John Irving will in all likelihood never be described as a ‘prolific’ writer.
In the course of his 45 year career, the author has released only 13 novels. His most recent, In One Person, is one of his finest in my opinion. Admittedly, A Prayer For Owen Meany will likely always be my favorite.
Several of Irving’s novels have been turned into films – The World According To Garp, The Hotel New Hampshire, The Cider House Rules, Owen Meany (retitled ‘Simon Birch’ on screen) and A Widow For One Year (retitled ‘The Door In The Floor’ on screen). Most of them, spanning years and having many side-plots, would be difficult to encapsulate into a 90 – 120 minute film.
Irving’s 1994 release, A Son Of The Circus is a book that I have attempted to delve into on several occasions without success. He has, since I discovered his works, been one of my favorite authors. When he’s released something new, I’ve eagerly devoured it within a month or two, sometimes sooner. But this book, something about this book, always eluded me.
Involving a fictional detective in India cinema….and a very real serial killer……most all of Irving’s usual ‘themes’ are present here….absentee fathers, older woman/younger man infatuation….sexual ‘suspects’….and horrific though utterly fascinating deaths. Irving’s imagination is a beautiful thing, and he makes good use of it to weave this tale.
That said…..this is likely my least favorite of Irving’s novels….which is likely why I’ve never been able to get through it until now. The length of the book (600+ pages) didn’t deter me…the foreign setting (India) didn’t deter me….the subject matter (serial killers, transexuals, dwarves, etc.) didn’t deter me….it was merely that this is the least ‘cohesive’ Irving book (to me) and something about it was just terribly disjointed. The novel has little to do with the circus, really, as the title might indicate – and despite several mentions of circuses throughout the story – it just seems as though the central narrative of the book could have been one of several plots and sub-plots.
I’ve come to expect meandering tales from Irving, and to love how he very neatly ties them all together in the end…usually. Here I just didn’t find that to be the case. Yes; the tale concludes….yes; the ‘loose ends’ are wrapped up….and yes; there is an epilogue that tracks the ‘what came next’ for most of the main players….it just seemed at times, to me, that the whole book was a loose end.
If you read this because you love Irving’s prose and imagination – you won’t be disappointed. But if you read this expecting a tight, interweaving tale; which the author is so capable of delivering – this might be the one Irving book you just skip over.