Sunday, 19 May 2013

The Imaginary Girlfriend: A Memoir

The Imaginary Girlfriend: A Memoir
John Irving
"From a novelist known for the complexity of his novels - they are also long - comes an autobiography of compelling simplicity; it is also short. Dedicated to the memory of two wrestling coaches and two writer friends, The Imaginary Girlfriend is a lucid portrait of the writers and wrestlers who played a mentor role in John Irving's development as a novelist, a wrestler and a wrestling coach."

I was surprised when I opened the package I received containing this book. “Surely there’s been a mistake” I thought to myself. “This can’t be a John Irving book, it’s tiny!” It’s a weird sight, John Irving’s name attached to so small a book (160 pages) but as a memoir it’s the perfect length.

Irving uses the book to tell various tales of his high school and college years as a wrestler (a sport which Irving admits he was only a half talent at) and his introduction to writing.
It’s the former that makes up the majority of the text. If you’re not a wrestling fan this probably isn’t the book for you. I have only a basic knowledge of amateur wrestling so I found the book interesting but a little too heavy on the terminology. There’s not a lot of explanation, Irving expects that you’ll have an in depth knowledge and if you don’t you may struggle.

While the book touches on Irving’s career as a writer, these moments are brief. Sadly he doesn’t much go into his processes or give much history on his novels, the book was written pretty late into his career but he barely mentions anything after his debut.
Instead we get recollections from the various creative writing courses he has attended and taught and sadly, for fans of his novels, these anecdotes feel like appetisers and we’re never given the main course.

I still found this a very enjoyable book to read. Irving’s writing is, as ever, excellent. As a storyteller you’re in safe hands, his anecdotes are honest, touching,rarely without humour and even if you’re not a wrestling fan it’s hard not to be sucked in by Irving’s passion for the sport.
Irving’s love of his friends and family shines through this book. Some of the best moments were of the author describing his sons winning wrestling tournaments for the first time (an accolade Irving would never reach himself). It’s a joy purely for the shameless pride he feels towards his sons. It’s lovely to read.

While this is probably, my least favourite of Irving’s books I have read to date, it’s still very enjoyable and the short length makes it very readable. The problem is, I (and I assume many others) picked it up hoping for insight into the works of one of my favourite authors and sadly, it doesn’t deliver fully on this.
If you’re a die hard Irving fan, I’d still recommend you pick it up.

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