Saturday, December 24, 2005


From the Vault: A Son of the Circus by John Irving

The wait between new John Irving novels seems to grow longer and longer. It has taken five years for A Son of the Circus to follow A Prayer for Owen Meany.

Unfortunately, despite plenty of positive aspects, Irving's latest ends up being the most disappointing novel of his post-Garp era.

Circus tells the story of Dr. Farrokh Daruwalla, an orthopedic surgeon from Bombay, India, who resides most of the year in Toronto. No matter where he is, Daruwalla always feels as if he's a foreigner, but during his yearly trips back to Bombay, he gets involved in intrigue worthy of the detective screenplays he secretly writes.

Unlike most Irving works, Circus starts out very slowly. In the early going, as it flashes between different time periods, it bogs the reader down. About 80 pages in though, the novel's central mystery takes over and the reader's pace increases.

Later, the novel moves in more fits and starts as it digresses into points-of-views not belonging to Daruwalla and delves deeper into subplots which, for the first time in an Irving novel, don't really enhance the entire book. The other thing that separates A Son of the Circus from other Irving novels is that the characters fail to spring to life as they usually do.

Though the writing style differs a bit from his preceding novels, plenty of common themes survive ranging from faith to writing, orphans to transsexuals. A particularly amusing moment occurs when it's mentioned that Daruwalla hates Charles Dickens when any Irving fan knows what a disciple Irving is of the late, great author.

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