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John Irving has written fifteen novels over the course of his prolific career, the majority of which have been international bestsellers. His most recent novel is The Last Chairlift. Though it happens to be his lengthiest work, Irving calls The Last Chairlift his “last long novel—only shorter ones ahead.” Irving’s longtime commitment to themes of tolerance for sexual minorities has made him a bard of alternative families and a visionary voice on the subject of sexual freedom. TIME magazine commends his books as “epic and extraordinary and controversial and sexually brave.” Irving is described as “the voice of social justice and compassion in contemporary American literature” by The Globe and Mail. His work is said to contain “devastating irony, quiet provocation, comical obsessions, priapic debauchery” (Le Monde), while his characters “beguile us onto thin ice and persuade us to dance there. His instinctive mark is the moral choice stripped bare, and his aim is impressive” (The Washington Post Book World). Time and again, readers have been captivated by Irving’s storytelling—in turns tragic and comic, embodied by unforgettable characters. Though Irving has been called “mischievously post-modern” (Time Out), he considers the nineteenth-century novel the model of the form. As a teenager, he was inspired to write after reading Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations. Irving credits Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick with teaching him how to write toward an ending. An admiration for writers like Hawthorne, Flaubert, Hardy, Eliot, and the Brontë sisters pervades his novels.
“He is more than popular. He is a Populist, determined to keep alive the Dickensian tradition that revels in colorful set pieces…and teaches moral lessons.” —The New York Times
“He is more than popular. He is a Populist, determined to keep alive the Dickensian tradition that revels in colorful set pieces…and teaches moral lessons.”
“When reading an Irving novel, the outside world becomes just a distraction, and real life happens inside the reader’s head.”—Der Spiegel
“When reading an Irving novel, the outside world becomes just a distraction, and real life happens inside the reader’s head.”
In his own assessment, Irving believes no overview of his novels is more insightful than Terrence Des Pres’s Introduction to 3 by Irving (Random House). In evaluating Irving’s first three novels, Des Pres identifies emerging themes, which were afforded fuller orchestration in The World According to Garp. He makes a case for the healing, even spiritually renewing qualities of comedy. “Superior fiction asks three things,” he begins. “Vigorous feeling for life as we live it. Then imaginative force, strong enough to subvert and rebuild unhindered. And then…shrewd sense to keep the first two locked in stubborn love with each other.”
You can read the rest of the Des Pres Introduction here, or search below for archived posts of articles, interviews, and news.