John Irving and his writing

This morning I read the essay linked to below, at John Irving’s facebook page and was surprised to see it had been published in 1980. It was the mention of one of my favourite Irving novels that caught my eye, THE WATER METHOD MAN:

It’s been 45 years since John Irving published THE WATER METHOD MAN. While his second novel is regarded as a purely comic tale, and John’s current project is a darker contemplation of life’s disruptive forces, the two novels bear some resemblance to one another.

John Irving is once again experimenting with framed narratives and writing about the evolution of a writer—like Bogus Trumper, one who writes screenplays. This time, we see the main character —Adam Brewster—mature from childhood and early adolescence to become a writer like Garp, or Ruth Cole, or Juan Diego, as if writing were an inevitability given the fateful circumstances of his life. And, along the way, despite the darkness, there are points of humor. John’s work in progress may ultimately be his funniest novel since THE WATER METHOD MAN.

And a link to the essay published all those years ago, 3 BY IRVING by Terrence Des Pres, a text credited by Irving as “the most insightful thesis on his writing.” It contains some fabulous insights into and perspectives on fiction writing, particularly his. How he works, how he circles.

I do feel his fiction went off the boil for me, but maybe I had changed, maybe his work is still as vibrant and compassionate (a word that keeps recurring in the essay) and funny as it ever was. (although I have to say, the character name Bogus Trumper is genius but Adam Brewster? Ordinary).

Anyway, I thought it a fascinating read, this morning. It helped restore the juice that I will need to push on to the next project. It has some great quotes like:


Superior fiction asks three things of the novelist: Vigorous feeling for life as we live it. Then imaginative force, strong enough to subvert and rebuild unhindered. And then–but this is rare and so essential that we might call it the “reality principle” of fiction– shrewd sense to keep the first two locked in stubborn love with each other.


Irving’s grasp on fact is firm, yet not so cramped as to dampen his delight in wild fabulation. To manage this balance with compassion and comic liberty is chief among his strengths. Not fact but fact perceived is fiction’s rightful domain, and Irving has been quick to take this special license to its limit. Rampant invention is central to his art, and one of the finest pleasures to be got from reading his novels resides in the multiplicity of styles, the range of forms and abrupt imaginative turns to be found in each book. Irving’s multiple manner, if I may call it such, his will to come at the world from different directions, is one of the outstanding traits of Garp; but this remarkable flair for confluence–stories inside stories, genres circumventing genres–is already handled with mastery in Irving’s first novel, Setting Free the Bears, published in 1968, and with a freedom almost wanton in The Water-Method Man, which appeared in 1972. Only The 158-Pound Marriage departs from mixed form; published in 1974, it is as lean and concentrated as a mine shaft. But in every case Irving’s habit of originality provokes surprise and enjoyment.


4 thoughts on “John Irving and his writing

  1. I am a devoted Irving fan as you know. Not blind devotion, though. I can rank his novels (it gets tricky choosing near the top) and there are some that I simply didn’t like (most recently, In One Person). But I did enjoy his last one (Avenue) and Twisted River is breathtaking. I’ve been waiting to hear what his next project is about so thanks for those links.

    1. My pleasure Kate, I follow ‘him’ on facebook and get the snippets occasionally, which I like… (it will be run by an assistant, but has the feel of being him. I think he probably sends an email response to certain things, and they include it verbatim, along with say a snap of his summer writing cottage etc. Makes me feel I am in his world a little bit. Along with the other hoards.)

  2. That essay has been available via 3 BY IRVING — an omnibus published in 1980/81, just after the success of “Garp” and while THE HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE was a bestseller. And THE WATER-METHOD MAN was and is one of my favourites of Irving’s novels (I enjoy them all, but still re-read “Water-Method,” “Garp”, “Cider House”, “Widow” and A SON OF THE CIRCUS, on occasion.
    Too bad you “went off” of the writing of Irving, since LAST NIGHT IN TWISTED RIVER (which takes on violence in the USA) IN ONE PERSON (which takes on sexual minorities) and AVENUE OF MYSTERIES (a brooding look at old age, death and creativity) are three terrific reads. And his NEXT novel — DARKNESS AS A BRIDE — is a ghost story that uses lines from Shakespeare (and likely some plot elements) as touchstones.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s