The word ac­cord­ing to Garp

My favourite novel

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

I’ M not proud of my early read­ing tastes. In fact as a young­ster I wasn’t much of a reader at all. I blame it on my fa­ther, who was such a lively and in­vet­er­ate sto­ry­teller that it wasn’t un­til I was too old (by what oc­cult reck­on­ing I don’t know) for oral fic­tions that the printed word got a proper look-in.

Even then I ex­isted for sev­eral years on an ex­clu­sive diet of Mar­vel comics and pulp hor­ror (we’ll say noth­ing here of those read­ers’ let­ters in my re­signedly shoplifted Play­boys and May­fairs and Knaves) be­fore the in­evitable segue — via Led Zep­pelin — into Tolkien. A shame­ful pe­riod of one-di­men­sional dwarfs and asex­ual elves might well have lasted through my teens had it not been for John Irv­ing’s 1978 novel, The World Ac­cord­ing to Garp, which I read in my 15th sum­mer, and which changed the course of my life. Cyn­ics will ar­gue that the move from pulp hor­ror, porn and fan­tasy to Garp isn’t much of a leap; more of a hop or shuf­fle or wry side­step.

Irv­ing’s novel, af­ter all, is full of ver­tig­i­nous night­mares, frank sex and ap­palling vi­o­lence. A four-year-old dies in a car crash. His older brother loses an eye to a kno­b­less gear­stick. A young girl is raped. The pro­tag­o­nist’s mother is shot dead. There is lu­natic so­ci­ety of women who am­pu­tate their own tongues. Garp’s wife ac­ci­den­tally bites off her lover’s pe­nis.

Be that as it may, The World Ac­cord­ing to Garp is a se­ri­ous, hi­lar­i­ous, poignant grown-up novel about love, death, loss and ab­sur­dity, and to my crude mid-ado­les­cent sen­si­bil­ity was ut­terly un­like any­thing I’d en­coun­tered be­fore.

When I fin­ished it (hav­ing faked ill­ness to stay home from school with that ex­press pur­pose) I walked into the liv­ing room and an­nounced to my par­ents — with a sort of tremu­lous no­bil­ity, in­deed with some­thing ap­proach­ing rap­tur­ous self-awe — that I had found my vo­ca­tion: I was Go­ing To Be A Nov­el­ist. (To their credit my mother and fa­ther nei­ther fainted from in­credulity nor fell about laugh­ing but sim­ply asked what they might do to help make that hap­pen, a re­sponse which, if there were any jus­tice in the uni­verse, would have seen them de­i­fied on the spot.)

Very well: I was Go­ing To Be A Nov­el­ist.

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