Chronotope is one of the words coined by language philosophers and philologists to denote a spatial and temporal unity and their co-dependence in the novel. This is a way a literary continuum of a certain novel is defined and categorized. John Irving is one of the names in the world literature whose novels share not only identical chronotopes (the turn of the century and Maine/New Hampshire/ Canada), but his characters are trapped in the well of the same plots and issues: the search of the lost fathers, who are always nearby watching their off-springs, the elusiveness of the motherly figure, the attractiveness of senior women, the sexuality (and quite often the sexual abuse)and gender questions, religious hypocrisy, true spirituality, epiphany, and, last but not least, writing and creativity.
Despite the deceitful routine and the repetitiveness of Irving’s novels, he is one of the most powerful voices in modern American literature. I have a feeling that he is aware of the same world his novels take place in, but he uses this singularly Irving universe as his insignia. And in the course of time it has become the symbol of quality literary fiction.
The books itself is quite lengthy – I was listening to the CD version, and I am not sure I would have stayed committed so much to this book if I had been reading it as a paperback (869 pages might be a little bit more than you bargain for). The novel has a mirror-like structure. The journey (both physical and emotional) is taken twice by the main character, Jack Burns. The first journey is the journey of falsehood, pretense, egotism, and deceit, which has been ingeniously constructed by his mother. The second journey is the journey of truth, musical beauty, sacrifice for the sake of art, and forgiveness. For the protagonist it is also the journey of self-discovery with some very interesting sexual innuendos. As I have mentioned earlier, sexuality and sexual identity have always been the landmarks of John Irving.
As usual, John Irving stretches the truth as much as he can, but he also adds some ‘spice’ of literature (Hardy, Tolstoy, Bronte, Mishima to mention just a few) to balance and add the verisimilitude and plausibility to his novel. This literary move per se helps us reminisce if you are familiar with those literary powerhouses or it might motivate some of his readers to discover the new and forgotten pleasures of classical literature.
This novel has also been helpful in understanding why John Irving is often called the modern Dickens – he uses the same devices and the similar settings, explores the same issues and topics, stretches the reality in every novel I have read, and introduces weird, bright and memorable characters. Now it is time to stop and ask yourself how many novels by Dickens you have read. It sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
I have read several novels by Irving (he is a prolific writer, not pulp-fiction prolific, but he does write quickly, effectively, and recognizably), and every book has been a beautiful and rewarding reading experience, and I am looking forward to re-entering the unique and bizarre world according to Garp … oops Irving:-)