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A Son of the Circus Mass Market Paperback – August 30, 1995

3.8 out of 5 stars 171 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Though there are flashes here of the dramatic verve of The World According to Garp and Cider House Rules , Irving's long-awaited eighth novel is generally a tedious affair: rambling; lacking suspense; devoid of energetic or lyric prose; sometimes verging on farce and other times almost as lethargic as the sultry atmosphere of Bombay, where it is set. Here Irving is concerned again with people who do not feel at home in the world: immigrants, social outcasts, pariahs because of physical handicaps, those uncomfortable with their sexual orientation. The characters include a Bombay-born physician and secret screenwriter who feels as much a foreigner in India as he does in his new home, Toronto; a movie star who is synonymous with the role he plays; his twin brother, who aspires to be a priest but doubts his vocation; assorted circus performers, dwarfs and cripples, prostitutes, transsexuals, policemen, Hollywood figures, a blonde American hippie, Jesuit missionaries and more sad folk teeming with strange quirks and shameful secrets. The plot revolves around the murders of prostitutes by a transsexual serial killer, who carves a winking elephant on their bodies, and the legacies from the past that bring the main characters to the hunt for the murderer. The hefty narrative gives Irving plenty of room to speculate on outcasts of all kinds, the volatility of sexual identity, the false lure of organized religion, the insidious evil of class distinctions, the chasm between appearance and reality. For those looking for his trademark leitmotifs, Irving provides two: falling into the net and allowed to use the lift . He titillates by equipping a character with a giant dildo. He includes a strange homage to novelist James Salter. His attempt to provoke readers into empathy for humanity's lost souls is admirable, but his novel does not engage the reader until the last hundred pages, and that may not be soon enough to satisfy those yearning for a seductive story.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

A circus displays oddity and spectacle for our amusement. Irving wields his absurdist ideas, set forth in works like A Prayer for Owen Meany (LJ 3/15/89), to create a world with much the same feel. The setting is India, though there is little sense of locale (a circus being universal and transportable). At center stage is Farrokh Daruwalla, an alienated, middle-aged, Bombay-born doctor who returns to his birthplace to study circus dwarfs. Farrokh becomes entangled in a case involving a serial murderer who carves the image of a winking elephant on his victims' torsos. This storyline bounces around like the proverbial three-ring circus and features a cast of eunuchs, hippies, movie stars, transsexuals, and clergymen. Irving continues his obsession with potency (erections) and negation (mutilation and self-mutilation) using, for instance, a large hollow dildo as a central prop. This otherwise enjoyable read is hindered at times by a lethargic pace and lack of dramatic tension. Although not Irving's best, this long-awaited novel will be in high demand.
--David Nudo, "Library Journal"
Copyright 1994 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: 704 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; First Edition edition (August 30, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345389964
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345389961
  • Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 1.1 x 6.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (171 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,119,650 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Douglas A. Greenberg VINE VOICE on May 6, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback
This is a wonderful novel--engrossing, well-crafted, moving, humorous, and profound. Even after 630+ pages, I was sorry to come to the end of the book. To this I must add: based on some other reviews I have read, a prerequisite for reading *A Son of the Circus* evidently is development of an attention span longer than that typical of today's channel-surfing, sound-byte-seeking generation.
The plot is Byzantine and carefully-woven, but ultimately predictable in some ways. The story and its ending are not particular strengths of the novel, but are mainly vehicles for Irving's skillful neo-Dickensian depiction of contemporary India--more specifically, some of its colorfully bizarre social settings and the diverse personalities that animate these unusual environments.
Oh, the characters! I will miss them so! The endlessly fascinating personages who appear, disappear, and reappear throughout this lengthy narrative provide the very heart of Irving's masterpiece. There are so many! Particularly unforgettable are the actor John D., whose alter ego is his forever-sneering on-screen persona, Inspector Dhar; John D.'s garrulous and impulsive Jesuit missionary twin (long-lost, of course!); the crippled elephant boy, with his dreams of skywalking on the circus high wire; the staid and forever disapproving steward at the exclusive Duckworth social club, at which much of the principal action in the novel occurs; the twisted and tortured transsexual, Rahoul; and finally, at the center of this circus there is the essential straight man, Dr. Farruk Daruwalla, a childrens' orthopedic surgeon (and screenwriter) who splits his time between his native India and his adoptive home in Toronto, where he feel "always an immigrant.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
I read this book when it first came out, and was buying a copy for a friend when I noticed how mixed Amazon's reader ratings were. I was shocked, as I truly believe this to be Irving's finest book yet. Everything that is intriguing, outrageous and wonderful about Irving's intense writing style and ultra-creative story-telling abilities is epitomized in Son of the Circus. It is not necessarily an easy read, as Irving presents a LOT of information for the reader to digest (there are dozens of quirky characters and several subplots). With that in mind, if you feel up to the task, it is more than well worth the effort.
While reading this book, I was constantly aware of the author's genius. His ability to conceive and weave together intricate plots and carefully constructed characters into a cohesive, wildly entertaining story is mind-blowing. Irving's previous books (Owen Meaney, The Cider House Rules, Garp, Hotel New Hampshire, etc.) and the subsequent Widow For One Year are all excellent reads, but all much tamer and far less intricate than the grand spectacle of Son of the Circus. It is truly an amazing feat of fiction - a wonderful book with as many twists, surprises, and glimpses of the bizarre as one could ever hope for. Irving's beautiful writing, outstanding background research, and vivid imagination make for a truly original story that haunted me for months after reading it. Several years after reading it, I still harbor strong memories of Son of the Circus(and I have read dozens of books in the interim).
This is a book to be read carefully - it makes an excellent vacation read, when the proper amount of time and attention can be paid. If some of the other reviewers of Son of the Circus were disappointed with it, I suggest that they return to it and read every word with care - perhaps then they will understand John Irving's gift and what an intelligent and interesting book Son of the Circus is. Don't miss it - books like this don't come along very often!
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
Irving is absolutely one of my favorite authors, and if you can believe it, this actually the first one of his that I read, and it got me hooked to go out and read the better known Garp and Owen Meany books. Having read all of Irving's novels, I get a little tired of the repeated elements of boy's boarding schools in New Hampshire, wrestling coaches, life in Vienna, prostitutes, and so on. This book completely breaks out of the Irving mold for me (even though there were some formative years in Austria and the characters play squash, as in other books). It's unlike any of this other books, and I loved exploring the completely new territory in India. Transsexuals? Bollywood cinema? Circus dwarves? Sideshow freaks? Serial murder? Twins? Confused priests? Hippies? They're all here and they all come together in this beautiful narrative.

I highly recommend this to all Irving fans as one of the under-appreciated books that often falls below the radar. I loved getting lost in this fantastic world of intrigue in India, and I was sad to have this beautiful book come to an end.
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By A Customer on May 17, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Full of visual imagery and humorous, I found this book engrossing despite its predictability. Irving's style is highly evident in the parade of odd and freakish characters which unfortunately were not as endearing as 'Owen Meany'. Despite finishing strong, 'The Son of the Circus' was slow to catch my interest. In fact my first attempt to read it was abandoned and I did not return to it for a year. My second attempt, I perservered and in the last two-thirds of the novel, the plot of the murder/mystery as well as the themes of disassociation became clear and interesting. However, some of the dialogue I found superfluous and repetitive. Overall, a satisfying effort for true John Irving fans but for those new to him, I would recommend 'Owen Meaney' or 'Cider House Rules'.
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