Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The World According to Garp.

The title "The World According to Garp" is perhaps one of the best - ever। It fits the book in a rather subtle way, not as blatantly as you may think. It tells you something about the book before you start reading it, and then the book eases you into it, that is into this "world". This will be something different. It's not just a tale about the world, but the world
according to Garp. A subjective, openly subjective narrative, without any pretensions at objectivity. But it is somehow subtle, it does not scream "THIS IS DIFFERENT", it just provides you with a feeling of alterity, of not really belonging. In the beginning I didn't really understand why it was the world according to Garp - it felt more like it should be the world according to Jenny Fields (read it to find out why).

I often think about the point of literature, the meaning of it, and I never reach any conclusion. I have different approaches to literature depending on my mood; I can be businesslike ("this must be read, but I may not like it") or sentimental ("in reading this I exist in two places - physically here and mentally in the book", the same thing that happens when you watch a good movie). Because of this duality I have a hard time always applying the efficient character I wish could be the "trademark" of my reading. Reading fast and reading a lot. I can't really do it, and it's not for fault of trying. You are supposed to sit upright in a silent place and not waste time flipping pages in an inefficient way in order to read truly fast, but I prefer to lie down, listen to music and eat chocolate while I slowly and clumsily turn over the pages... So I guess my reading is often quite sensual, and I somehow feel that this is connected to the point of literature.

Garp actually thinks about the meaning of literature, somewhere in the middle of the book if I am not mistaken. What leads him to literature is at the same time different and as old as it can get when it comes to motivation: a girl. I don't want to say "love", because I don't think he was actually in love with this girl when he decided to become an author in order to marry her. He is not only different in his approach to things, but also in his actual existence - in his time that is (the book was written in the 70s and not in today's Sweden...). He is a somewhat failed author, self-centered and obsessed with his kids, the perfect stay-at-home dad (he doesn't want to see other people anyway) with a successful and brilliant professor-of-literature-wife and an eccentric mother. Garp does not believe literature should serve a purpose; it is and should be an item of luxury. This is an old question in literature, much debated and an obligatory aspect of every course on literature at University I guess; should literature and authors take a stand in society, or should their art just exist? I kind of believe that literature, by purely existing in all its forms (from Zola to Kafka, or let's say JK Rowling) fulfils its own purpose, one that is not instrumental, but without being an item of luxury.

John Irving has not had me gasping in suspense while reading this book, but he has impressed me deeply. It has been quite a while, I believe, since I last felt that a book was as deep as this one, as complex as this story. John Irving makes a rather incredulous story feel purely natural, and this is the sign of a good author. I was not questioning the probability of any of the happenings as I was reading, whereas I was actually questioning the probability in the stories Garp wrote himself (you get to read parts of his writings as well, which is a first for me I think). I can't really believe my luck in having discovered so many great authors this year: Magda Szábo, John Irving, Jens Bjørneboe, Per Petterson... I have so many books that I look forward to reading, and I recommend all of these authors very strongly.

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