Monday, 25 January 2016

Avenue of Mysteries, John Irving

Dutch and English cover are the same
Last Saturday, Januari 23rd, John Irving was in Amsterdam to talk about his new book: Avenue of Mysteries. This was organized by the John Adams Institute, an organization that strengthens the cultural bond between the US and The Netherlands.

I was very happy to be here. I wanted to go to a John Irving lecture a couple of years ago, but I did not go back then for several reasons and I have always regretted this. Now I had a new change and I took it.

John Irving was amazing, he was warm, thoughtful in his answers, very funny and told us a lot about the book and the process of writing. I think the entire audience was captivated, I know I was.

I loved that he read a part of the novel, from now on I think I will hear his voice whenever I read one of his books.

The book
Avenue of Mysteries is about Juan Diego. He is a middle aged writer from Iowa and he is travelling to the Filipinas to keep a promise he made as a child. He has made a whole journey in his life. He grew up on a dump in the south of Mexico. He was an intelligent boy who taught himself how to read from the books that ended at the dump-site.

His sister Lupe had a speech-impediment, and nobody but Juan Diego could understand her. She could also read minds and see into the future, although not always correct. She was better at seeing the past than the future.

When the boss of the dump drives over Juan Diego’s foot and makes him cripple for the rest of his life, when their mother dies and when Lupe gets a horrible accident in the circus, Juan Diego’s life will take a whole new turn.

As John Irving said this Saturday: ‘My books are a worst case scenario’. Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. He does this with his characteristic humor that makes some events lighter, but other events will hit you even harder because of the fact you had to laugh so hard just before.
 
John Irving reads from his book
He told us how he tries to make you care about a character, even if you do not love them, or to give you another character you do care about. Because if you do not care about the characters, you do not want to know what will happen to them.

This is certainly the case in this book. I did not like Juan Diego, he was a douche as far as I am concerned, but I did care about his sister Lupe or his adoptive fathers Eduardo and Flor. They made me want to know what happened.

Typical John Irving
All kinds of typical Irving elements show up in Avenue of Mysteries, like circuses, physical problems, transgender people, AIDS, religion and mystical elements.

The mother and daughter that Juan Diego meets on his journey is a good example of the last element. Two women who come and go unexpectantly, cannot be seen on photographs and perhaps have certain powers. Are they real or does Juan Diego imagines them because he is messing around with his medication? Or do they play a completely different part in his life and have they been there all along?

The writing style is also typically Irving, with many extra sentences that will give you new information. Sometimes this seems totally random, only later you will see these extra sentences provide crucial information.

Is Avenue of Mysteries his best book? No, when I am honest I do not think so. But even then it is still a very good book, because John Irving is such a good writer.

He is the master of the bizarre plot-structure and he can make chaotic situations come together in a tight manner. The building of his novel has many sidetracks, but is always comes back to the point he wants it to come back to. He is one of the few who can make complete anarchy look logical.

John Irving thinks fantasy is the most important thing a writer can have. You must be able to create people and situations you have not experienced yourself.  ‘Autobiography is a grave for fiction, not a source. I do not want to be stuck with real life’.

He also told us why he hated Ernest Hemingway who said; ‘Write what you know’.
As John Irving explained it: ‘Try to write about what you don’t know, look over the boundaries of your own experiences and see how far you will come. It is much harder, but far more interesting.
 
As you can see I was really at the back of the room,
but on the right is John Irving!!
In short, I had a wonderful evening and I really enjoyed hearing this amazing writer talk about his work and his books. I was just sad he was not able to sign books, since he hurt his hand.

I am looking forward to the new John Irving novel, but in the meantime I am glad I still have a few of his novels I have not read yet, and of course I can reread the others.
John Irving is amazing!

Published in 2015

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