Love: or, My Life with John Irving.

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.

Books by John Irving

A Prayer for Owen Meany

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.

A Widow for One YearI 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 RiverLast 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.

John Irvingin one person by John IrvingThe Fourth Hand, Cider House Rules, The World According to Garp, always A Widow for One Year, and more. A lifetime’s writing and a joy to read. I have loved this man for so long. In his own words:

” 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.



About Jackie

I am an artist and writer. I live in a small house by the sea in Wales where I write, paint, walk and watch and dream of bears and whales. I love to read, have a wish for wings and prefer the company of animals to that of humans, though at times I can be quite friendly. I am learning how to work with wood engraving tools and hoping to show that you can teach an old dog new tricks.
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12 Responses to Love: or, My Life with John Irving.

  1. How timely perhaps. Currently, and for the past tortuous week, I have been dealing with my own past, having received a surprise-out of the blue-letter from a most unpleasant acquaintance of thirty plus years ago–one of the most painful periods of my life. It swirled like a dark storm, and swept me back into a vortex of memories, prying open an old love wound for my reconsideration. I am working it out, but a good read might just be the elevated distraction and comfort I could use–having a book to return to daily has always proved a comfort. I adored ‘Cider House Rules’, and ‘The World according to Garp’, but then, somehow, forgot about John Irving. Thank you for reminding me.

  2. Jane says:

    I’ve never read any John Irving but I am now seduced, I am on the hunt for any of his books, thank you for pointing me in his direction. I am just finishing ‘Modigliani’ by Meryle Secrest which places a whole new stance on his life story.

    Hope you have a good week-end.

  3. What a great tribute and I completely understand because I’m hopelessly and totally in love with artist/writer Nick Bantock. I’ll give John Irving a try now.

  4. Christina says:

    I’ve never actually READ John Irving, but as soon as you mentioned the hotel, and the dog called Sorrow, I remembered the very odd movie that, for some reason, hit a nerve with me when I was 18. I had just left school and was at university and I was thoroughly miserable there. I don’t know how many times I played hooky from my lectures to go and see ‘Hotel New Hampshire’, but it was more than any other film I’ve ever gone to see. I haven’t seen it for years, and for all I know, it might have been a terrible adaptation, but it had some magic that I needed at the time. Perhaps it’s time to rediscover it…and find the book!

    • Jackie says:

      It is a fantastic adaptation, Christina, I think because John Irving wrote the script. Must get a copy and watch it again. The World According to Garp is just extraordinary, but still think Widow is my favorite.

  5. Brenda says:

    I love this post, and share a love of John Irving and his books.
    I feel his books are a treasure as well, and your description of having the two novels, waiting to be read, as “sumptious and full of promise”, are such a perfect description of how it feels before opening a book by a cherished author.
    I always have felt consoled by his writing, and that here was someone who clearly saw the world, and could illuminate it for me.
    His work has allusions to Dickens, (a favourite writer of mine) and his writing has the timelssness of great literature.
    I agree too, not meant for the adolescent reader, but certainly classic literature in his own right.
    My favourites of his are A Prayer for Owen Meany, and Cider House Rules. Every summer my young son flew overseas as an unaccompanied minor to visit his dad, and I would try to find the latest novel by John Irving to read while my son was in flight, as a means if getting me through the worry, and loss, until he arrived.
    Thanks so much for this post…I am too looking forward to reading In One Person.

    • Jackie says:

      So much of his writing is now half remembered for me. This means I can sail away in his books again and with more experience of life pull different things form them. So looking forward to doing this. I need to make more time to read.

  6. KIm Durkin says:

    Re: Love: or, My Life with John Irving.

    I too have a long time relationship with Mr. Irving. Similar stacks of his books sit by my bedside – and favorite reading chair. They are like dear old friends. When I read your piece – I literally burst out crying – you evoked it all so beautifully.

    A story: Years ago I managed an independent bookstore (before the independents were virtually wiped out in this country by the mega stores). Then, book sales reps from all the publishers came and took your order, tried to promote their personal favorites – and talked books! They knew books! They became your friends – thru the mutual love of books. It was before computerized ordering, and the BIG event of the year was the American Bookseller Association convention. It was massive, five days, the biggest event of the year – with huge orders given and taken – amazing panel discussions and astonishing author appearances’. The parties at night in the publishers suites – and the free books…it was Heaven! 1977 – One of my favorite sales reps, Gerry, was obsessed with a relative unknown author and gave me a readers copy to read overnight. He really, really, wanted it to be successful- and we were a well know store in a high profile spot. I stayed up all night reading Garp. I was in love. I was the book buyer – but for a huge order I had to have the owners approval- and I literally staked my job on the success of this book. It was the largest single order we had ever place for a hardback book. That evening Gerry came by to take me out for cocktails to thank me. Sitting in the hotel bar, Gerry mentioned a few friends would be joining us…moments later John Irving walked in and sat down at our table. He thanked me for the order, gave me a copy of the first edition of Garp, and wrote a lovely inscription. I treasure it beyond words. Of course, this was all before he became mega-famous, but he was warm, charming, VERY sexy and without pretensions. I so remember sitting there, looking at him with wonder and thinking – this man’s life is going to change forever. The book world then was so intimate, personal, and full of life – and of course, everyone drank like fish! Of course I was in absolute heaven – sitting with two handsome, funny, articulate, smart, book lovers. Then it took a truly surreal turn when Gerry’s two other “friends” arrived. First G. Gordon Liddy – then Jerzy Kosiński – then James Baldwin. I only wish I could have tape recorded the whole thing. Needless to say, the discussion was lively, sometimes rabid, and often hilarious. Massive amounts of alcohol were consumed. It was a night I will never forget. Nevertheless, for me, it was all about John Irving. Needless to say, the book did quite well and I kept my job!

    Isn’t it just so magical? How a storyteller can inhabit you life and stay with you forever? To this day, my best friend (Marguarette Wagner on your FB page) and I communicate to each other a thousand different feelings – in one word – when one of us is having a bad time – we just say “It’s the Under Toad…”

    At any rate – he gave me something else that night and I would like to pass it on to you. Reading your words about him – I know you will appreciate it. It’s not a huge deal- but I think you will like it. Your art gives me so much joy – it is a small trade off! So, if you could send me your mailing addresse – I will ship it off to you.

    “Love: or, My Life with John Irving” …and aren’t we the lucky ones for it …

    Kindest thoughts to you and your Red Cats,

    …and my Red Cats

    • Jackie says:

      Thanks for this Kim, you have more than made my day. I have to move your comment into the main body of my blog. Such a wonderful story.

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  8. Jane Johnson says:

    Oh painful, painful nostalgia! I started my life in books working at an independent bookshop, then for a small independent publisher where our editorial meetings consisted of 8 of us around a table talking about the content and merit of a book. Sales and marketing took their lead from editorial passion, and we lived books together. And then we we bought by a huge multinational and everything changed, and has kept changing, for the worse, ever since. Ever since the idea that books could be big business hit the trade we’ve increasingly treated books as nondescript product, valuing them only by the quantity of them we can shift through supermarkets and chains, showing loyalty to authors only as long as they are making us money, dropping them like hit coals as soon as they don’t. It’s soul destroying, and reading that recollection of how it used to be makes me want to weep with frustration, not only as a publisher still (though, thank God, at arm’s length now) but as an author. What the industry seems to have forgotten is that it’s the difference between books that captures the imagination and makes them sell, and only passion can transmit that unique magic to booksellers and buyers. It’s a deeply personal, quirky, individual business, but with all the quirkiness and wrinkles ironed out of it, it’s becoming ever more bland and disastrous. Sorry, bit early in the day for a cry from the heart!

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