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A widow for one year is a compelling story of love, loss and resolution. This is the first John Irving book I have read and it is the best book I have read in a while. His ability to paint a picture, as it were, is remarkable, and his humorous and awkward approach to the sexual encounters in the book makes you feel akin to Eddie, we have all had those moments. Each of the characters in the book are irresistible in their own unique way and in some way we relate to them all.
Ted Cole is a man slowly losing all that is important to him. He is an accomplished writer of childrens books who seems detached from his true reality. The tragedy of his twin sons death has proven to much for his wife Marion to cope with. His daughter Ruth, meant to help ease the pain, is lost somewhere between the ever present pictures of her brothers and a mother who can not love her. Eddie comes along as a summer assistant to Ted, although the need for one is not apparent to him. Lack of work causes Eddies mind to wander and stray where every teenage boys mind strays to at that age, to sex. A somewhat humorous all be it embarrassing moment brings Marion and Eddie together. At the end of the summer Marion is gone and Ruth is left confused and insecure. Where is her mother and more importantly where are the pictures of Timothy and Thomas.
The story spans many years and we find Eddie a middle aged novelist suddenly invited to introduce Ruth at a public reading of her own work. As he and Ruth reflect on the past together a new found admiration for her develops. She has become an accomplished writer and a woman, but inside the confused and insecure little girl still hides. Over time there paths cross many times and they both find themselves contemplating Marion and looking around every corner for her to appear. The years spent together as friends has created a strong but sometimes strained bond between Eddie and Ruth. She is discovering love for the first time even though she is a widow and a mother, and Eddie is still searching for something he lost long ago.
In the end, thru Ruths tears, will it be okay?
John Irving has definitely captured my attention and loyalty as a reader. Throughout this book I profoundly felt the sentiment and struggles of each character. The authors ability to provoke such emotion and realization is uncanny. Amateur writers such as myself can only dream of capturing the readers mind as he does. He gives the reader the opportunity to explore their own youth and remember those awkward years of youth when we were all first examining our sexual being and produces with that a chance at laughter.
The most amazing thing about this book to me is that it has an actual end. So many books leave the reader wondering whether a chapter was left out, and this one leaves you with a conclusion.
Publishing information from Amazon.com
Hardcover: 537 pages
Publisher: Random House; 1st trade ed edition (May 5, 1998)
"I work with ink."
Ted Cole describes his work as a children's author and illustrator thus, to the amusement of many who see this as less than the usual literary affectation (rather than, as it is, more). But then Ted IS this charming man. Ruth, his daughter, loves him in a way she could never love her stunning but ice-cold mother, Marion, who in turn is forever protected from loving another child by the heartbreak she sustained when her two beloved sons were robbed from her. In this damaged and fractured relationship, four-year-old Ruth Cole is introduced to us. The novel that follows traces her through three key stages of her life, first childhood, then the single, independent and successful life, and finally widowhood, motherhood and falling in love for the first time.
John Irving's ninth novel, and the follow-up to his blistering eighth, A Son of the Circus (my second favourite after Owen Meany) was widely heralded as the best since his breakthrough runaway success The World According to Garp. And in many ways, it has a lot in common with Garp (and The Hotel New Hampshire) dealing as it does with loss and love, and including, as Garp does, stories within stories. But this is a far gentler and more subtly subversive tome, an altogether more heartbreaking offering and a stunning book.
It's also a wonderfully twisted book, in every sense. Often in interviews, it has been put to Irving that he repeats certain themes in his books: orphans/fractured family relationships, particularly with mothers (Irving has a very good relationship with his adoptive mother, but the fact that he's adopted flags up a further line of questioning), tragic accidents, sexuality ("not another dildo, John" as his mother said upon reading this manuscript - there is a strong sexual charge and preoccupation in many of his books, and this is no exception). He strongly denies any sense of autobiography in his writing; to Irving, a good novelist makes things up. But in writing about an author who herself is relentlessly questioned about themes and autobiography, Irving seems finally to have come to the conclusion that there's a middle ground between imagination and autobiography, with the proviso that a good author should have more of the former than the latter. The double helix of his self-revelation and his parody of self-revelation tangle themselves up right in the centre of the book, at the beginning of the crucial middle section, and the apparent polemic on creativity which underpins the subplots of the book is revealed in its entirety here.
But more about the details.
Ruth Cole, for a start, is a wonderful creation. I was reading the book when I signed up to another opinion site, and unable to use the name of my favourite character, Ted, for fear of being thought a man, I chose Ruth instead. I've since come to glory in my choice, as much as I may fall short. Ruth, like all Irving's best characters (Owen Meany, Martin Mills, John Daruwalla, TS Garp) is a bristly and difficult character; she's moody, smart, arch, honest, talented, self-assured and thoroughly dislikeable at times. And so she is acceptably real. Ted, too, despite being a typically debauched and drunken author is real because he has specific and detailed fixations... and Marion, arguably the least accessible because of her remote emotional detachment, whilst straying closest to a fantasy figure rather than a solid individual (the descriptions of her dead sons imbue them with more life than she can be said to have, although clearly this is deliberate), is still a captivating presence. However, arguably the best drawn character is also one of the most ridiculous; perpetual adolescent Eddie O'Hare, Marion's teenage lover and then Ruth's middle-aged admirer, is a likeably ramshackle and human character. Amongst all these strong and forbidding presences, Eddie is the humiliated disaster observer in all of us, and using his shambolic presence, Irving links us to the story with expert grace.
Being a long (almost 700 page, for those of you who set store by these things!) exploration of the dynamics of love and grief , discussing plot seems a bit ridiculous. At one point Ruth Cole explains her creative process: she comes up with characters, explores their choices and the effects these choices have on their lives... and suddenly, she has a story. Whether this is John Irving's creative process I have no idea, but it seems to be the process of this book. To give you an idea, there is everything encompassed between these elegant pages, from eroticism and love to grief and murder to prostitution, all criss-crossed by romance, violence, friendship, self-loathing and self-importance. There are very clear strains of wry humour shot through with that heart-stopping pathos Irving breaks softer hearts with, and the whole is never less than gripping alienation and distant passion. All the spectacular contradictions that made me fall in love with the man three years ago, and never look back.
Equally, talking about the style of writing seems ridiculous in this context... the content and twisted humour should tell you all you need to know about such a thing... but just in case I haven't yet convinced you, let me leave you with an example of a single sentence that struck me (please excuse the language, but for me it totally sums up the hilarious charm, and I appreciate you might have to downrate me for it... as you wish):
"As Ruth inscribed the old woman's book, she repeated aloud the words as she wrote them: 'F*ck you and your grandchildren'."
Could you really resist a book like that?
If anyone who's read the book before will forgive me for this, it's definitely Not For Children.
As for the title... it's a double meaning again. It's a line from the book... and it's a personal nod to the author I claim as my most obvious inspiration.
First published in 1998
Check out the usual places, rrp is £7.99
PS You may hear tell of a Jeff Bridges film, The Door In The Floor, being released shortly. It mostly, as far as I know, covers Ruth's childhood and is more about Ted (the title is a title of one of Ted's books). Should be interesting!
You find yourself in a bookshop- well, I do anyway! And as you peruse the shelves, passing the time of day (being careful to avoid looking at the erotica section, you never know what you will see!), you don't half come across some weird and wacky book titles. In my opinion there are one or two titles that haven't been used that should have been. My favourite is: 'Dieting with Prunes and Syrup of Figs - The 'S' Plan Diet'. But I digress as ever. There is one author whose titles are very striking and, once you get to know his style, there are certain things that you look for and cherish- not that there is any similarity or formula style about the books. They are all very different, believe me! I first encountered John Irving when I saw the films of 'The Hotel New Hampshire' and 'The World According to Garp'. These films were wacky and just about wacky enough to get me interested in reading the novel. I have read just about anything that has been written by Irving (apart from 'The Fourth hand' but that is being reserved by my local library - use your libraries more, they are an invaluable source of reading material!). The only book I found disappointing was 'A Son of The Circus'- I just couldn't get into the tale of doctors on the subcontinent, dwarves and murder. Anyway, back to the review. 'A Widow for One Year' opens, as do many books nowadays, with sex. The one thing about Irving is that he doesn't make it passionate and steamy, he always tends to add a comic slant to it, in this case by the use of a lampshade to cover embarrassment. The central characters are Ted Cole, a writer and illustrator; Marion, his wife, Eddie O'Hare, his driver and her lover; and Ruth Cole, a 4 year old. I will not go into the complexities of the plot because that would be unfair, save to say that the characterisation and plotline are unstinting in t
heir realism, and that the Irving trademarks (amputation, police, dogs, authors and prostitutes) are there yet again. The book starts in the 1950s and stops in the 1990s. That is very much Irving's style, he writes not just about a short space of time, but he makes each and every novel an epic panorama of somebody's lifetime- that is why his books are so 'unputdownable' in my view. Read the book, but only if you are over 16, then read it again, again and again! Neil July 2002 John Irving - 'A Widow for One Year' (Black Swan) £7.99 ISBN 055299796
A typical John Irving novel, full of sexual shenanigans, dirty old men, eccentrics and multiple, generation crossing plots. It's the story of Ruth Cole, a soulful novelist destined to be, as the title has it, a widow for one year, her father Ted Cole, a womanising children's author, and Eddie, an old flame of her absent mother, desperately obsessed with older women since his teenage liaisons with her. There are some odd diversions here - somehow, Ruth gets involved with in a murder hunt for a serial killer of prostitutes halfway through - but what impresses about 'A Widow for One Year' is Irving's confidence in balancing so many subplots, and his all-conquering sympathy for all of his characters. Despite the chaos, the violence and cruelty of the world he writes about, he still cares passionately for all of the people he creates, even if he can't provide them all with happy endings. Moreover, whether it's creating imaginary children's books or writing about the sex trade in Amsterdam, he always gets the details spot on. Not quite his best ('World According to Garp' gets my vote), but definitely a big fat novel to get lost in.
John Irving's most successful and widely-acclaimed novel since A Prayer for Owen Meany. Ruth Cole is a complex, often self-contradictory character - a difficult woman. By no means is she conventionally nice, but she will never be forgotten. Her story is told in three parts, each focusing on a critical time in her life.