Best Book

Although many have set this book aside as one of Irving’s worst, its merits are clear when the last page is turned

In One Person
John Irving
***

When reading a novel, I make it a point to turn the final page before checking the opinions, however unfavourable, of another reader. Settling one’s own mind about a book – and about all things – is a principle of life that should not be subject to deviation, yet in the case of In One Person by John Irving my fortitude wavered.

After 75 pages of repetitive prose following the stumbling plot of a sexually-driven (and explicitly profane) teenager, in which the mind is surrounded by crudely drawn, transsexual characters who subject the eyes to needlessly obvious statements that the reader most likely guessed already – and cannot help rolling their eyes at when they are overtly pointed out to them – I simply had to see what others made of it. The result was as mixed as I suspected. While one paper referred to In One Person as ‘elevated beyond the merely political’, and, surprisingly, ‘a nod to Chekhov’ – the master short-story writer and playwright – another believes the central character to be “constructed to fit the author’s message”, resulting in a disappointing three out of five stars. I could not help but agree with the latter, at least at first.

I held on to my rule, and, the content of this particular book notwithstanding, its premise is breathtakingly original. While the child-like first person narrative of the allegedly educated central protagonist is confusingly juxtaposed with much pretentious technical literary language – used ostensibly to establish Billy’s authority as a writer – the thought and, most likely, feeling which no doubt motivated the creation of this work is wholly original. Irving has managed to create a whole new field in which writers can freely roam following his footsteps – something all too rare with modern literature.

Concerned with the ‘growing-up’ of a young man in the late 1940s throughout a great portion of his life and later career as a novelist, In One Person could be described as disjointed, indulgent, and unnecessarily blatant in its alternate depictions of literary heritage and sexual experience. Yet, another, altogether more fitting description would be to characterise it as a view through the eyes of a man one cannot hope to understand, even if he is merely a mouthpiece for Irving’s libertarian views. And although many have set this book aside as one of Irving’s worst, its merits are clear when the last page is turned.

And the editor’s favourite…

Fifty Shades of Grey
****

E.J. James’s new novel is topping The New York Times Best Erotic Seller List, and understandably so. Fifty Shades of Grey is a must read for all ages. Having been recommended it by none other than my conservative mother, I can truly say that everyone will take something from this book. Although not to the taste of those wanting beautifully constructed sentences, the storyline is engaging, with innocent undertones to the flirtacious and ultimately sexual relationship between college graduate Anastasia and lascivious businessman Christian.
Aside from the heavy eroticism, James does an excellent job of capturing a young girls’ insecurities about relationships and sexual liberation, making it a greatly refreshing read.

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