“In the world according to Garp, we are all terminal cases. “ This motif, recurring multiple times throughout the novel, is perhaps somewhat overdramatised, yet painfully accurate. From the first page through to the last one, the reader is infected with the subtle anticipation that the characters are inevitably approaching something horrible. Something tremendous, something that will change everything, forever: An intangible danger; a monster introduced into the storyline by Garp’s young son Walt. He misunderstands his parents warning him of the undertow along the shore, and how it can “Pull you under, suck you out to sea”, and one day Walt stares fiercely toward the ocean, looking for the Under Toad (“How big is it? What colour is it? How fast can it swim?”).
The novel, with all its quirks, makes it incredibly easy to dip into the story, become part of it, and laugh and cry with the characters. The fear that whatever you take for granted in one part of the novel might suddenly be ripped away from you and torn into pieces as you read on, makes you want to put it down instantly, as if that could change its outcome – but you can’t. It is the kind of story that makes you want to stop the clocks when you are sitting in the Tube on your way to Uni, knowing that your stop is next and you will have to close the book.
I have to say though, whilst reading it, I did not always think I would praise it to that extent. Not necessarily because it takes a few pages to fully immerse in the storyline (it doesn’t), but rather because parts of it are deeply disturbing. Ranging from people biting off other people’s genitalia, over children losing eyes, arms and tongues, to women raping disabled, dying men in hospital to impregnate themselves – Irving’s got them all. Of course, “A novelist is a doctor who sees only terminal cases.” In a way, this is a novelist writing a novel about a novelist writing novels. It approaches literature from a very personal point of view, which is especially fascinating if you yourself are interested in writing. As if he knows how personal a relationship the reader forms with his novel, Irving mentions towards the end: “Don’t worry - so what if there is no life after death? There is life after Garp, believe me.” Unfortunately, I cannot yet confirm that this is true, since I am still getting over this book like normal people are getting over a lover after a tough break up. I thought what we had was special, and I didn’t want it to end so soon – which is why I immediately got myself some more Irving from the bookshop!