I confess that it took me about 300 pages to actually start enjoying this book. It was frustrating: I loved the writing style, the wit, the satire, empathised with the various intricacies and peculiarities of the various characters, yet the book simply didn’t hold my attention. I am not sure what exactly changed at the approximate-300 page mark, either it was that the humour suddenly took hold (the Christmas Pageant was quite hysterical) or it was that Irving began to clarify his questioning of faith and the implications of this questioning. I found myself torn between my desperate desire to know Owen Meany more, to read the unfolding of his narrative, and my general irritation with John Wheelwright and his overall lack of commitment to … well … to anything. Owen is the strength of his book, he is “a great and luminous character”,
definitely the hero of this tale, possessed with infinite wisdom and conviction. He is somehow all-knowing and omniscient, despite the fact that he is not in fact the narrator of this tale.
I was quite taken by Owen’s relationship with Hester and intrigued by the strength of their connection and the depth of feeling which went along with that bond. But so much of this relationship was hidden, unknowable for readers. We caught glimpses of the nature of their love, but it was constantly left in the background.
In fact, Hester becomes a remarkable character in this text, despite the relatively minor role that she is assigned. She is the signifier of the age, her finger on the national and cultural pulse of the peace movement, the swing of the anti-Vietnam War swell, and the music and passion that accompanied it. She remains with her finger on that pulse throughout the text, appearing towards it end as Hester the Molester, a famous rock singer.
I flew through the last 200 pages. Gulping enormous portions in my agony as I came to realise the essence of Irving’s tale and message. Who was Owen Meany? How does one navigate through the hypocrisy of life? How does life go on when all seems lost … There are no answers, only questions and a lingering sense of loss. I am glad I ‘knew’ Owen Meany, glad I followed him and stepped into his vision of palm trees.
The Complete Review
Posted in American Literature
Tagged A Prayer for Owen Meany, Canada, Hester, Hester the Molester, John Irving, John Wheelright, John Wheelwright, Owen Meaney, Owen Meany, Vietnam, war
Yankev Glashteyn’s book Emil and Karl is one of those startling and breath taking books that everyone should read.
Originally published in Yiddish in 1940, Glashteyn wrote this book after he visited his ailing mother in Europe prior to the outbreak of World War II. The book is prophetic on so many levels and clearly captures the traumatic tone of the times – for Jews and non-Jews alike.
The story is set in Vienna in 1938 and follows the lives of two 9 year old friends, Emil and Karl. Emil is Jewish, his father has disappeared and he is left alone after his mother can no longer cope with events. Karl, an Aryan, is also alone after his mother, a Socialist, is forcibly taken away.
The book begins with:
Karl sat on a low stool, petrified. The apartment was as still as death. He looked at the pieces of the broken vase scattered on the floor. Several times he reached out with one hand to pick up an overturned chair lying beside him. The chair looked like a man who had fallen on his face and couldn’t get up. But each time Karl tried, he could only lift the chair up a little bit, and then if fell down again. It was even quieter in the kitchen and the bedroom – so quiet he was afraid to go in there.
The narrative recounts the lengths to which Emil and Karl went in order to survive in this tumultuous and torturous time. The book contains some horrifying moments, near death experiences and accounts of tremendous abuse. However, it is also filled with insights into extreme kindness and sacrifice. Glashteyn carefully treads this balance with humility and honesty.
By far my favourite character in this book was Hans, an activist who disguises his intentions by feigning madness. His role in this text is to touch on the insanity of this period and to illustrate the great lengths which many people were forced to go to in order to survive.
There are many things which will stay with you from this text … the fragility of life, the horrors of war and ultimately, the comfort of friendship.
Although it is primarily a young adult book, this is a must read for everyone.
Review from the New York Times.
There was definitely a lot to listen to in this book and in some ways this made it a challenging read. From the outset I was intrigued by the positioning of the reader as a voyeur to a psychiatrist’s private interviews with patients. This clearly made the reader uncomfortable with the insight and knowledge acquired during the sessions and I think that this, in part, is what made this book so fascinating.
The novel is set two years after the end of World War II, in a psychiatric hospital in America where a Dr Harrison is the director. The prose fluctuated between meetings between the Dr and his patients and other passages where the reader is privy to the good doctor’s own neuroses and most interestingly, his complicated relationship with his first and then second wife.
Slowly, as the novel unfolds, the reader comes to understand that in many ways, Dr Harrison is himself as disturbed as his patients. It is the meetings with an illusive character called Bertram Reiner which prove to undo him finally.
There are many ironies in this text and the contextual insight is riveting. Possibly the most intriguing aspect of this context is the far reaching impact that the war had on people in active service as well as those who stayed to watch the home front. The book is filled with references to necessary developments in the field of psychiatry which needed to take into account the consequences of the impact of war on morality as well as the challenges of reconciling the past with the present.
Nayman does a superb job of meeting the reader’ expectations in this novel and if you have the patience to persevere I have no doubt that you find the book rewarding.
<a href=”The Listener: A Novel“>Buy the kindle version.
Buy the paper version.
Read the author’s webpage.