The World According to Garp: A novel

by John Irving

Paperback, 1978




New York : Ballantine Books, 1997, c1978.


This is the life and times of T. S. Garp, the bastard son of Jenny Fields, a feminist leader ahead of her time. This is the life and death of a famous mother and her almost-famous son; theirs is a world of sexual extremes, even of sexual assassinations. It is a novel rich with lunacy and sorrow, yet the dark, violent events of the story do not undermine a comedy both ribald and robust. In more than thirty languages, in more than forty countries-with more than ten million copies in print-this novel provides almost cheerful, even hilarious evidence of its famous last line: "In the world according to Garp, we are all terminal cases."

Media reviews

The World According to Garp was more than single, memorable moments. It was unforgettable as a whole for a simple reason - it was epic. It was what a Great American Novel needs to be: all of life between covers.
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These things oughtn't to be funny. Still, the way that Mr. Irving writes about them, they are. They way he filters them through his hero's unique imagination, we not only laugh at the world according to Garp, but we also accept it and love it.

User reviews

LibraryThing member TheTwoDs
John Irving hit his stride with this novel, a tour de force of Dickensian characters, sexual subversion and black humor. The motifs hinted at and evoked in his earlier work detonate on the page. The reader cannot help but care deeply and affectionately for the characters of Garp and his mother, Jenny Fields. Jenny is a post-war proto-feminist, wanting a child without all the trappings of a husband. In her capacity as a nurse to returning, traumatized soldiers, she manages to attain her goal, resulting in the birth of T.S. Garp. Garp is educated, literally by the private school where Jenny now works, and figuratively by one of the family members for whom the school is named. Garp grows up to become a writer and experiences the joys and heartbreaks of modern family life, with the usual Irving accoutrements.

In its portrayal of fringe and sexual politics, the novel never fails to stimulate the reader's interest. Few will ever forget Roberta (formerly Robert) Muldoon, a retired football player. As with many of Irving's works, the novel traces through a series of set-pieces, some outrageously funny, some undeniably dark, many a combination of the two. Infidelity, paranoia, fame and crushing grief all play their parts.

In the end, people stumble trying to determine what the book is "about"; therein lies the mistake. Life is not about anything, but what you make of it. The reader lives, loves, laughs and lies along with Garp. Rather than relying on cheap thrills to hold interest, the characters themselves manage this - you will not be able to stop without finding out what happens next.
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LibraryThing member Glorybe1
I found this book quite strange from the outset, but was enthralled at the same time! This is the third John Irving book I have read and although I found a lot of it like searching through a strange and uncertain dream, I really wanted to see how it would progress. Some scenes seem almost bizarre and some terribly sad, others are hilarious!
Not my favourite I have to admit, but written with his usual humour for quite uncomfortable subjects. I wasn't sure if I had missed the point, but when you read his afterword in the book, you realize that John Irving was a bit unsure himself and only realized when his son told him that the book was about loss and losing things dear to you! that this was in fact the case. Every dads nightmare about keeping his family safe.
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LibraryThing member RussellBittner
“Life is an X-rated soap opera” (p. 470 in the Ballantine Books, © 1978 edition).

This theme is often repeated through the book, and I suspect that its repetition was no accident. John Irving is not one to waste words. And so, if he says a thing more than once, I take it he wants his readers to understand and appreciate the sentiment.

The World According to Garp is a modern-day classic at the level — in their own time — of the works of such literary mainstays as Tolstoy, Balzac and Dickens. It contains its own kind of pathos, its own kind of humor, its own kind of grandiosity. In short, the novel is big in every respect.

When I first saw the film 20 or 30 years ago, I loved it. At the time (or shortly before that time), my girlfriend in college had praised the book and told me I ought to read it. Snob that I was, I didn’t. At the time, I wouldn’t touch anything newer than Chaucer or — worst case — Fielding. My loss (as I’ve come to realize 20 or 30 years later). That, or I first needed to grow up.

There are several “quotables” in Irving’s book. I’ve already spearheaded this review with one of them. But there are others….

“Life,” Garp wrote, “is sadly not structured like a good old-fashioned novel. Instead, an ending occurs when those who are meant to peter out have petered out. All that’s left is memory. But a nihilist has a memory” (p. 582, ibid).

There are, of course, others that simply wouldn’t make any sense (or strike a reader dumb) out of context. But in context, they’re gems.

Irving is not a stylist in the truest sense of the word, but he is a story-teller almost sans pareille. The World According to Garp is over 600 pages in length — something almost unheard of in our day and celebration of Patience Little & Attention Spanless. But I, for one, haven’t been as captivated by a novel since — oh, I don’t know — Tom Jones; pretty much anything contained in La Comédie humaine; Great Expectations; Bleak House or David Copperfield.

‘Nough said. If you haven’t already read it, do yourself a favor: read the book, then watch the movie. Maybe you, too, will arrive at the same conclusion: viz., that John Irving and George Roy Hill (the Director of the film) are a pair of American classics almost on a par with Mark Twain.
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LibraryThing member LVStrongPuff
The World According to Garp is an extremely well written book. I loved the movie and I thought it was time to check out the book. I have to say that there was a few times in the book that I wanted to skip ahead. It was mainly Garp’s books inside the book. I loved getting more details about some of the things that had happened in the movie that they really didn’t go into too much detail about. I wish the movie had done more with Ellen James then they did. I thought the book did an amazing job with her. I loved the ending where you find out what happened to everyone pretty much up until they died. All in all I think this was a great book that I would read again, just like I watch the movie again and again.

(I am glad that the version I read did not have this cover on it.)
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LibraryThing member PilgrimJess
“You know, everybody dies. My parents died. Your father died. Everybody dies. I'm going to die too. So will you. The thing is, to have a life before we die. It can be a real adventure having a life"

Jenny Fields becomes a nurse and because she doesn't particularly like men decides to use one for the sole purpose of getting impregnated by one.She decides that accidentally lobotomised war patient, Technical Sergeant Garp, is just the man she needs. Motherhood with no strings attached. Thus she gives birth to a son she christens T S Garp in recognition of his father. Jenny gets herself a job at the Steering prep school as a school nurse and it is here that Garp is brought up and educated. However, when Garp reaches college age Jenny whips him off to live in Austria so he can have a richer life than college can offer him. Whilst at Steering Garp had met Helen Holm, the daughter of the school's wrestling coach and avid book reader, and in an attempt to impress her decides to become an author. However, Jenny writes and gets published, a memoir (entitled "A Sexual Suspect") that quickly becomes a feminist bible.

On their return to the US Garp finds that his mother has become famous or infamous depending on your gender and sets up a kind of refuge for women. Garp himself manages to get a book published but not to the same critical acclaim or financially successful, he marries bookish Helen with whom he has two young sons and becomes a house husband. Years later a horrific accident involving the entire family leaves one dead and the remainder horribly injured. Years later Jenny Fields is assassinated.

I won't give any more of the plot away but will state that included within the novel are excerpts from Garp's own published works. The subjects that are covered are wide ranging taking in death, feminism, friendship, infidelity, loss, parenthood, rape to name but a few but the over-riding theme is lust. There are several horrific incidents and certainly rape and murder are not particularly funny yet despite their horror you still end up laughing out loud which says much for Irving's writing style. Now I loved this book (in particular the book excerpts which I found really enjoyable and shows great imagination) however, I must say that I was a little disappointed with the final chapter which is written as a kind of epilogue. Personally I did not feel that it was at all necessary to try and tidy up all the loose ends but this is only a minor complaint and do not feel that it really detracted from the overall.
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LibraryThing member Cheryl_in_CC_NV
After I saw the movie I had to read this. Impressive. A bit high on the yuck factor, a bit too much whining and neuroticism from some characters, and some stuff I didn't really understand, but I liked this well enough to keep going with Irving for a little while.

(I liked/understood A Prayer for Owen Meany almost as much, was frustrated by Hotel New Hampshire, and gave up on Cider House Rules.)… (more)
LibraryThing member sidiki
Do you know garp doesn't believe in religion? When he thinks of his own death he says something like so there is no life after death... so what? Rejoice in the good moments spent on this earth with your loved ones. I wonder why he wore the publisher friend's ill fitting suits. Maybe to show how down to earth a person he was to whom riches could not bring false values. Loved the book though I hate to start a book fatter than300 pages just because I get bored of being in its world so that long specially if its a dry and serious book. But This was a fun read.… (more)
LibraryThing member
I had just finished reading A Confederacy of Dunces and I was looking for another classic to read, but my to-read list is longer than my lifespan. I needed help narrowing down my options, so I asked a librarian friend for recommendations because I knew he had read a lot of classics. This was one of the books he recommended and it turned out to be a great read!

This book has everything — a great story, wonderful writing and storytelling, and characters that you care about. Sometimes John Irving had these beautiful, complex sentences with coordinating or subordinating clauses. I love it when an author focuses on the art of writing instead of focusing on the art of writing crappy bestsellers. The World According to Garp also has sexual content and violence (war injuries, rape, car accidents, etc.) if you like that sort of thing.

Garp is a writer (as well as his mother Jenny Fields), so John Irving included a lot of Garp's own writing. It's interesting to see how Irving develops Garp's distinct writing style, so it's a writing style within a writing style.

By the way, I think it's sick how Jenny Fields conceives Garp.

What I also loved about this book was all of the references to other classics such as books from Homer, Woolf, Conrad, Twain, Melville, Dickens, Hemingway and Dostoyevsky. I especially enjoyed Garp's discussion with Mrs. Ralph about Dostoyevsky's The Eternal Husband. I've never read it, but after reading their discussion about it, I'm intrigued. Garp described the book as "a wonderful story," "neatly complicated," with "complex characters." Mrs. Ralph described it as "a sick story" and "His women are less than objects. They don't even have a shape. They're just ideas that men talk about and play with." Now I want to find out who is correct.

I highly recommend this to anyone looking for a great classic.
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LibraryThing member spvaughan
this is the strangest book i ever read. i cannot tell you how many times i wanted to throw it at a wall but i kept reading it...thru to the end. so why a 4?? because it is interesting in a warped way and i have not seen anything like it since.
LibraryThing member fuzzy_patters
I found this to be a complicated book. Is it about the gulf between men and women in our society? Is it about writing and the writing process? Is it about death and the propensity of people to worry and obsess over it? The book has been said to be about feminism. As one of the testimonials on the back cover says, the book is "the best book about women ever written by a man." I think that entirely misses the point. Irving hints at the book's true subject with the final line, "But in the world according to Garp, we are all terminal cases." This book is about death and the fear of death. Garp spends the entire book fretting about the potential dangers that might befall his family, and his mother, who inspires a generation of feminists, spends the early part of the book worrying that being tied down to men would spell the death of her ability to live her life the way she wants to live it. As one chapter begins, "If Garp could have been granted one vast naive wish, it would have been that he could make the world safe. For children and for grownups. The world struck Garp as unnecessarily perilous for both."

Overall, I liked the novel. It's main flaw was that Irving stresses the complexity of characters so much through his novelist, Garp, but some of his characters seem very black and white and their complexity is never explained. What made Kenny Truckenmiller into the desperate figure he became? What caused the insecurities of Michael Milton? It seemed that Irving believed that everyone was complex and no one is black and white, except for conservative hillbillies and horny college students. His inability to explain these characters better served to detract from one of the major themes of the novel.

However, despite that flaw, it was well written, although preachy at times. Irving definitely knows how to hook a reader, and I found that I couldn't put it down. The complexity of the themes and overall purpose of the novel did leave me thinking about it a bit after I finished reading it. Irving clearly has a special talent as a story teller and this book deserves to still be read over thirty years after it was originally printed.
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LibraryThing member keebrook
the movie changed my world. i was a teenager when it came out and it blew my mind. i’d never experienced a story like that, frank yet humorous and also gut-wrenchingly sad. all the quirky characters to whom unusual and intense things happen. for me, John Lithgow has always been defined by Roberta.

anyway, the book.

Irving’s prose was solid but didn’t quite mimic the richness of the screen version for me. nonetheless, the book was epic in scope and satisfying. i loved being able to see more into the lives of the people in Garp’s life, especially his mother. it felt like a life, a whole life, when i finished the book. like i had witnessed something special and real and meaningful even if it wasn’t profound.

twists and turns throughout the novel gave it an interesting flavor that also served to keep it on the verge of tongue-in-cheek to the end. ironies and metaphors abound that reach out into greater philosophies but they only ask questions or make gentle assumptions. i’m not sure if Irving put a lot his own life into this (i’m fairly certain he did) but it seemed like he might have been writing a whimsical bit of fiction in which he could explore some of his own aspirations and write out or publish some of his own “lesser” works like the excerpts and short stories written by Garp.

if Irving had scratched the surface a little deeper, i think something truly great and timeless would have emerged. the meandering story felt out-of-focus fuzzy or tilt-shifted where only foreground objects were sharp and the host context was an impressionist’s painting. still, this story will stay with me in ways that other, “deeper,” novels will not.
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LibraryThing member bartt95
Definitely one of my favourites. A truly unique story, hilarous and tragically sad at the same time, but full of brilliant writing and great thinking.

Irving is, after reading A Prayer For Owen Meany and The World According To Garp, my favourite writer.
LibraryThing member jwhenderson
Irving's novel tells about the life of T. S. Garp. His mother, Jenny Fields nurses a dying sergeant Garp referred to simply as Technical Sergeant. Unconstrained by convention and driven by practicality and her desire for a child, Jenny uses Garp's sexual response to impregnate herself, and names the resultant son after him "T. S." (standing only for "Technical Sergeant"). Jenny raises young Garp alone, taking a position at an all-boys school.
Garp grows up, becoming interested in sex, wrestling, and writing fiction—three topics in which his mother has little interest. He launches his writing career, courts and marries the wrestling coach's daughter, and fathers three children. Meanwhile, his mother suddenly becomes a feminist icon after publishing a best-selling autobiography called A Sexual Suspect (referring to the general assessment of her as a woman who does not care to bind herself to a man, and who chooses to raise a child on her own).
Garp and his family experience dark and violent events through which the characters change and grow. Garp learns (often painfully) from the women in his life (including transsexual ex-football player Roberta Muldoon) struggling to become more tolerant in the face of intolerance. The story is decidedly rich with (in the words of the fictional Garp's teacher) "lunacy and sorrow," and the sometimes ridiculous chains of events the characters experience still resonate with painful truth.
One of the most interesting aspects of the novel are the several framed narratives embedded within the narrative, including: Garp's first novella, The Pension Grillparzer; a short story; and a portion of one of his novels, The World According to Bensenhaver. The book also contains some motifs that reappear in other Irving novels: bears, wrestling, Vienna, New England, people who are uninterested in having sex, and a complex Dickensian plot that spans the protagonist's whole life. Adultery (another common Irving motif) also plays a large part, culminating in one of the novel's most harrowing and memorable scenes.
The combination of unusual events makes this one of the most interesting, albeit strange, novels that I have read. However, after being diappointed with Irving's next novel, The Hotel New Hampshire, I have yet to read another of his works.
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LibraryThing member agnesmack
The World According to Garp is the 3rd book I've read by John Irving and I think I'm ready to be done.

Mr. Irving sure does love writing novels about men who like older women. He sure does like starting those novels well before the actual story starts, which leaves you reading 200 pages of boring drivel before you get to the good stuff. He sure does like writing about men growing up with single mothers.

This all might be forgivable except that Irving is very much a plot-driven author. His writing is solid and all but it's the characters that get you through his bloated works. And when you're reading basically the same story for the 3rd time, well, those characters aren't quite so compelling anymore.
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LibraryThing member chellinsky
After reading this book in High School and thinking it was the best thing ever, I reread it recently--9 years later. I was amazed by how well developed each character was. On the surface, the plot seems both fanciful and typical. However, the way Irving uses and describes the characters and their surroundings makes this book the experience that it is. It is more than worth the time it takes to read.… (more)
LibraryThing member libraslibros
I loved this years ago in college, but recently couldn't get into it. I remember that Jenny Garth reeled me in from Chapter 1 at the time.
LibraryThing member ktbooks72
Classic from the late 70's when, apparently, popular fiction could gain mass acceptance while -- gasp! -- urging readers to see a bigger picture of gender roles and relations. Some reviewer called this the best book about women ever written by a man (or something), and I agree. John Irving's novels collectively represent one of the few places you can point and say, "See, men could conceivably earn the respect of intelligent women."… (more)
LibraryThing member WittyreaderLI
This book was my second Irving book this year and I really thought it was a good read. I thought the characters were well developed and likeable and the plot was very interesting.

My complaints are few but: the parts where it had Garp's writings I thought were boring. I tried to read them, and eventually I found myself skipping around. This book also was very similiar to his other book I read (Even though I know it was written before). I guess John Irving really likes wrestling and relationships between older and younger people. John Irving is an interesting author because of these trends though!… (more)
LibraryThing member Othemts
Eccentric, tragic, hillarious, and classic are a few words that describe this great Irving novel. I like Hotel New Hampshire and A Prayer for Owen Meany better, but this is a close third.
LibraryThing member leapinglemur
The imagery of Garp chasing down cars going too fast in his neighborhood, the undertoad, the accident with the gear shift will remain with me forever.
LibraryThing member rolyaty
My First exposure to John Irving, and I loved the book. Great humor, great style, amazing characters, inventive plot. What's not to love?

This started me down the path of reading all of his books.
LibraryThing member earyan2
Once again, John Irving doesn't disappoint. Quirky, hysterical, heart wrenching.
LibraryThing member rcooper3589
the first book i read by irving and i'm so happy i picked it up! i absolutly love this story!!
LibraryThing member garcher84
A favorite. Irving's characters grow so much and do so much it's impossible not to feel as if you know them. This one barely eeks out "A Prayer for Owen Meany" as my favorite work by Irving, mostly due to the fact that it was the first of the two I read, so it was my first shot at a book in Irving's fresh style. I love everything that happens, and how even the chance stuff seems to fit so well as something that could actually happen and still be convincing as coincidence. Emotions are not necessarily raw, but 100% authentic. That's why I love it.… (more)
LibraryThing member Chuck37
So well crafted. There's so much to it, you'll never be bored. This is one that everyone should read, and really only for the reason of 'just because'.



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