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As a huge John Irving fan I am always really excited to get a new novel by him to read. However, I haven't been too keen on the last couple that I have read in 'Until I find you' and 'The fourth hand' and so I was a little bit unsure what to expect with 'Last night in twisted river'. Luckily this book is something close to a return to form.
John Irving is an absolute master of the genre of tragicomedy and also at genius at wielding a story that spans many decades and yet never loses it's pace. His talent at creating brilliant memorable characters and situations is to my mind second to none. To read a John Irving novel is to make several friends in a short space of time that you will no doubt miss once it is finished.
Last Night in Twisted River tells the story of a cook and his son and begins in 1954 in the cookhouse of a logging and sawmill settlement in northern New Hampshire. The cooks son, at the age of 12 accidentally mistakes the local policemans woman for a bear and kills her. The two of them are then forced to go on the run. Their only friend is a grouchy old river driver called Ketchum who becomes their lone protector.
Like many of Irvings books it spans a great deal of time, in this instance five decades. Very common themes can often be found throughout Irvings novels, his insistence on main characters being published or aspring writers, his love of wrestling (Irving himself was once a wrestling coach!) and of course his love of America and a great many different places especially Boston and the surrounding areas. Irvings writing is quirky, descriptive, filled with emotion and yet is never ever contrived or cheesey. He writes very effectively about human connection and in particular about bonds that can never be broken no matter how much time has passed.
Irving is a writer who clearly loves what he does for a living and it shows in his writing. A man with great passion for literature (and for life!) and definately a man still striving to create a masterpiece yet more complete than those that have come before. The trouble being that some of his early works were so close to perfection it was never going to be easy.
John Irving as a writer understands better than anyone just how fortunate we are to be alive and just how amazing life can be. He is able to see the beauty in seemingly ordinary situations that very few people take the time to see or understand.
Irving is a very talented and accomplished storyteller and I think once anyone starts reading his books they will want to seek out some of his other works. For someone who hasn't read a John Irving book I wouldn't say that this is the best place to start despite it no doubt being an exceptional piece of literature. I think the slightly more accessible 'A Prayer for Owen Meany' or perhaps the more comedic 'The Life according to Garp' are great places to start in order to get into this quite brilliant writer. John Irving also wrote 'The Cider House Rules' that was made into a film for which Michael Caine won an oscar. Once you've read these books you will be able to happily enjoy any of his early works and even the slightly weaker efforts I have already mentioned are very worthy of a fans attention.
I give Last Night in Twisted River four stars as a John Irving Novel comparing it to his best. However, On it's own it's definately worthy of a five star review.
John Irving has always been my favourite contemporary author so I am always pleased when he releases a new novel. "Last Night in Twisted River" is his most recent and twelfth novel; and it doesn't disappoint.
The novel starts in the 1950's, in a sawmill in North Hampshire. It centres around two characters - a father (the cook at the sawmill) and his twelve-year-old son, Daniel. One evening, Daniel mistakes the local policeman's girlfriend for a bear and shoots her. The novel then spans the next five decades as they become fugitives throughout America and Canada as the policeman continues to hunt them down.
The novel is not always chronological, it sometimes jumps into the past as characters recall significant events - I found this made the novel even more intriguing but it could annoy some readers.
This is quite simply a beautifully written novel and a pleasure to read. The settings are evocatively described - as is the food. The book is full of mouth-watering recipes as the father cooks in many different restaurants along the way.
As all of his novels though it is the characterisation that stays with you once you have finished the book. They are not always likable, but you end up caring about them. This novel explores the relationship between fathers and sons in particular - a familiar theme of John Irving and this one seemed more genuine then his more recent exploration in "Until I found you." His characters are always complex and we slowly learn more about their pasts throughout the novel.
Another clever technique that Irving uses is to suddenly (in the middle of a chapter, and sometimes even in the middle of a mundane paragraph) tell the reader about a significant event in the novel. He drops this in casually and will always shock you - he will then spend the next 20-30 pages telling you about this in more detail. It means you can not put the book down until you find out everything and it always leaves me with a sense of tension and edge when reading his novels since you never really know what is coming next.
Irving is not afraid to shock his readers - he will often deal with disturbing themes and events. This can sometimes be quite hard to read and may not appeal to all readers but to anyone who likes to read something a bit different and quirky. Irving tends to also have a fascination with bears - even his first novel was named "Setting Free The Bears" and he hasn't stopped since!
His novels also have the power to make you think about life issues - particularly around love and relationships and this one also deals with issues of morality.
If you are new to this author then I would recommend starting with "The World According to Garp" or "A Prayer for Owen Meany" but this is a fantastic novel and for me, one of my favourites from him and his best since "A Widow for One Year". So even if I am a little biased since he is my favourite author I would highly recommend this gripping novel.