Splendid World of Garp

Had a longer break since the last book club due to the sheer amount to read for this month. We started with John Irving’s The World According to Garp, which is considered something of a classic. It took me a long time to get through the novel and even now after completion I’m not sure what I think about it. It is an ambitious work, certainly. And some of the writing is extraordinary. The famous scene where Garp discovers his wife’s infidelity after crashing his car into hers, the crash causing the death of their son, is one of the best written scenes I’ve read in ages. The novel has an underlying anxiety that flickers throughout, and the writing subtly increases the tension in the build up to this scene. Of course the scene becomes more memorable as Helen is fellating her boyfriend when Garp crashes into her, and Irving mixes dark humour and a grubby ugliness to describe the events in an enthralling way.
Garp is a novelist, so I found a lot of the stuff about his writing life interesting. Irving adds Garp’s first short story to the narrative and the first chapter of his post-accident novel too. The latter is a graphic account of an abduction and attempted rape of a woman which is pretty hard-hitting. It does capture the changes that have taken place in Garp since the accident and makes him a reluctant representative of the feminist movement.
So lots to admire in this book, but I do think the novel is too long, and flags in places. I will probably not make up my mind about it for a while yet, but the fact it remains a thinking point must show it has merit.
Next up was A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, most famous for The Kite Runner. This book was widely admired amongst my fellow clubbers, and whilst I didn’t like it as much as some, it remains a massively important and timely work. The role of women in Afghan society is brilliantly captured by Hosseini, whose writing style is quite simplistic. I mean this as a compliment, as he is able to write some very harrowing scenes of domestic violence and torture with a clean, uncomplicated eye. He is a marvellous storyteller and the characters of Mariam and Laila are well-drawn and your heart goes out to them.
The book’s greatest quality for me is that it gives the reader a sense of what daily life was like in Kabul at a time of war and great repression under the Taliban. This is hugely timely with the current struggles against the Islamic state that are going on in various parts of the world right now. The so-called ‘caliphates’ that IS are setting up in their strongholds would contain many women in similar situations to Mariam and Laila – forced into arranged marriages with abusive older men, unable to work or go out in public without a male chaperone. The fact that the novel addresses these issues and still leaves us with a ray of hope at the end is almost a miracle.
So, two good books for February. And it was nice to have a full house of 15 this month, including a few new faces. I hope that they will return.