- 10 Apr 01
From circus dwarves, incest and lesbian love affairs to severed organs and transvestite Indian brothels, John Irving’s novels are awash with enough tales of screwball sex and lurid violence to make even Quentin Tarantino blush. With his mammoth new 633-page novel A Son Of The Circus just published, the multi-million selling New Hampshire author indulges in a spot of verbal wrestling with liam fay, who discovers why he should keep this particular tête-à-tête purely literary. Pix: Cathal Dawson.
“I’ve done enough book-related travel to realise that I just like to talk to as many people as I can,” declares John Irving. “Conversation is more interesting than tourism. When I was a student in Europe in the ’60s, that was when I was a cultural observer. Now, unless one of my children wants me to take them to a cathedral or a church or a museum, I feel that going to look at things is a part of my life that’s behind me. Nowadays, I just like to sit at home and write books. For kicks, I talk to people.”
John Irving is one of the most envied writers in the world, so envied in fact that he is widely loathed, especially by other writers. It isn’t only that he clocks up the kind of sales figures that are more usually the preserve of rock’n’roll superstars, though that is a major provocation. It’s also that he has managed to retain his cult status in spite of his globe-girdling success. Irving’s novels live both in the bestseller lists and in the hearts of people with an inclination towards the bizarre, the ingenious and the grotesque.
Irving’s real crime is to have committed fiction. To wit, eight counts of aggravated storytelling. Irving’s novels are unapologetically traditional in that they contain stories with a beginning, a middle and an end (though not necessarily in that order). “I don’t write books with no plot, one character, all in the present tense in very short sentences with wide margins and type large enough for the legally blind,” he says. “Therefore, inevitably, I’m hated.”