I knew I’d been rather tardy of late, at least with my blog, but I hadn’t realised that the last I’d posted something was in 2019. Time to remedy that with a good old book review…
I don’t know why I’ve never read any John Irving books. I suspect that it was for the simple and shallow reason that the covers put me off. I can’t remember either what turned me onto A Prayer for Owen Meany (1989). I suspect that it was for the similarly shallow reason that the publisher had changed the cover artwork, and the fact that it was a change from some of the lighter stuff I’d been reading.
We come into contact with Owen Meany at the tender age of eleven; a tiny boy (compared to his peers) with a shrill, unnerving voice, which he suspects is down to the granite dust, the provenance of which is the quarry where he lives and is the bedrock of his family’s existence. Meany also suspects that he is God’s instrument, which makes life particularly complicated when you accidentally kill your best friend’s mother, the best friend in question being our narrator John Wheelwright. It’s also complicated when you see a vision of your gravestone during the town’s production of A Christmas Carol. The gravestone in question, indicates the path that Meany will and should follow in life.
We follow Meany through his school years, through college and beyond, traversing the events of 1950’s and 1960’s America, leading us to the point where we are faced with the truth about Meany’s purpose in life.
At 628 pages, APFOM isn’t a quick read. It took me a while to get into it but investing more time paid dividends. Irving builds the novel and its inherent tension nicely, as we get closer and closer to the day when Meany is fated to die. From what I’ve written you’d think that it’s a pretty serious work of literature dealing with themes such as religion and the concept of fate. Well it is but there’s a lot of fun to be had along the way. For example, Meany has a regular column – The Voice – in his college newsletter. The articles, all in capitals (echoing Meany’s shrill voice), give Meany a platform to share his irreverent views on his college’s policies, staff, and life in general. We’re treated to heady topics such as whether it was right for the college to expel a boy for killing cats; and whether it’s right for Meany and others to be ‘FORCED TO EAT CATHOLIC FOOD?’
I shouldn’t forget about our narrator and Meany’s partner in crime, John Wheelwright. Ironically, given his role as narrator, it was sometimes easy to forget about Wheelwright given the focus on Meany, but Irving subtly builds a deep and complex friendship between the two, each of whom are on a spiritual journey of sorts.
I’m glad I picked up this John Irving book. If you want something to distract you during the present circumstances, Owen Meany’s your man.