Of all of John Irving's books, this is the one that lends itself best to audio. In print, Owen Meany's dialogue is set in capital letters; for this production, Irving himself selected Joe Barrett to deliver Meany's difficult voice as intended.
In the summer of 1953, two 11-year-old boys – best friends – are playing in a Little League baseball game in Gravesend, New Hampshire. One of the boys hits a foul ball that kills the other boy's mother. The boy who hits the ball doesn't believe in accidents; Owen Meany believes he is God's instrument. What happens to Owen after that 1953 foul ball is extraordinary and terrifying.
As an added bonus, when you purchase our Audible Modern Vanguard production of John Irving’s book, you'll also get an exclusive Jim Atlas interview added to your library.
Why we think it’s a great listen: For 20 years, John Irving believed that his ambitious novel could never be adequately executed in audio – and then he met narrator Joe Barrett.... In the summer of 1953, two 11-year-old boys - best friends - are playing in a Little League baseball game in Gravesend, New Hampshire. One of the boys hits a foul ball that kills the other boy's mother. The boy who hits the ball doesn't believe in accidents; Owen Meany believes he is God's instrument.
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“John Irving, who writes novels in the unglamorous but effective way Babe Ruth used to hit home runs, deserves a medal not only for writing this book but for the way he has written it. . . . A Prayer for Owen Meany is a rare creation in the somehow exhausted world of late twentieth-century fiction—it is an amazingly brave piece of work . . . so extraordinary, so original, and so enriching. . . . Readers will come to the end feeling sorry to leave [this] richly textured and carefully wrought world.” (Stephen King)
"Roomy, intelligent, exhilarating, and darkly comic...Dickensian in scope....Quite stunning and very ambitious." (Los Angeles Times Book Review)
"John Irving is an abundantly and even joyfully talented storyteller." (The New York Times Book Review)
I read a review that mentioned how annoying the narrator's voice for Owen Meany is. I have listened to the first section; and even though I enjoy the story, I just can't bring myself to listen to any more of the book. The narrator's voice is good except when he speaks in Owen's voice or the voices of the other children. I just can't bear to listen any more. I'll probably get the book from the library and read the rest, because the book is well written and the story is very interesting.
A Prayer For Owen Meany, although set in the 50"s through the 80's, has undercurrents and messages that are certainly applicable to today. Irving tells the story beautifully in first-person, through his protagonist, John Wheelwright. The cast of characters, quirky and flawed, is so clearly drawn. The flaws make the human and believable. I will miss these characters for quite some time
My interests run to psychology, popular science, history, world literature, and occasionally something fun like Jasper Fforde. It seems like the only free time I have for reading these days is when I'm in the car so I am extremely grateful for audio books. I started off reading just the contemporary stuff that I was determined not to clutter up my already stuffed bookcases with. And now audio is probably 90% of my "reading" matter.
It's been about a quarter of a century since I read this the first time. I was amazed at how fast the beginning of the book moved. I remember the end of the book dragging on, but that's not true. Irving juggles time so that the actual book is always moving. It's the book's nominal timeline that drags. I am even more impressed the second time around with how Irving has constructed this book.
Normally, for me to enthusiastic about a novel, at least one of the characters has to undergo some kind of development. Despite having a slate of really interesting, well-defined characters, it is hard to say if any of them develop over the course of the book. The book is told by the narrator, John Wheelwright, as an extended reminiscence of the most important person in his life, Owen Meany. It is hard to say if Owen is ultimately a positive influence on John's life. I think that sort of murky mystery is part of my fascination. But frankly, I cared a lot more about what was going on with Owen than about the narrator. Sorry, John.
Somehow, I did not realize how much this book was about Vietnam the first time I read it. Not about the war per se, but about its effects on a generation of Americans. And from that perspective, I do care a great deal about what happens to John Wheelwright. It's just that Owen steals every scene that he's in.
For those of us who remember the era in which it is set, this is a dead-on evocation of what the America of those times felt like. I said painfully nostalgic in the heading, but that does the book a disservice. The fact is that Irving has layered together a great story that is at once timeless while being totally specific to a time and place. It doesn't get much better than that.
There is a bonus feature at the end: an interview with John Irving. This was an excellent addition with some key bits of insight and background information. Heartily recommended.
2nd time I've read (now listened) to this book, and I love it as much this time as I did many years ago. This may be one of my favorite books.
In a small, peaceful town on the Equator, the sun always sets at 6, and a good audiobook is always the perfect evening companion.
From its iconic, elegiac opening paragraph to its extraordinary finale, when disparate elements accelerate and converge like a meteor swarm, “A Prayer for Owen Meany” is an awe-inspiring John Irving masterpiece. He always begins writing a book from the end, he says in an appended interview, taking as much as 18 months to devise a “roadmap” of the story. It’s the only way to imagine the creation of such a complex, multilayered opus—long but never tedious, laced with chilling portent, and all at once engaging, funny, moving and tragic.
It begins with a fateful Little League game in 1953, and goes to times and places where only John Irving could take it.
There is a concept in journalism called “advancing the story,” where a writer continually reveals new developments, rather than heaping on details that simply make the story longer. Irving is a virtuoso at its fictional counterpart. Just a couple of hours into “Owen Meany,” you’ve heard so much, in such gripping and intimate detail, that you begin to wonder what could possibly fill the remaining 25 hours or so. You wonder how it could ever end, and then, later, you fear that it will.
I am not a religious person—neither, he says, is the author—but its religiosity is what gives the book such strength of character. My life has been enriched by listening to Joe Barrett’s masterful reading of “A Prayer for Owen Meany.” It’s that good.
Australian, living in beautiful central Victoria. Audio book addict otherwise fairly well balanced.
Ah Owen Meany. I still think it's one of the best books ever written and this superb audio treatment does it justice. Joe Barrett brilliantly captures 'the voice' - such kudos to him for this read. I hope he wins an award for it. If you've read and enjoyed Owen Meany, then you simply must listen to this. If you haven't, I'm jealous. You have a wonderful experience still ahead of you.
A Prayer for Owen Meany is told like a memory. Out of sequence and not all at once. Memory as fragment intermixed with correlated memories and current observations. Like harmonics. Like arpeggios. It is a story about faith from the point of view of someone without faith. The layer upon layer of odd specificity of actions and characteristics can be somewhat irksome. It's like when reading Atlas Shrugged and each retelling of story doesn't actually add anything, but underlines it again and again. We see the predestination and the all the glaring oddity. It is obvious that these are not just character traits but cogs in a specific machine. A Rube Goldberg contraption which will damage each character in a specific way. Leave familiar scars. But it is our memory so it is perhaps obvious that we would remember the man he would be and underline again and again the harmonics. The omens. I don't know exactly how I feel about this book. I love when a story is told in pieces and I can assemble them and solve the story. But there was nothing to solve here. There are specifics that elude us until the end, but the clues are remembered over and over and underlined again and again. The outcome was never in doubt. We know the end before we ever remember the beginning. I don't think John ever finds faith, but it is obvious he still tries. John is an incomplete man. He was essentially created by Owen and left incomplete. That yearning plagues the reading. It is a little too long, too many memories, then ends all at once. I imagine that is how John feels.
Say something about yourself!
For some strange reason, I missed this one throughout my school years and then college and grad school. Not sure why but wow! What a novel. Do not miss this one. You will lie awake thinking about it years after you "read" it. Owen is a guy who does not fit in the group. This story is about why he is the way he is. So wonderful.
Reading allows me to travel through time, to visit the world's unique and stunning places, to become somebody I am not... It is glorious.
Love; Wisdom; Poignant
I loved this book. It moved me to tears, it made me laugh, it touched my heart and my mind. I have thought about the sweetness and wisdom of this young boy with the wretched voice many times over the past year. It has become one of my favorite books and I know I will listen to it again very soon. My heart felt broken for this young boy who lived such a solitary existence and faced a big, unhappy, mean world with grace and aplomb. During the parts of the story when Owen and Johnny were separated I literally grieved for Owen. I fell in love with that little boy and he lingers in my heart.
These boys lives were inexorably entwined. Their hearts were knitted together so strongly that the middle aged John (Johnny) credits Owen with making him a Christian. Owen did this through his example of love and friendship. He could be demanding and sometimes he even appeared judgmental and preachy. However, somehow he was still lovable and likable. (I don't normally enjoy this in either reality or fiction.) Owen gave his heart completely to his friend and this selfless openness effected Johnny so greatly that years later he credits Owen with his belief and faith in his God.
A quick note: The symbolism of politics runs throughout the book; Religious metaphor runs throughout as well. There are many reviews of both that I have read. I agree with points and I disagree with others as will you I am sure. This review will not discuss either any more than I did above. Personally a book stays in my heart and mind if there are characters I love, characters I hate, great studies in location, use of beautiful English which paints a picture, and things to learn. (For example when I read The Pillars of The Earth by Ken Follett many, many years ago, I loved all of those things so much that I became a devotee of historical fiction.) Owen Meany is a book that gave me these things I love and I am now a John Irving enthusiast. And while writing this I have become convinced that it will be listened to again very soon.
No. But he was extraordinary. His ability to screech Owen's excited voice and separate him so definitively was stunning. I imagine him sipping hot tea with honey every evening trying to repair the damage he did to his voice that day. It made for a remarkable listen and brought Mr. Irving's character to life.
I can find a book to love in any genre -- a beautifully written classic, an interesting mystery or sci-fi, a trashy romance. Bring it!
STORY - This is without a doubt the most conflicted review I've written. Having just concluded the book with its stellar ending, I'm inclined to rate it a 10, but I cannot forget how I literally suffered through about 90% of the story. Another reviewer of this book said something like "This story is for listeners who like to ramble in rich characters and funny events." So true. The themes switch back and forth between criticism of American politics and the Vietnam war, religion, friendship and the coming of age of the main characters in small town USA. There is not an obvious plot that continues to progress, just hours of character development and hints that Owen is different and very special.
Johnny, Owen's best friend, tells the story, and they are about 10 years old at the beginning. Their pre-adolescent viewpoints and antics will make you chuckle, and as they mature their close friendship continues. The last several hours of the story when loose ends FINALLY start to come together are surprisingly powerful. You will see how special Owen really is, and the deeper messages of the book become clear. The problem for me is it was just way, way, way, way, way too long.
NARRATOR - The narration was adequate. Owen's voice as described in the story is high-pitched and irritating, and it definitely was performed well. Sometimes Owen's high voice would pop into the middle of a sentence for only one word. It's as if that word was typed in quotes for special emphasis but the narrator read it in Owen's voice by mistake. That was a constant distraction, IMHO.
OVERALL - Again, I'm conflicted, but I would probably not recommend this book. It's just too long. If it were only, say, 10 hours in length, I would say to download it immediately. (Be sure to listen to at least the beginning of the author interview at the end. There are some very vague, subtle hints of something throughout the book which is really not clear until you hear it from the author's lips in this interview.)
"An amazing and memorable book"
I've read two other novels by the author and hoped that this book would be as good. I wasn’t disappointed: it’s a remarkable creation that will stick in my mind for a long time.
I didn’t want it to end. It starts as a story of small town America and then diverges in all directions as the eponymous Owen and his close friend John grow from boyhood to manhood and we get to know their families, foibles and achievements. On the back of their story, populated by many larger than life characters, the author lets his imagination rip as he contemplates questions of morality, religion, politics, loyalty, love, war and patriotism to name but a few of the myriad of topics that enrich this marvellous book that tugs at the emotions but also very funny at times. Owen Meany is an extraordinary creation. Never exceeding 5 feet tall with a voice that has hasn’t broken he dominates the book and all around him. The narrator gives him such a memorable voice:, a cross between Twittie Pie and Donald Duck, that makes him endearing but not one to be pitied: he is an heroic character.
The narrator is outstanding and brought the characters to life in this memorable book.
"Just listen - it will captivate you"
Let it just keep going, because the start is a little slow. It's long - and it will be worth every minute of your time.
Beautiful writing, and such expert narration.
Sad and sobering though some of the story is, it's not written in a way that cynically tries to milk the pathos. In fact, most of the sad incidents are dealt with in such a matter-of-fact way, it helps you to deal with it, too. It is also a very funny book, with sly, sideways humour and sometimes some pure slapstick comic passages.
I really did love this boo and was very sad to leave it.
"An Oscar for Joseph Barrett."
Joe Barrett deserves an award for his beautiful reading of this beautiful book. (that's only 13 words)
"A moving masterpiece."
A beautifully crafted, funny, heartbreaking work of genius from a world-class writer at the top of his game, A Prayer for Owen Meany is one of those books that simply defies easy description.
It's about angels. And armadillos. THE VOICE. An armless Indian and an headless Holy Goalie. A lethal baseball, a Christmas pageant baby Jesus, and the precise connection between what the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come saw on a cardboard tombstone and the burned and blistered corpse of a helicopter pilot killed in Vietnam. Through all the quirky characters and masterful plotting, however, at its heart, A Prayer for Owen Meany is about family, friendship, community, and what it really means to be a hero.
Narrator, Joe Barret's, pitch perfect reading captured the spirit and voice of each unforgettable character, including that of Owen Meany, whose screeching, grating, damaged voice is portrayed in the novel in full caps. Somehow Barret accomplishes this feat in such a way that he fully embodies Owen's unforgettable voice, yet is still easy on the ears of audio book listeners.
This Audible version of A Prayer for Owen Meany made me laugh, made me fall in love with Owen Meany and, ultimately, broke my heart. When the book was over, I missed Owen, as if I'd known him.
"Stunningly well written & read"
Not my usual cup of tea, but 'A Prayer for Owen Meany' builds up over the length of the book into a great mix of characters and plots.
Throughout the entire storyline there are beautiful little references to seemingly innocuous past events, with the smallest details weaving such a wonderful picture, leaving the reader (listener) with a clarity of what this world looks like and what the people are like, but still allowing the imagination to form the shapes.
I wished my drive to work was longer so I could have listened to more in one go, and in fact there were occasions that I took a 'long-cut' just to hear a particular story line thread play out!
It is to a budding novelist as a Mozart concerto is to a wannabe musician who has just picked up a tambourine... You think you'd like to try your hand at writing, then you see this and realise what a really good author can produce.
I'm a great fan of the Jason Bourne series, and John Le Carre is by far my favourite author of a book series or genre, but Owen Meany is that exception to the rule. Truly mesmerising.
"This is what audiobooks are for!"
What a treat. It's long but I would have rather it hadn't ended... An immersive experience
I would listen to Owen Meany again and I plan to. I read this book many years ago and was delighted to see it on Audible. To listen to it was so pleasurable and delightful.The narrator is really really good. Now I am looking for everything else he has done!
Owen Meany is the heart of it and the ending is just so surprising, I was on the edge of my seat and so affected for days.
It certainly made me cry.
"Will stay with me forever"
I have not read the print version
The nativity play and the car in the school made me laugh out loud.
The pathos throughout
I was desperately ill in hospital for about 3 months. Every evening I was able to listen to this book and shut out what was going on around me. It kept me sane.
They were all equally brilliant
Read it certainly but Joe Barratt's voice lulled me and enticed me like I was listening to an old friend. A very moving book.
"Such an annoying boy - but totally captivating..."
Prepare to be irritated, infuriated and enchanted by Owen Meany in equal measure. This is a book about friendship, love, religion and war - all the big themes - but beautifully woven into a vivid story about a charismatic boy in small town America, spanning the Fifties to the Eighties. Joe Barrett does a marvelous job of narrating this lengthy story, particularly in tackling Owen's screechy voice in an honest and unfliching way.
I recommend you listen to the final chapter, which is an interview with John Irving and an amazing insight into how an author understands his own work.
This a big time investment but probably one of the best you will ever make.
"An excellent book on all levels"
It is well written, the story is very good and, mostly through the character Owen Meany, the book makes lots of important points about the absurdity of many aspects of life. I thoroughly recommend.
Joe Barrett is a good reader too.
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