Thursday, 24 October 2013

'A Prayer for Owen Meany' - A Brief Review

I’m not entirely sure what spurred our school to hold a Great Read this quarter (it’s not as if we don’t read enough already), but I suppose it means that the few people that don’t read will have a motive for doing so. However, this was rather annoying for me because not only did I have to read A Prayer for Owen Meany, for the Great Read, but I also had to read Austen’s Emma, for English, both of which I was given a deadline for. This inevitably put me under quite a lot of pressure this half term to finish these two books, and, thankfully, I have just finished A Prayer for Owen Meany. I detest being forced to read certain books, particularly when I have a long list of other books that I actually want to read.

My school selected four or five books for the Great Read, from which each of the students had to choose one. Having read the ‘blurbs’ of each book on the Internet, I concluded that A Prayer for Owen Meany was my type of book, and so I chose it – what a mistake. How long is Slaughterhouse-Five? About 200 pages. How long is A Prayer for Owen Meany? About 700 pages. This is not to say that I don’t love reading, it’s just that I like to choose my own books and to read them in my own time and not to a deadline. And so I pushed Austen’s masterpiece (which I was very looking forward to) aside, and opened this gigantic tome.

The International Best-Seller, written in 1989 by John Irving (born John Wallace Blunt Jr.), tells the tale of John Wheelwright and what he learns from his best friend (who also killed John’s mother), Owen Meany. John is a perfectly normal boy; Owen is not. He is so small that even looking at him frightens people, his voice is peculiarly loud and high-pitched (as if he is always screaming), he has strange visions of the future (particularly about his own death), and, as we find out later, he was supposedly born of a virgin birth. Strange? I agree. And so it is no surprise that Owen Meany believes himself to be ‘God’s instrument’, and also that, in some ways, he sees himself as the next Christ.

John Irving has written a huge number of very successful books, and A Prayer for Owen Meany is one of his most renowned. The use of two narratives – both from John Wheelwright’s perspective, one in the present day, and one following his childhood with Owen Meany – adds a very interesting angle, although I have to admit that I found the part about his later life particularly boring. The reference to both present and past made it even more impressive that John Irving was able to let the plot steadily unravel, without accidentally giving any hints of the future. This is especially evident when we discover that Owen thought that he was born of a virgin birth – something that was hidden from us throughout the story.

A homage to Gunter Grass' famous novel The Tin Drum, A Prayer for Owen Meany tells of the spiritual journey of John Wheelwright, who realizes his faith following his experiencing of Owen Meany’s miracles. In fact, throughout the novel there is a recurring theme of the miraculous – for example, Owen Meany’s remarkable death. It is also very clear that religion is the main theme of the novel, and we know this for a number of reasons – the constant reference to churches, the likeness of Owen to Jesus, and John’s lifelong virginity, only revealed at the end.

My favorite part of the novel was when Owen starts to write for the Gravesend Academy newsletter, The Grave, and he becomes known by all as ‘The Voice’. I enjoy this part, not only because he always writes IN CAPITALS, but also because of how he suddenly, fully grows up and becomes the Owen Meany he really is.

Of course there are hundreds of ideas and themes that I haven’t touched on, and as it is such a long book, I think it would bore you if I did – I also don’t want to ruin the story. It’s a brilliant book, and I recommend it to anybody who needs something to read on holiday or after work. 

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