The worst thing about reading a John Irving novel is that you know there is one less to look forward to.
This is a love story. The first quarter of the book could be a stand alone short novel. Typically, Irving has stories within stories and plenty of coincidences – (who would have thought that a Dutch policeman would happen to be a fan of 4 separate American authors who happen feature in the novel). The narrative gives its usual predictive hints of whats to come, and we end up with a sprawling tale of some complexity. But don’t let that put you off – you’re in the hands of a master story teller at the top of his game and the novel never becomes confusing.
Some frustration arises with unexplained character actions – one witnesses a murder which does not have a profound effect on her – one suicides but we aren’t quite sure why – the lovers stay apart and alone for 37 years. But the writing is clear, humorous and the characters are quirky and outspoken which makes this a great read.
I think the quote should come from the lovestruck younger man:
“I try to see the whole woman,’ Eddie said to Hannah. ‘Of course I recognize that she’s old, but there are photographs – or the equivalent of photographs in one’s imagination of anyone’s life. A whole life, I mean. I can picture her when she was much younger than I am – because there are always gestures and expressions that are ingrained, ageless. An old woman doesn’t see herself as an old woman, and neither do I. I try to see her her whole life in her. There’s something so moving about someone’s whole life.”