, the German word for "death" sounds precisely like the English word "toad."

All that death, and yet Garp is mainly exuberant. This story is, as Garp's stuttering writing teacher puts it, "rich with lu-lu-lunacy and sorrow." It enriches literature, and our lives. --Tim Appelo --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

"In the world according to Garp, we're all terminal cases." This sentence ends both Irving's comic and tragic novel and its wonderful audio adaptation, read disarmingly by Michael Prichard. We hear the familiar story of T.S. Garp; his mother, Jenny Fields; and Garp's wife, family, friends, and lovers. We also see Garp's efforts to establish himself as a serious author and his involvement in sexual politics. In contrast, Jenny's memoirs establish her as a feminist leader. This work is funny, sexual, serious, and sad. Prichard's narration adds a wonderful dimension to the story. Plus, Irving opens with a terrific introduction to mark the novel's 20th anniversary. This wise and unique tale is as fresh today as it was when first published in 1978. Obviously, a required purchase for all audio collections and required listening for all Irving fans. Irving's (A Son of the Circus, Audio Reviews, LJ 12/94) new novel echoes Garp through tracing the complicated life of novelist Ruth Cole. Divided into three parts, the book views Ruth's life and relationships at age four in 1958, age 36 in 1990, and age 41 in 1995. In the first part, Ruth's mother, devastated by the loss of two sons, leaves her daughter and womanizing husband after a brief love affair with a teenage boy. Part 2 focuses on Ruth's book tour in Europe while coming to grips with a poor love life and considering marriage to an older man. Part 3 traces Ruth's short widowhood and her marriage to the Dutch policeman who solves the murder to which she was a witness. Like Garp, this is a complex, sad, and quite compelling tale. Narrator George Guidall's reading adds to the texture of the story. And like the audio adaptation of Garp, this wonderful novel is a required purchase for all audio collections.?Stephen L. Hupp, Univ. of Pittsburgh at Johnstown Lib., PA
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 624 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; Reissue edition (November 3, 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 034536676X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345366764
  • Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 1 x 6.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (394 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #17,491 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John Irving published his first novel, Setting Free the Bears, in 1968. He has been nominated for a National Book Award three times-winning once, in 1980, for the novel The World According to Garp. He also received an O. Henry Award, in 1981, for the short story "Interior Space." In 1992, Mr. Irving was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Oklahoma. In 2000, he won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Cider House Rules-a film with seven Academy Award nominations. In 2001, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

For more information about the author, please visit

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

103 of 111 people found the following review helpful By Stone Junction on March 15, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I first read THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP in 1982, the year the movie adaptation came out. I was a great fan of Robin Williams (MORK & MINDY still being on television at the time), and because I was far too young to view the film, I decided to read its source novel. Actually, I did an oral report on it, much to the chagrin of my 6th grade teacher. It's hard to do an oral report when the rest of the class is awestruck at the use of the word 'bastard'. I did very well, but the teacher did recommend that I stick to less challenging works, considering my age. Thankfully, I did not listen.
In the many times I have reread GARP since, I have never failed to be struck dumb by the sheer elegance and beauty, not to mention brutality, of John Irving's novel. While Irving's writing have too often been described as 'Dickensian', it is truly an accurate summation. Irving presents a family saga rife with bizarre yet realistic characters, all swirling around what very well may the finest character put to paper in the 20th century, T.S. Garp.
Garp is the bastard son (there's that word again) of Jenny Fields, a sometimes nurse and headmistress, who doesn't believe in anyone but herself, and her son. As Garp matures, finding success as an author, Jenny inadvertently eclipses his fame with her own autobiography, which catapults her to the forefront of the feminist movement.
I won't say more about the plot, because nothing else would suffice. To try and describe it any further might inadvertently gloss over the innumerable circumstances that make up Garp's life.
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90 of 101 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 27, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I had always heard of the film version of the book, but I never knew it was an adaptation of an already existing novel. To me, it was always one of those movies people always tell you you have to rent; until one night, to my surprise, I discovered an old hard-cover, early edition of it sitting on a shelf in the Bookmobile. The author's name sounded to me like that of an already-dead, nineteenth century writer, but when I picked it up and saw the back-cover photo of John Irving, I couldn't help laughing! He looked young, even muscular - let alone, still alive. Anyway, I checked it out and read it. And read it. And read it. Every morning and then every night, while communitng on the subway (my usual reading time) I laughed, I cried, I was in a different place. Once I laughed non-stop for so long that it became contagious throughout the train-car I was in (a memorable experience indeed). I was in The World According to Garp. It is one of my favorite books of all time - definitely among my top five. As a father, a husband and a human being, it has had a tremendous effect on me. Of course I recommend it.
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35 of 39 people found the following review helpful By on November 16, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This has got to be, by far, the best book I've ever read. I was 17 the 1st time I read it. I found it laying around my parents house and, out of boredom, picked it up and started reading. Up to that point, I had never been one to like reading. "I'll wait for the movie" was my motto. I got the suprise of my life. It was the 1st book that ever made me laugh out loud and it was the 1st book that ever made me cry. John Irving certainly has a knack for conveying all emotions. I've been a book lover ever since, and yes...I have read all of John Irving's books.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By NotATameLion on April 21, 2002
Format: Hardcover
The World According to Garp is about many, many things: death, feminism, friendship, infidelity, loss, marriage, parenthood, rape, being a writer--and most especially--lust. In its unique examination of life, there are many lessons to be learned.
Irving's title character is forced to deal with these issues. In this way, Garp is somehow universal. We all go through trials of one kind or another. Even if we disagree with Garp's decisions, we can understand the struggle that living often is. Garp's life is no picnic. But it rarely ever is.
The World According to Garp is the capstone to Irving's three previous novels (Setting Free the Bears, The Water Method Man, and The 158 Pound Marriage). All the themes in Garp can be found (to a degree) scattered through the three earlier stories. The big leap from the first three books to the fourth one is in Irving's plot twisting ability. Garp is nothing if not well twisted.
The character of Garp comes into the world in bizarre circumstances. From there, his life only becomes stranger and stranger. Lust, the thing his mother most misunderstands, dictates much in his life. Misinterpretation (by Garp and those around him) also greatly influences Garp's path. Irving acknowledges that life is rarely black and white. Those characters who come to see it as such do so with their heads in the metaphorical sand. Perhaps this is what most enrages the more rabid critics of this book.
The more of Irving's books I read, the more I have come to believe that Irving is the greatest living American author. Though I often disagree with what he writes (he seems to offend people of all ideologies), his skill as an author and storyteller is undeniable. I would put him neck and neck with A.S. Byatt as the greatest living author period.
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