Friday, May 07, 2010

‘A Prayer for Owen Meany’ by John Irving

7 May 2010

I first discovered John Irving’s 1989 novel ‘A Prayer for Owen Meaney’ through the excellent BBC Radio 4 dramatisation last year, in which Toby Jones created the distinctive voice of Owen Meany (which in the book is always IN CAPITAL LETTERS). Reading the novel for the first time I felt the ‘present day’ (1987) passages focussing on the Reagan administration and the Iran-Contra affair – which were largely omitted from the radio abridgement – seemed strangely dated and irrelevant in a way in which the main ‘historic’ story, told in flashback, didn’t. The various impacts of the Vietnam War on the principal characters – perhaps originally intended to sew warnings about Reagan-era foreign policy – now seem much more the centre of attention. ‘A Prayer for Owen Meaney’ is a great comic (and tragic) novel with some brilliant set-piece scenes (the Nativity Play is a beautifully-constructed and hilarious passage). Irving plays around with time, flashing forward and back as he gradually moving through the characters’ lives in chronological order. And he teases the reader remorselessly, constantly hinting at what is to come and drip-feeding key details to build the final picture. The final revelation takes so long to come that the anticipation almost becomes irritating but it’s so worth waiting for you finish the book in awe and with a smile on your face.



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