I think it was a friend who introduced us first. You know how it is, when you are on your own, everyone around you ‘in a relationship’, people try and get you together with someone. With a name like that I couldn’t really refuse and I have to confess to being shallow and rather falling in love with the photo. I was young. Must be 35 years ago, maybe 30? So it was that I began my life long love affair and I found myself on a motorbike tour of Austria, staying in hotel rooms and visiting the zoo, setting free the bears.
Later it was a trip to an orphanage, a curious place to continue a romance, a hotel in New Hampshire and an introduction to one of my favorite dogs, Sorrow. I spent many a long hour curled like a cat in warm pools of sunshine, in beds piled high with cushions, on train journeys, in sheltered cliff top haunts with this man. I think it could be said that I even developed my curious and anomalous desire for stuffed animals and birds as a result of my relationship with him, though this didn’t extend to a love of baseball.
I cried, laughed, loved, learned and lived with him, or rather, his writing. At times in my life he saved me from deep distress. It didn’t bother me that so many thousands of other people felt the same, all around the world. I was happy to share.
I loved the covers of these John Irving’s books too, by Christopher Brown. They had an elegance that made them stand out in bookshops, beautifully designed, great balance. This was to influence my own work much later with the covers of Robin Hobb’s books. That idea of capturing a simple image that encapsulates something of the spirit of the book. Elegant.
John Irving saw me through many a difficult time in my life. His book, A Widow for One Year was a harbour for me as I went through divorce, and I loved some of the echoes that strangely reflected in my own life. I was an illustrator, and so was the man in the book, I drove a big yellow Mercedes with shiny chrome. Sadly I wasn’t having a crazy relationship with Eddie, but I loved the twists and turns of the book ( though not the Moleman, never the Moleman!) Now I realise I must read it again, 11 years on, see how things have changed.
I had my own ‘Ivingesque’ moment some years ago. I was driving somewhere and in the car were my two children, then about 9 and 11 and some things I was taking to a charity shop, among them my third copy of A Widow for One Year, you know how it is with books you love, sometimes they gather in small flocks. There is a lot of driving in Irving’s novels, or maybe this is a misremembered thing on my part. Many things happen in cars. Perhaps it is the close intimacy of car travel he likes. Anyway, I was driving, Hannah was in the back with the box of books saying her teacher wanted her to push herself with her reading choices. Seemed she felt she was rattling through too many Jacqueline Wilson’s. So I suggested she picked up one from the box to see what she thought. She picked up A Widow for One Year and began at the beginning. And read with great relish and delight. And I had to stop the car because I was laughing so much. ” Maybe not that one, eh?”
Last Night in Twisted River was given to me by Andrew in Simply Books. To say that he is an accomplished storyteller is a great understatement. Until I find you has sat beside my bed for a year or two, waiting to be read, and now I have ‘in one person’. Sumptuous to hold and full of promise.
” We don’t always have a choice how we get to know one another. Sometimes, people fall into our lives cleanly- as if out of the sky, or as if they were a direct flight from Heaven to Earth- the same way we lose people, who once seemed they would be part of our lives.”
If you let John Irving fall into your life you will not regret it for a moment.
nb: I would like to thank Mr Robin Stenham who bought me ‘in one person’ as a present, because he loves me.