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A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving

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Author: John Irving / Genre: Classic Literature

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      11.12.2011 19:22
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      A must read when you have the time to really appreciate it

      John Wheelwright, the narrator of this novel, is in his 40s, teaches Literature to teenagers in Canada, and has all the personality of a wet dishrag. He is telling the story of his formative years, growing up in America against a backdrop of increasing political tension and, eventually, the Vietnam War, sliced with small anecdotes from his current life. When John and his best friend Owen Meany are ten, Owen hits a foul ball in a baseball game which kills John's mother. From that point on, Owen starts to believe that he has been chosen by God, and spends his life trying to prepare himself for the tasks that he believes God wants him to do.

      Owen Meany is an extremely curious character. He is extremely small and has a voice which is described as unusual and awful. The author has taken the step of highlighting this by putting all of Owen's speech in capital letters, which means firstly that you never forget that his voice is unusual and secondly that you always imagine what the voice is like in your head when he is speaking. I found this really effective as it added to the notion of Owen as a really singular, unsettling character. Despite his voice, Owen is an intensely charismatic individual who carves out a prominent place for himself in every environment that he is in. At church, in school and at college he manages to place himself in a position where he has as much sway over what goes on than any of those who are ostensibly in power. I felt that I would really like to meet Owen Meany to see him in the flesh, but I also don't think it would be a very pleasant experience!

      Possibly the character of Owen and my interest in what would happen to him was the thing that kept me going through the long passages where the narrator gets sidetracked from the plot itself to discuss theology or American politics. The narrator is to be honest one of the most dull literary characters I've ever read, and although he is clearly well educated and dependable and reliable, he doesn't really grab my attention. His main interests seem to be religion, literature and American politics, the latter of which he is completely obsessed with. John is quite emotionally damaged, and telling Owen's story seems to be cathartic for him. I was reading this book as part of a challenge I'm doing to read the UK's 100 favourite novels and if it wasn't for that challenge, I think I would have given up after about 100 pages purely because the narrative was so dense. However, I am glad I persevered because the ending of the novel is fantastic!

      There are hints all the way through about the final climax of the book. When the scene you're waiting for finally comes it is unexpected and breathtaking. That scene will stay with you for a really long time! I still find myself, a couple of months after reading it, picturing that scene in my mind and feeling the emotions I felt when I read it.

      This book was mixed for me. I think I'd benefit from another read when I have more time to appreciate the depth of the symbolism and the foreshadowing that is rife, and get to understand the politics that influence the narrative. The story could be told in maybe half the page count (this is a 600 page doorstopper) but it would probably lose a lot of its meaning and depth. By all means read this book, but realise that it can't be rushed and it's not a quick fix. It is to be read slowly, in dedicated chunks of quiet time, and pondered over, and maybe you should even underline some passages.

      Think I might save it for retirement.

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        03.05.2010 15:08
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        BORING.

        I must admit, I found this book hard going. I'm sorry to go against the other reviewers who all seemed to love this story, but to be honest, I found it really boring until about two thirds of the way through.

        A Prayer for Owen Meany is set in New Hampshire in the 50s. It is a coming of age story which I felt gave nothing new to the genre. It follows two young boys who are best friends. The Owen of the title is an irritating, self absorbed little twerp who owns a weird voice. This fact means that all his speech is written in CAPITALS, a good way to express how his voice might sound, but this does interupt the flow of the text a little. The boys go through the normal trials of dating, fitting in at school, rebellion and killing your best friend's mother. (Don't worry, I haven't given much away, you learn this right at the start)

        Owen accidentally kills the narrator's mum and most of the first half of the book is taken up in flashbacks all about how great the mother was. Between this and describing how great Owen is, added to the stuff about God's great plan and religion, I found this book a real chore. It was like the script of the Wonder Years being recited in church. The author throws in the odd literary reference through his english teacher narrator to try and beef up the gravity of the plot, but it didn't grip me at all.

        Towards the finale (all the details of which you know before they are revealed) it gets a little bit more involving, as Owen loses some of his self righteousness and becomes a little more human. However, I was not at all surprised or moved by the ending, as it took so long in getting there that you'd guessed exactly how it would turn out. The only minor surprise was a bit of a let down and I felt, went against how one of the characters had been portrayed throughout the rest of the book.

        I was expecting great things from this book after reading the reviews on the cover. However, what I got was a long winded slice of the same boring suburban America we've seen over and over again in the movies, with a couple of vaguely interesting characters thrown in on the side. It could have done with being about 20 thousand words shorter.

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        01.03.2008 01:00
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        Heartbreaking tale by a master storyteller.

        The opening words to the book say the main character, John Weelwright, is 'doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice' and now, thanks to this heartbreakingly funny book, so am I.

        I first picked up this book whilst searching my library for something new to read, having read what seemed like most of the titles already, and had my interst piqued by the word 'prayer' in the title (I have often been intrigued by tales of religion and such - I don't beleive in any God but I find the topic interesting). On opening the book and reading the first paragraph I was hooked.

        Even though it is about religious beliefs and set in a very religious community the story does not become bogged down in dogma, nor does it lose itself in the subject, it merely tells the tale of two boys growing up in Gravesend, New Hampshire during the 50's and the bond that grows between them before (but mainly after) Owen inadvertantly kills John's mother. It is because of this accident the John believes in God. And, thanks to a vision during the school nativity, Owen, the unlikely young hero who weighs next to nothing and is constantly covered in dust (his parents run a quarry) , believes he has witnessed his own grave complete with date of death. Over the years Owen has more visions and comes believe he is an instrument of God, put on the Earth for a specific purpose. I don't want to give the story away too much so will stop there!

        It is hard to describe how good this book truly is. The prose is the best I have ever read by an author who doesn't waste one word. His love of the written word is plain on every page and his mastery at storytelling is evident as he weaves a tale spanning 40 years that does not run in a chronological order but moves backwards and forwards through time to show events surrounding the lives of the two boys.

        As a point of note - the film 'Simon Birch' was loosely based on the Owen Meany story but cannot compare. A lot was altered for the film and it suffered for it. However, staying true to such a mammoth book would have been something only Peter Jackson might have attempted!

        The book is nearly 650, large format, pages long with not one flaw besides the amount of sleep you'll lose - to finish the book I read until three o'clock in the morning as I just could not leave it - I had to know what happened.

        I read this book about 15 years ago and it remains with me to this day. Whenever I am asked what is the best thing I have ever read this always makes the top of the list. It is the saddest, yet funniest, book I have ever had the pleasure to have indulged in and a wonderful testament to the power of friendship.

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          06.02.2006 11:08
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          One of the best books I have ever read.

          A Prayer for Owen Meany.
          ****************************

          A Prayer for Owen Meany is one of those books that I had been told was a 'must read' by countless friends, and so it was with great pleasure that I finally got my hands on a copy just before Christmas.

          The main character is little Owen Meany himself, although the book is told from the perspective of Owen's best friend Johnny Wheelwright. Johnny tells Owen's story from 1987, when he is a grown man, a teacher now living in Canada. He details their childhood and adolescence in America together throughout the 1950s and 1960s up until Owen's early and tragic death....

          Owen is not your average youngster. To start off with he is a dwarf and on top of this Owen has a very strange voice. THE WHOLE OF OWEN'S PROSE IS WRITTEN IN CAPITAL LETTERS THROUGHOUT THE BOOK TO AMPLIFY THIS. It is a style that works well, successfully emphasising Owen as a character and his voice specifically.

          During their childhood Owen accidentally kills Johnny's mother (who had the best BREASTS of all the mother's) with a far flung BASEBALL that hits her smack in the head and KILLS her instantly. From then on Owen believes that he is an 'INSTRUMENT OF GOD' that he is ALIVE to serve a pre-destined purpose. He believes that his SIZE and his VOICE have something to do with this PURPOSE. He has DREAMS and PREMONITIONS about his death which encourage this view. Also the details are hidden from the reader until the very end.

          The childhood of the two boys is portrayed in great detail and there is much symbolism throughout. Those of you that have read the book will understand the importance of the ARMLESS DUMMY and the scarifice of the ARMADILLO's claws. If you haven't read the book you will certainly appreciate the symbolism once you have read the tragic fate of Owen Meany.

          The ending is abrupt and unexpected. It is clever and also touching. I was surprised and inspired by the ending and I will never forget it....


          My Opinion.
          *************

          This is one of the BEST books I have ever read and I read alot. There are moments of HUMOUR in the novel as well as moments of utter sadness and DESPAIR. It is a COMPELLING book, fantastically written and enthralling. From the very start I was pulled into the story by the immense bizarreness of the setting and I bonded with the two main characters immediately.

          On the negative side A Prayer for Owen Meany is a long book, the text is small the book takes a while to really get going. I'd say that it took me about three weeks to read it overall which might be an issue for some. In addition it is, at times, overtly and perversely sexual and for this reason it isn't suitable for youngsters, although the book is not offensive.

          If you read A Prayer for Owen Meany you are sure to come up with many ideas about the ending and what may happen to poor Owen Meany. I am sure this is the authors intention. The ending is tragic and clever and there is no way you could possibly guess what was going to happen on that FATED day.

          This is a book about HOPE, about FAITH and about DESTINY. It is a book that has a strong focus on both POLITICS (being set at the time of Kennedy and the Vietnam war) and RELIGION. It taught me alot as well as being a great read.

          About the Book.
          ******************

          Paperback: 640 pages
          Publisher: Ballantine Books; Reissue edition (April 14, 1990)
          Language: English
          ISBN: 0345361792

          The book is retailed at £6.99.

          A Prayer for Owen Meany inspired the 1998 Jim Carrey movie called 'Simon Birch'. I have not seen this film but I have herad it isn't actually very good. Still I might check it out. If you want more information about Simon Birch please see http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0124879/


          About the Author.
          *******************

          John Irvine was born in Exeter, New Hampshire in 1942. He published his first novel at 26 and has received awards from the Rockefeller Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Guggenheim Foundation; he has won an O. Henry Award, a National Book Award, and an Oscar. And all this despite the fact he is dyslexic

          John Irving's other novels have also been praised. Most notable are 'The Cider House Rules' and 'The World According to Garp'. I have not had the pleasure of reading either of these works but I certainly intend to.
          However, it seems to be generally accepted that A Prayer for Owen Meany is Irvings best book by far. For details of a recent book lovers Irving poll please see http://ourworld-top.cs.com/irvingpage/irvresult.htm.
          In addition A Prayer for Owen Meany entered the 2002 BBC Big Read list at a fantastic number 28!

          Summary.
          ***********

          If you love books you simply must read A Prayer for Owen Meany. It is a sensational read.

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            24.06.2005 09:24
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            I became a fan of John Irving after reading "Hotel New Hampshire" and have read everything he has written since. And while they are all enjoyable - to differing extents - none of his novels have touched me as much as "A Prayer for Owen Meany".

            Perhaps I felt a special closeness to the book since the two main characters are both flawed - both physically and emotionally. Owen is a dwarf and has having a feeling he is on a mission from God. Johnny Wheelwright is dyslexic (like myself) and is in a life-long search for his father. The relationship between these two boys as they become entwined and grow, is as growing and entwining as Irving's plot itself. The plot of this book takes us into the lives of these two people - first as young boys and later as young men, and the fantastic events that shape their outlook on life - as well as death. Telling you more about the story of this book would certainly spoil you for the wonderful read.

            One of the things that is classic about John Irving and his novels is the way he pulls you back and forth in the story. His stories aren't linear, and he will bring you back to bits in the past when ever he feels that you need a bit of information that might give you insight into an event or character. And, as you reach the endings to his stories, you also find that he foreshadows heavily throughout his books.

            In "A Prayer for Owen Meany" he uses these methods to absolute perfection, and as you are drawn into the book and pulled along by events and the characters, you are exposed to a fascinating world that won't let you go. By the end of the book, you feel as close to these people as any reader can - in fact, they become so real that you feel as if you could point these people out in a crowd.

            Irving also has an uncanny way of finding the absurd in any situation - no matter how ordinary the situation, and this book is no exception. What this does is make his fiction seem so much more likely since we've all heard the old adage that "life is stranger than fiction". Not so in Irving's worlds. Irving lets us experience the weird and unusual as if it was normal. He makes us laugh at what seems strange, while pulling us closer and closer to the truth in human nature. This is how he can make us laugh, and yes, even cry.

            Lastly, I should mention that a movie was made that was partially based on this book. That movie was called "Simon Birch". John Irving helped with the screenplay for this movie but cautioned his readers that while there are similarities between the two, one should remember that the movie is NOT "Owen Meany", but that it is still an excellent movie. I actually avoided seeing the movie because of my deep love for this book, but eventually saw it on television. He was right. I enjoyed both the book and the movie - but they are really two different things.

            So much has been written about this book, and I feel at a loss to add anything to it. Let me reiterate that no book has ever touched my heart as much as this one has. After reading many of John Irving's books, I can safely say that it is my opinion that this book was his masterpiece. Read it, and you'll understand why.

            ~~~~~
            Technical Stuff:
            Available via Amazon.co.uk for £6.39 in Paperback 640 pages (May 25, 1990) Publisher: Black Swan ISBN: 0552993697
            ~~~~~

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              29.01.2001 16:14
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              This book was given to me at Christmas, with many a hearty recommendation, and I must admit I wasn't initially keen. The character who the whole story revolves around is an odd one and I struggled to feel any kind of sympathy or interest at first - his wierd voice, his odd family, and the bizarre accident at the baseball game...I raised my eyebrows and relied on the enthusiasm shown by the friend who gave it to me to carry on. After a while I found myself getting drawn into it, despite myself. It becomes clear that the whole story is leading up to a completely life changing moment, something that has so deeply impacted the narrator that he has never got over it - in fact he leaves behind his native country and only family afterwards in a kind of self imposed exile. With the Vietnam war providing the backdrop, casting its long shadow over the characters, the story progresses, but with so many half clues, diversions and allusions that you cannot really begin to guess how it will end Well, let me tell you the end is well worth it. It is a testament to John Irvings power as a writer that even until the very end - the very last pages - the conclusion is hidden, but as it unfolds, you feel this kind of exploding of understanding as it all clicks into place. You already half understand that the whole book - Owen Meany's whole life - has been preparation for this one defining moment and yet it still comes as a complete shock, as if a veil is suddenly removed from your eyes. It really was a strange and illuminating experience for me reading it and I felt almost privileged to be given a glimpse of something bigger, more terrifying and wonderful at work. So - read it and enjoy. If John's only skill was in contriving a clever plot then he could be commended but he goes so much further with it. He wrestles with big questions - faith, the meaning of life, grief, America - in a way that is funny, perceptive and warm hearted.

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                04.08.2000 17:21
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                John Irving is an amazing storyteller! John Irving sucessfully jumps from the past to the present, as he depicts the lives of two boys growing up when the USA lost its innocence. Owen meany is a small boy with a very strange voice who accidentally kills his best friend's mum with a baseball. From then on he believes he is an instrument of God, destined to be a martyr. Owen and his best friend John' lives take very different paths but fate keeps bringing them back together. . There are some very funny interludes like the Christmas pageant and the enactment of 'A Christmas Carol'. The story often seems surreal and bizarre but the ending is truly tragic. The book is littered with historical references and has so many twit, turns and sub plots that the 'Big picture' only becomes clear in the very end. I couldn't put the book down and would recommend it to everyone. This is one of the best books I have ever read (if you are not really interested in books - there is now a film version)

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                  21.07.2000 21:43
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                  THIS OP IS ABOUT TO BE REWRITTEN! COME BACK ANOTHER DAY!! I'M READING IT AGAIN SO BE QUIET WHILE I READ! I have to join the other opinions on this book. It's one of my most favourite books ever. It's an original story full of characters that reminded me of people I actually know. John Irving has such a knack for creating memorable real people and stories that bring them to life and make you care about them. This is a longer book than usual but it's worth every page. A little boy called Owen Meany grows up in a little town with his best friend. Owen's got a falsetto voice that John Irving also "does" at conventions and book signings and conveys in the book using capital letters. The books follows their childhoods and shows the love the narrating character has for his best friend. It's funny, warm, but also tragic and sad. Owen believes he is special, that he is an immaculate conception and that he is destined to die on a certain day where certain events unfold. He knows what the events are and makes no secret of them and even makes his own gravestone. Needless to say, he is right - but that's not it. The book is full, original, unique, hilarious and like no other book you have ever read. I've read it 9 times so far and keep going back! It's now been made into a film, entitled "Simon Birch". While the credits rightly say "suggested" by the original book and although the storyline differs greatly in many places, I truly felt that for once, the movie adaption of this book totally captures the spirit of Owen Meany and his story.

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                    08.07.2000 17:15
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                    This is a book which everyone should read. It follows the life of a boy called Owen Meany who while playing in a Little League Baseball game throws a curve ball which kills his best friends mother. From that moment on he believes he is an instrument of God and that his life and the things he do have a meaning in helping others out. Owen is a great and fun character he is a little guy who just wants to do his best for everyone else around him and does puts others before himself. He talks a a big booming voice represented by CAPITALS for everything he says. The book follows his life as he grows up and how he is affect by the people around him and more how he affects those he meets. From an early age he has a vison of how he is going to die but this never gets him down. He simple uses his own self belief to bring joy to what life he has and those around him. This book is also extremly funny in places and will have you laughing outloud, partic at the nativity play but I won't give anything away. This book is a joy to read and read it you should.

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                      08.07.2000 04:01
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                      Owen Meany is not only John Irving's best book, it's quite simple the best book ever. It is completely unputdownable. It's breathtakingly clever, original, moving... The main character is someone you'll feel you want to meet by the end of the book, or like you've known him forever. If you haven't read this masterpiece yet, you must go out AND BUY IT NOW (as Owen would say). I promise you, you'll be posting your review here agreeing with me that it's unbelievable.

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                      Eleven-year-old Owen Meany, playing in a Little League baseball game in New Hampshire, hits a foul ball and kills his best friend's mother. Owen does not believe in accidents and believes he is God's instrument. What happens to Owen after that 1953 foul is both extraordinary and terrifying.