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0201 | A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving

Context: Read this as we visited the orientation course base at Nobnob, just outside Madang in Papua New Guinea.

Long, long ago, when I didn’t read novels but thought that I was reading facts by sticking to non-fiction, a friend tried to persuade me to read A Prayer for Owen Meany. He was a self-confessed atheist and the opening line was enough to make me, a Christian, wonder why an atheist would want to promote a book that was so obviously about faith.

Partly through his example, I started to read novels. His library was my starting point. I began with On the Road and didn’t look back. I never made it to his copy of Owen Meany though before our paths diverged, his to China and me to Papua New Guinea. But it was on my way to Papua New Guinea that I began reading a copy of Owen Meany that I’d picked up months before second-hand in the UK.

Now I’ve heard many, including this friend of mine, describe the novel as one of the best they’ve ever read. I really can’t say it stood out all that much for me. It’s the third Irving novel I’ve read and, by now, I’m beginning to get the gist of his writing.

As usual with Irving, the story’s a bildungsroman from a boy’s pov and some issue with the father – absent entirely, as with Garp; a surrogate, as with Homer Wells and Dr Larch; or here, a mystery to be unlocked in time. I didn’t think this father worked as well as Irving’s others. The narrator’s father just didn’t seem to have much justification to remain hidden to me.

Anyway, how does this compare to the other two? Well, for me, it kind of falls between the two. I really don’t see how Irving could better Cider House Rules. It’s just a perfect novel. Garp digresses way too much in places and those places make the novel hard going I found.

Owen Meany has good strong characters and some great analysis of the decades the novel is set in. But for me it just didn’t capture my interest as much as Cider.

I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice – not because of his voice, or beacuwe he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.


Every American should be forced to live outside the United Statesfor a year or two. Americans should be foreced to see how ridiculous they appear to the rest of the world! They should liseten to someone else’s version of themselves – to anyone else’s version! Every country knows more about America than Americans know about themselves! And Americans know absolutely nothing about any other country!

I shall keep asking You.

rubbish | poor | mediocre | okay | good | very good | excellent | superb

2 comments… add one
  • Neil R. Coulter 5 June, 2015, 12:11 am

    Hi John,

    I just finished reading the copy of Owen Meany that you left in Ukarumpa. As instructed on the final page, I’m reading your review and letting you know what I thought of it: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1287447390?book_show_action=false. I liked it a bit better than you did, but it’s also the first Irving I’ve read.

    Thanks for leaving the book in the library, and hope you and Sheena are doing really well!

    • Arukiyomi 6 June, 2015, 1:09 pm

      Hi Neil… wow, that’s the first time anyone has responded to any of those notes I’ve ever left in books! Your review is waaaay better than mine, that’s for sure. The book obviously made a great impression on you. Have a read of Cider House Rules and see how it compares.

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