IYO, what makes "The World According to Garp" a great book?

I had seen this book hyped on the SDMB before. Ooh, it’s life-changing, it’s the best book I ever read! Came up in a lot of “Top 100 Books Ever” lists.

So I picked it up at the used bookstore, preparing to have my mind blown.


I mean, I liked it. I thought it was a good book. Maybe even a very good book. But what makes it great?

Certainly “The Pension Grillparzer” was a great short story. That would have made the book worth its purchasing price even if the rest was total dreck. But that doesn’t seem to be what people were talking about.

So enlighten me here. What makes The World According to Garp a great book?

It’s OK as a postmodern take on Dickens, or you could look at it as third-rate Phillip Roth. MY favorite thing about it, though, is all the stuff Stephen King stole for Pet Sematary. Once you’ve appreciated it on that level, the 9th edition paperpack makes a GREAT wobbly table stabilizer.

I loved the book, but I wouldn’t call it “life-changing”. It may be for some folks, but I guess it depends on who you are. No book will be life-changing for everyone. Perhaps it just spoke to some people? Maybe Garp was really identifiable, or perhaps the relationship between Garp and Jenny? Or perhaps how all the odd things the characters do seems to make sense (like Garp’s, ahem, conception and the infidelity), which gives you just another cool glimpse into a human psyche. Well-written stories about odd but believable characters will have more than their share of fans, and I can see how any given one can really touch someone.

And I do agree that the Pension Grillparzer was awesome, and should stand alone as a short story :slight_smile:

Irving does seem to love his bears (see The Hotel New Hampshire for more, as well as another fantastic novel).

I’d say it was the characters more than anything. I just really liked Garp. And all of the characters, actually. I wouldn’t call it “life-changing” by any stretch, but it was one of the few books that had me openly weeping by the end.

This was the first “adult” book I read in high school. I was 16 at the time and had never read anything like it. Plenty of memorable scenes and well developed characters. It became one of my favorite books. And then A Prayer for Owen Meany came along.

OOh, yeah! Prayer for Owen Meany is a fantastic book. I thought it was even better than Garp. I find a lot of Irving’s books to be somewhat slow and even boring. Garp and Owen are the only ones I really like.

Robin Williams? :smiley:

I remember this discussion when it came out 20+ years ago. This was intended to be a “blockbuster” book, heavily marketed and hyped by the publisher. That’s not to cynically say that they grabbed any old manuscript and gave it a big push, but whatever its literary merits, this book was given an extemely big first printing, and as much publicity as possible.

“Sophie’s Choice” was another book from the same era that received the same treatment, and maybe a few others I can’t recall. They were loaded for the “summer beach read” season, and if there was still demand for more editions, in hardcover, for sale as Christmas presents, you could print that they were “classics of modern literature” on the dustcovers.

You don’t really see that happening for a long novel much anymore. Mostly it’s for celebrity/political tell-alls, or for slimmer books that risk less printing expense such as “The Bridges of Madison County.”

It was, sort of. The author sent it out to literary magazines to see what sort of reaction it would get. Only one (I believe) actually did. One of the rejectors sent the actual rejection slip used in the book. :slight_smile:

I consider it a take on the changing sexual mores of the second half of the 1900’s. Garp leads a totally normal sexual life–losing his virginity to the town “bad girl,” marrying his childhood sweetheart, having 2.1 children, an occasional one night stand, one major affair.

Every other major character in the book is a sexual oddity. Jenny Fields, Roberta Muldoon, the marvelous symbolic de-tonguing of Ellen James (and I would love to see a bio of her life), and Helen Garp, who pays the ultimate price for her one indiscretion.

The movie was marvelous. Christopher Reeve was originally supposed to play Roberta, but turned down the role. John Lithgow was excellent, and since he starred with then-minor actress Glenn Close, who later went on to do Sunset Blvd on Broadway, he provided the musical theatre link in the Kevin Bacon game.