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After reading my first Irwing novel recently, A Prayer for Owen Meany, I felt compelled to try some of his other works. The Cider House Rules was the novel I picked up next and I wasn't disappointed.
Irwing never writes a short tale and this one is no exception. Focussing on the lives of Dr Wilbur Larch and the orphan Homer Wells over a lifetime. This fascinating tale describes beautifully the ever changing relationship between the two characters whilst delving into the lives of many secondary characters along the way. Dr Larch runs the orphanage where Homer, along with other young unwanted boys have been left by their parents. He is reluctant to become attached to the orphan boys under his care but one young boy manages to evoke paternal feelings in him.
Homer is the only child that remains in the custody of the orphanage beyond his childhood years, after Larch's several unsuccessful attempts to have him adopted. In order to make Homer of use, Larch teaches him the business of delivering babies and also the controversial and illegal act of abortion that is also performed at the orphanage. Although Larch believes that abortion is a necessary act he decides to allow Homer to make his own decision on whether to perform the procedure himself, which he chooses no to do. When a young woman turns up at the orphanage with her fiancé for an abortion, Homer starts a journey separate from his life with Dr Larch and the nurses he grew up with by travelling to an orchard with his new friends.
The relationship between Homer and Dr Larch is beautifully described by Irving during their separation. It shows the reader clearly the reason why Larch wanted to remain unattached from his orphans. While Homer develops new friendships and relationships at the orchard his moral principles are tested in more ways than one.
A major theme of the novel is the rights and wrongs of abortion, it should be noted that descriptions of several abortions are present in some detail. Irving manages to convey the horror of back street abortions in contrast to the clinical procedure available to women under the care of a professional doctor such as Larch. It is a method which forces the reader to acknowledge that abortions will occur whether legal or not. Larch and Homer both come to a conclusion about their role in the illegal service the orphanage provides by seeing horrors throughout their lives.
A small aspect of The Cider House Rules concentrates on Melody, a troubled young girl also from the orphanage where Homer grew up and his childhood girlfriend.
Many of you may have seen the film version starring Tobey Maguire, well I warn you now the novel has a lot of differences. Don't be expecting a narrative of the movie, this novel is so much better!
Despite being probably the only person writing under this category not having seen the film, I feel that after Irving's striking images portrayed through his writing, there is little need. Due to the recent 'rail crisis' I have had lots of reading time on the train and can't say that I have read a book recently that even matches up to Cider House Rules. Both humourous and exquisitely moving, Irving creates a plethora of characters that the reader really cares about, from the orphan Homer Wells to Fuzzy, another little boy under the care of the central character, an abortionist.
First of all I promise not to spoil the book, because I don’t think a reviewer ever should. All I want to do is give you an idea of what the book is like so you can decide whether or not to read it. To this end, I would counsel against reading the blurb on the back, or if you do just read the first paragraph – the synopsis is the worst thing about the book, because if you read the second paragraph it will spoil a whole chunk of the book. The Cider House Rules is set in Maine, and most of the action takes place between the late thirties and late sixties. Irving writes well – he has a great touch for telling you things in the most coherent order and maintaining the dynamic of the story. If there is a weakness it would be a tendency to make all the characters quirky – it is sometimes a little difficult to swallow that every single character has some defining odd feature rather than just being normal. Irving is also a little too fond of the semicolon – long sentences abound. (A bit like me!) However, these are tiny, tiny things and you may not even notice/agree with them. The book is a great read – I devoured it in two weeks, which is not bad going for 700 pages or whatever it is. To give you an idea of the plot without spoiling anything, I will attempt a quick summary. The story follows the life of Homer Wells, who spends his childhood in the orphanage run by Dr. Larch. From an early age it is clear that Homer is different from the other orphans, and because he is not adopted as a child he effectively becomes an assistant to Larch. He watches Larch give women what they want: “an orphan or an abortion”. Larch is the quirkiest character of all – he is an ether addict, a keen pro-abortionist (radical for the time), and he keeps a slightly pompous journal, the ever-expanding “Brief History of St. Cloud’s” (the name of the orphanage). To go into detail about the later
parts of the book, after Homer leaves St. Cloud’s, would be to say too much. However, he ends up on an apple farm in an unusual entanglement of relationships, all of which is aggravated by the Second World War. The rest is for you to discover…
If I had to write down just one phrase,describing John Irving's writing, it would have to be: he's a first rate story-teller. "The cider house rules" is the third book of his that I read, after "The world according to Garp" & "A prayer for Owen Meany". The opinion that I've formed so far, that Irving is a superb writer, hasn't changed. However, there were both good and less than good things about "The Cider house rules" which is the reason for the 3 star rating. First of all, John Irving has a gift when it comes to character development: he consistently describes interesting, different, strange, very original people: and he does this in such a subtle and sensitive way, that after finishing each of his books, you have the feeling you know each and every character very well. This is one of the good points of the cider house rules: Homer Wells, Melony, Dr Larch are all unique and interesting chararters...but after having read other John Irving books, the reader has come to expect characters like these, so it doesn't come so much as a surprise. I also liked the handling of the abortion issue: John Irving doesn't preach, he gives both sides of the story, and helps us realise how nothing is ever black or white. However, by the end of the book, his own opinion is clearly stated, but not in a "bossy" way... What I didn't like about the book was that first, I thought it was very slow paced and at times boring, especially after "Prayer for Owen Meany" which is much funnier & never boring. Also, I thought the end was totally predictable: you could tell, almost from the beginning what the conclusion would be. Finally, I was a little bit disappointed by some of the choices the characters made: John Irving built up an almost hero-like character (Homer Wells), a strong, talented & intelligent person...but he compromised on many levels, especially when it came to his
personal life. Having said all this: I would still whole-heartedly recommend Cider House Rules, but I don't think it's one of the best novels by John Irving. I still haven't seen the movie & I look forward to watching Michael Caine play the part of Dr Larch.
A book about an orphan and an abortionist? Is it possible? well, yes, it is actually. And it's funny, poignant, intriguing, educating ( I always wondered what D&C stood for!) This book is not at all what I expected of it, but then none of John Irving's novels are. How it gets from abortions to orchards is anyones guess, but it does. What I did find with this book is that it was a compelling read, where you got involved with it's characters to the extent where you want to know what life holds for them, like Irvings later caharacters Owen Meany and the inimatable Garp (a must read!). John Irving is not for the faint hearted reader. You either love him or hate him. But you have to give him a try, because if you do love him, you will read all his stuff. Don't miss Hotel New Hampshire. All his books will make you laugh and cry. that's a promise!
Set among the apple orchards of rural Maine, it is a perverse world in which Homer Wells' odyssey begins. As the oldest unadopted offspring at St Cloud's orphanage, he learns about the skills which, one way or another, help young and not-so-young women, from Wilbur Larch, the orphanage's founder, a man of rare compassion with an addiction to ether.