Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Cider House Rules

The Cider House Rules, John Irving

What surprised me was how easy John is on us. Several times, just as the jaws of narrative are about to clamp down hard on our favourite characters, he rescues us from tragedy. I continually felt that I was on the verge of disaster, when he would circumvent it by such devices as the villain announcing that she was no longer interested in revenge, or by a key confession arriving early, while we expect it to remain as a point of tension until the end of the story.

But, I'm just thinking: it reminds me of Dickens' style, the works of whom feature so prominently in this book. John must have intentionally planned these plot rescues, these "happy twists" that simply end a sub-narrative before it has a chance to get ahead of him. Remarkably, these moments, which should upset the rhythm, never deprive the story of an ounce of its powerful engagement.

I'm not saying that I felt "happy twists" in Dickens, though; rather, Dickens' abrupt halts to sub-narratives feel like unfulfilled forays. John does it WAY better. I wonder if all this, mentioning Dickens so much, then doing better, then mentioning Dickens again, is intentional?

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