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94 of 102 people found the following review helpful
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. Already, many single scenes come flooding back to memory: Garp, as a child, stranded precariously on the roof of a dormitory, trying to find a pigeon; Garp as a teen, experiencing his first sexual encounter, as well as a more fierce encounter with a large black dog named Bonkers; Garp (in arguably the most haunting moment) turning off his car's engine and quietly gliding up his driveway in the dark, as his son whispers, "It's like a dream!"
Irving's other characters run the gamut, from odorific professors to brain-dead war heroes. There's Roberta Muldoon, a former linebacker-turned-transexual; Ellen James, the tragic and unwanting figurehead of a truly weird cult; and Poo, the sister of one of Garp's first girlfriends. Irving weaves his characters and situations together in a breathtaking dance. And despite the dance's immense complexity, he never once loses his step.
Irving has also become famous (justifiably so) for a story Garp pens within the novel, THE PENSION GRILLPARZER. While this story is terrific, it has overshadowed the rest of Garp's work found within the pages of the novel. Irving performs a neat trick, in that Garp's style of writing, while similar to Irving's, is not exactly the same. Irving writes from Garp's viewpoint, ensuring that Garp has a voice of his own. While GRILLPARZER is famous, an excerpt from one of Garp's later novels is equally memorable. In the story, a young housewife is raped, while a police officer tracks the rapist down. While it feels like an Irving novel, it also doesn't; it is far nastier and more grotesque than anything else Irving has written. It is not Irving's story, it is Garp's, providing a telling glimpse into Garp's anguished soul.
GARP is a tragedy, with funny parts. It is a comedy, with heart-wrenching moments. It is riotously funny, and crushingly moving. It is a story of writers, and insanity, and adultry, and terminal cases. Like the best novels, it displays the entire life of an individual the reader would not otherwise get to know. It presents you with places you want to see, and people you wouldn't mind sharing a beer with. It is Irving's best work, and a landmark in American literature.
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83 of 94 people found the following review helpful
on January 27, 2000
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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33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on November 16, 1999
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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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on April 21, 2002
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.
The most disturbing thing to me about Irving's writing is the vulgarity. I would argue that he puts it in enough context as to not truly be vulgar. Still, his works are explicit in the extreme. Garp is a whopping example of the phenomenon. Irving does indeed use a lot of stuff some would consider shocking or vulgar, but he does so to illuminate what is wrong with such things.
Bearing all of this in mind, I feel that The World According to Garp is an American masterpiece--sometimes disturbing, more often humorous and insightful. I therefore give The World According to Garp a very high but qualified recommendation.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on August 8, 2002
This a dark, dark novel about the lunacy of the modern world. Those who appreciate gallows humor will find this book - though extremely tragic - the funniest they've read in a long time. "The World According to Garp" works precisely because it possesses a distinctly un-American prospective of reality, that is that not everything ends happily, not all promise is fulfilled, and there are not an unlimited number of chances in life. If you need an uplifting novel, don't bother with this one; similarly, stay away if you need a mental escape. But if you can handle reality, in all it's ghastly manifestations, pick up this book and laugh at it all.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on September 21, 1998
Irving's idea of a plot is to throw in the most bizarre event anyone can imagine and then have his characters suffer the consequences. Many people who love this book claim that it is like real life. I doubt that very much unless you know some transeexual football players, people who were castrated during oral sex, etc., etc., Garp tries to be a reflection of reality but only ends up being an unsatisfactory and grotesque parody of it. I got the sense that Irving was deliberately trying to be odd in many sections of this book. The final effect is artifical and manipulative.
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21 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on April 3, 2009
I can't remember the last time I was so ready for a book to be over.

Don't get me wrong; I think John Irving is a phenomenal writer. "A Prayer For Owen Meany" is one of my all time favorite books. And I can't deny that "Garp" is well-written. But it's disturbing. It disturbed me the way that "Kite Runner" disturbed me, but even more so because it seemed more familiar, more likely to happen to someone like me, and thus that much more terrifying than the somewhat-more-exotic-and-thus-removed setting of "Kite Runner."

It isn't just the sex and violence, and violent sex...it's Irving's uncanny ability to portray the emotional and complex psychological reactions of people...behaviors we usually aren't consciously aware of, can rarely predict, and almost never admit even to ourselves. I've read that good fiction has to be true (not biographically, but true to itself) and that we enjoy it because it helps us to better understand ourselves and our fellow human beings...but can there be too much truth? I think the reason this book was difficult for me to read might be linked to the same reason I never read crime/horror or watch the news. Note I didn't say I didn't like this book - I was relieved when it was over, and it was difficult for me to read, but I can't say it wasn't a good book (whatever makes a book good).

What I do know is that I could never write a book like this. And I'm not sure if I should be relieved or depressed by that thought.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on September 30, 1999
I recently read the novel A World According to Garp by John Irving. I was skeptical at getting into a six hundred page classic novel like this one. Often times I find that the books I like best are somewhat the least popular books. I also have found that I find a lot of `classics' to be boring. With the World According to Garp I found that six hundred pages can go by very fast if the book is good enough. The book feels like it is written as a biography by someone who has spent their entire life hanging over the world of Garp before he was born and after he died. You come to know the character of T.S. Garp like he's your best friend. You know his mother long before he was born and you witness the incredible and somewhat disturbing story of his conception. Then the book goes on and you hear the story of Garp growing up, getting married, having children, and dying. Garp is not president and he isn't a world renowned athlete or anything else all too exciting. Garp is only a mildly successful, but like his mother, a well known author. His life is not too much out of the ordinary and is in fact a very believable life despite the fact that it is fiction. For having what is mostly an ordinary life it is difficult to believe a story about the life and times of T.S. Garp could be that interesting. However, I guarantee you'll enjoy the story and if you're like me, you'll wish there was a continuation of the last chapter, "Life After Garp." Even after six hundred pages you'll be left wanting more when John Irving sums up his entire story with the last and best line of the book, "But in the world according to Garp, we are all terminal cases."
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on August 2, 1999
As soon as I finished this book I went to the beginning and began reading again. I felt like I wasn't finished with Garp, Jenny, Helen, or Roberta,(or many others). To the readers who say this book has flat female characters, they are dead wrong. Jenny and Helen were probably the most explored characters after Garp. Some of these(one star) interviews seem like they were written by Ellen Jamesians(read the book and found out what E.J.'s are). This book confronted several moral issues, and the thing many readers nee to know is that unlike other writers, John Irving lets his main characters do wrong things. What Garp, Helen, or Jenny do does not necessarily refelct Mr. Irving's morals. He makes he characters humans, not saints, they make mistakes, they are not always redeemed. That is why his characters are the best in modern literature. We can relate to them because we ourselves are often wrong instead of right, and sometimes we never right our wrongs. Garp is such an excellent book because it doesn't really have a climax. Just like ordniary people's lives(not that Garp is an ORDINARY book) it has it lows and downs, things happen when we don't expect them and don't want them.
The last two lines of this book are probably the most memorable of all.
"In the world according to Jenny Fields, we are all vitals, externals, absentees, and goners. But in the world according to Garp, we are all terminal cases."
NOTE: J.F. is Garp's mother, and the four conditions it mentions are the ways she used to rate soldiers in the war. VITALS are men with organ damage, EXTERNALS are burn victims, ABSENTEES are catatonic, and GONERS are people that can't be saved.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on October 5, 2000
First let me say that this is the first time I have read John Irving - I have been interested in reading some of his novels after seeing the movie, "The Cider House Rules." I chose to read Irving's "The World According to Garp" on a whim, and I was not disappointed. The characters are engaging and fun to deal with. The peculiarities of TS Garp's personality are not surprising and you find yourself empathizing with his unique situations.
Beginning the story, Jenny Fields - an independent minded nurse in the 1940s - slashes an officer in a movie theater when he tried to put his hand up her dress. She had no desire to be in a sexual relationship, yet she wanted to be a mother. This paradox is solved when she impregnates herself with a hapless technical sergeant that was injured during the war and reduced to the mentality of a newborn child. In the seclusion of his room with Technical Sergeant Garp, she is pregnant on the first and last time she ever has sex. She names her child after the Sergeant, TS Garp.
The young Garp and Jenny attend the Steering academy for boys and that is where Garp finds his first love, Helen. She is an avid reader; he attempts to impress her by writing short stories. Thus the writing career for Garp has started. His mother is known as a feminist leader after the published of her book, "Sexual Suspects." Feminist extremists adore her, and Sexist extremist hate her - Garp is regrettably involved with the whole lot of them. This is Garp's life, and the suspicious delusions that protective fathers endure. In Garp's world, he finally realizes that we are all terminal case, and those are the most important to fight for.
A very entertaining book, and I have every intention to read more by John Irving.
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