A Son of the Circus, by John Irving

Eight stars

Returning for a second novel by John Irving, I was transported to India, where the culture shock was massive and the storytelling proved to be quite non-linear. All that being said, with patience and perseverance, I made it through this unique piece of writing and even feel that I enjoyed it. The circus is preparing for its next performance and, as always, there is something going on that is of interest. In India, the use of Achondroplastic dwarfs is quite common in the circus, allowing for some of the tricks to seem even more death-defying. However, it is not that which interests Dr. Farrokh Daruwalla. Instead, he prefers to locate a gene that might identify this dwarfism, trying to do so every time he returns home to Toronto. That Dr. Daruwalla is an orthopaedic surgeon seems of little concern to him or anyone else, though his medical specialty is also relevant at times. As Dr. Daruwalla is unable to locate a dwarf genetic marker, he is back for more blood testing, in hopes of being lucky this one time. While dining with a friend at the private club, Dr. Daruwalla is alerted to a murder on the golf course, where someone has been struck by a club. Unable to decipher what has gone on, Dr. Daruwalla uses some of his intuition to deduce what could have happened. Little known to anyone, Dr. Daruwalla is the author of a series of screenplays about an Inspector Dhar, one of India’s most renowned film stars. This is truly the central premise of the book—finding out who murdered the club member on the ninth green—but there is so much backstory to decipher about a handful of characters and how their interactions over the span of forty years has led to this point. Irving weaves many highly intricate storylines together, most in India, to tell of how the elder Dr. Daruwalla taught his son, Farrokh, some of the ins and outs of orthopaedics and what a chance filming of a horrible movie in India did for the community, as well as how it enriched the next generation of people who come to play their part in this book. From child prostitutes to accepted (and praised) alternative lifestyles, all of these flavourings of India come together to create this massive tome that has quite the story to tell, as long as the reader is patient and attentive in equal measure. Well-crafted, but not for all readers, I found this to be yet another winner by John Irving. Recommended for the type of reader who can handle tangential writing, as well as those who love all things Indian.

I will be the first to admit that this book will not be for everyone. I read this book and found myself stuck within the story, but could tell that had this been my first Irving, I likely would have pulled the plug. It does not read in a linear fashion in the least, leaping from different timelines in order to fill in many of the cracks and offer backstories for the characters. Irving has so many characters that I chose not to hone in on one to be labelled protagonist. Rather, he fills the chapters with a wonderfully complex and non-linear story that has more tangents than a high school math class. It is by focussing on these stories as central building blocks to the larger narrative that the reader can see how things piece themselves together. I found myself able to devour large chunks of the story at once, if only to better comprehend how things fit together. Irving’s style of detailed discussions will surely cause some readers to feel drowned while others will relish the experience. With long chapters that are broken into small vignettes, the reader can digest Irving’s massive undertaking in more manageable bites. With a unique story and many strong characters, this piece by John Irving is not to be missed by those who have the patience and fortitude.

Kudos, Mr. Irving, for this wonderful piece that challenged me from the start and throughout.

This book serves to fulfil the March 2020 requirement of the Mind the Bookshelf Gapreading group.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons