Once, 20 years ago, Dr. Daruwalla was the examining physician of two murder victims in Goa. Now, 20 years later, he will be reacquainted with the murderer.
©2007 John Irving; (P)2007 Brilliance Audio, Inc.
"Ringmaster Irving introduces act after act, until three (or more) rings are awhirl at a lunatic pace....His Bombay and his Indian characters are vibrant and convincing." (The Wall Street Journal)
"Irving's nimble humor springs from compassionate insights into cultural and sexual confusion and alienation, baffling questions of faith and purpose, and the kind of hope that thrives in even the most jaded atmosphere." (Booklist)
"His most daring and most vibrant novel.... The story of circus-as-India is told with gusto and delightful irreverence." (The Washington Post Book World)
Retired to mountains of California. Sell on eBay as Prsilla. No TV. Volunteer in wildlife rehab. Knit, sew or embroider while listening.
Maybe I didn't give this book enough attention; I was stressed during the listen. I will listen again. Just that while living in San Francisco for 30 years, I have already worked beside, embraced, loved and coped with all kinds of deviant -- uh, I mean "different" --people. A would-be transsexual is not a joke, and probably not a murderer. She is someone who tells you, "I am not gay: I love men." She will die with her tallywhacker. At any rate in this book I felt I was slumming. For sure, this book is not Shantaram in which people reach for joy and real friendship. While Irving is hilariously inventive, and while I loved Owen Meany and stayed awake for Ciderhouse Rules, this book I find not being an upper.
English major. Love to read
I have read a lot of John Irving - some very good, some not so good. My favorite book of all time is A Prayer for Owen Meany. He can't write another one of those and I knew that when I started this book. Nonetheless, the characters are very well drawn, quirky, very human and quite Owenesque. I liked this book, the story is solid but it was missing the tight, clearly crafted writing that I think of when I think of Irving. I am glad I read it, but I am not going to run out and tell everybody to read it.
People say I resemble my dog (and vice-versa). He can hear sounds I can't hear, but I'm the one who listens to audiobooks.
Life's a Circus -- for a book that is nearly 27 hours long, there is very little that is about the circus. Most of it about various aspects of life in Bombay as filtered through the lens of the main character, Dr. Daruwalla, who is actually a visitor to Bombay from Canada despite being born and raised in India. Through his eyes, we see the three-ring circus that is life in general.
So while we do have the circus, acting as a social welfare institution for Indian orphans, we spend as much or more time with dwarf taxi drivers, serial killers, movie detectives, real detectives, twins separated at birth, three different TV/TS types, closeted gay men, vengeful ex-hippies, violent chimps, exhibitionist country club dowagers, Zoroastrians, Jesuit priests, child prostitutes, AIDS -- just another day (or in this case, a quarter century) in John Irving's grotesquerie of ordinary life.
But it's fascinating, irresistible, charming -- three more words to sum up the qualities of the book.
The setting is unusual for John Irving (except for a brief interlude in Vienna), and it would be easy to say that telling a story about India, exploring the social structure of Bombay, would be one of the best aspects of this book, especially since Irving tells us in his foreword that he has spent an insignificantly small amount of time there.
But what I liked best about the story is how so many elements are intertwined and eventually come together -- the career and ultimate capture of the serial killer and how it figures in the cinematic careers of Dr. Daruwalla and his foster son who stars in his movies, the separation and reunion of the twins and how that brings in a discussion of closeted homosexuality and religion, the connection between Dr. Daruwalla's study of dwarf genetics and the HIV virus, the transfer of orphaned and damaged street children to the circus as a reflection of Indian social structure, and how all of that shapes Dr. Daruwalla's lifelong search for a place he can call truly call home.
27 hours is a long time for an audiobook. You need a couple of things to carry you through. One is a well-written book, and John Irving delivers with crisp, well-paced sentences, paragraphs, chapters, creating a forward momentum that sucks you in and makes you want to listen all the more.
So too does David Colacci's narration. Over that long period of time, he maintains the same upbeat tone, capturing the pace and mood of Irving's writing just right, never sounding smarmy, never going too far with the Indian accents in reading the dialogue. 27 hours of oddball characterization and unlikely turns of event over a scant plot line could've been painful if not for his pitch perfect performance.
The book is indeed in need of renaming. Even with the circus figuring partially in the proceedings, there is really nothing or no one that can be viewed as a son of the circus, not even metaphorically, except in the broadest sense of the life being a circus. Even so, Dr. Daruwalla, the only character central enough to the story to be a candidate for son of the circus, is the one character who is not living a circus style life, not even metaphorically.
Then there is Dr. Daruwalla's secret life as a screenwriter. Of the many grand metaphors in the book that often seem larger than the realities they are meant to symbolize, the most consistently executed is one where art imitates life and life imitates art, within the doctor's screenplays. So the most apt title, one that may be more alluring to readers not necessarily drawn by the author's name, would be "Inspector Dhar and the Winking Elephant Murders".
I have to come back to the length of the book, having recently roasted Michael Chabon for his gratuitously lengthy and wordy Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (even though I find myself in an extremely small minority of critics of that highly praised and prized novel). Son of the Circus is the counterpoint -- equally lengthy, but not an exercise in word vomit. Irving writes in clear, concise, straight ahead prose that creates an appropriate pace for a book of this length.
That said, it is still too long. There are at least two, maybe three novels here -- a trilogy of books of average length. I suppose it amounts to the same thing, no difference if the books appear in the same binding or separate volumes. But the more pressing issue is the detail into which Irving writes some of the ancillary stories and characters. Where a sentence would have sufficed, he writes a paragraph, where a page would have sufficed, he writes a chapter.
But it's not gratuitous. He tells a complete short story about each character that could have been distilled into a quick recap, but it is still highly entertaining and creates richer characters with more complete back stories. It's just that I kept thinking about some advice I once go about writing fiction, that I as the writer have to know every character's full story even if I'm not necessarily going to tell it. I wish Irving had kept some parts of their back stories to himself.
My favorite Irvings are Owen and Cider House. Everything else is judged according to those yardsticks. I thoroughly enjoyed this one. At the outset he tells us his main character is uncomfortable in his native country. That discomfort is then allowed for the reader as he takes us deep into the mire that is modern-day India. Fantastic.
I've read a lot of John Irving, but most of it was years ago. I'm not sure if my tastes have changed or if this was a particularly lackluster novel for him, but I actually quit listening with only a few hours left to go, because I was so disinterested in the characters and the story, itself.
I would have liked to give this book three and a half stars. It has in it some extremely humorous episodes, involving discrepancies between different world cultures. It has in it an intriguing murder mystery, ultimately solved.
The problems with it have to do with a large diversity of plots and stories and people, and far too much writing. Especially at the end, after the murderer has been caught and brought to justice, it becomes very tedious. In spite of my early delight with it, I was really happy when the author finally decided to end the book. It would have been much better to stop listening just about 2/3 of the way through.
Lehua of Pacifica
There are two gurneys in the mad doctor's surgery, each with an unconscious body. Huge syringe in hand, the doctor approaches the nearer of his two subjects, a 10-year-old boy. The syringe already contains drops of a tincture that will forever stop maturation, and the doctor eases the needle into the boy's brain to withdraw the juvenile essence at the perfect, penultimate moment. Up into the syringe streams the love of all things repulsive and disgusting; the emerging sexual obsession; the fascination with all that's kinky, shocking, or sick.
Still holding the syringe, the doctor approaches his other subject, a seemingly ordinary man, but one's who's been prepared with a serum of world-class writing skill and a spectacular breadth of imagination. Carefully he inserts the needle into the man's brain and depresses the plunger. Into the man's brain flows Joy of Awfulness. Decay, disease, excrement, vomit, deformity, psychosis, child molestation, mutilation, rats, snakes, vulture-plucked corpses, fungi, all in no particular order.
He releases the little boy, who scampers off unaware that he's become a much better person, someone his mother can actually love unreservedly. He watches the man, waiting with excitement for him to awake. To awake as ... John Irving.
Five stars for stunning writing, one star for loathsomeness.
AUDIO: If sought, small imperfections can be found, but they are microscopic relative to the challenges and range of the novel. David Colacci has created a masterpiece in his own right.
A Son of The Circus immerses the reader in the Indian culture.
I feel as if I have spent a week traveling through
The streets of Bombay.
The so acute descriptions of sights and smells paint a backdrop for the story line that i will carry forever in my mind's eye.
The many parallel story lines are as usual skillfully created.
The characters seem as real as people I have known for years.
The voice of David Colacci is hypnotizing.
I have already downloaded my next Irving book.
I worry what I shall do when when I have finished them all.
It's not the book, it's not the plot, it's the sheer magnificent storytelling...
And just like a star of the circus, he makes the apparently impossible appear effortless.
Like the best vacation you've ever been on, at first I wasn't sure I would even enjoy the trip. And then suddenly, the all-too-soon conclusion was before me; a rather melancholy journey "home" was forced upon me.
"Absorbing and inventive book"
This was the second John Irving audiobook I have listened to - the other being A Prayer for Owen Meany. It's taken me a while to get round to it as I was slightly put off by the length; although I enjoyed Owen Meany, it did lack the narrative momentum that makes a really good audiobook, and I was a little concerned that Son of the Circus might be the same, and this might make it a demanding and long listen.
But I was very pleasantly surprised. The plot is certainly an original one, very interesting and inventive, and the book never flags. The cast is quite a big one, but the author paints them all with a sure and vivid touch, and yoou want to know what is going to happen to them. Narration by David Colacci is excellent and he really makes the book such a pleasure to listen to.
All in all, a very enjoyable book and strongly recommended.
Not as painful a story as Garp and not as unsettling as Owen Meany (even though it involves a serial killer); this is a great yarn. It is a page-turner, if an audio-book can be called such a thing and the characters and setting have a believable richness. The narration is excellent (accents/voices passable and not too distracting). I came to like the readers voice so much I have recently downloaded another book written by him.
This journey is great fun. Irving always cracks me up and this story is as sad, funny, interesting and not entirely believable as all of his others I've read. I just wish Audible would hurry up and put Garp, Hotel New Hampshire and Cider House on the menu!
"Rambling, funny, odd"
I think this is is really worthy of 3.5 stars but I'm being generous as that isn't an option. I was disappointed because I listened to and loved A Prayer For Owen Meany some months ago and this book is nothing like as good - in my opinion anyway. However, I am trying not to make a direct comparison to that story which I thought was superb.
This story is incredibly rambling, so that it often felt disjointed. This eases somewhat by the third volume of the download possibly because you get used to it and also, you've assimilated the eleventy-hundred cast members into your memory and made some sense of it all. Kind of...
On the plus side, I was quite interested in the outcome. The story is basically a series of coincidences of such blatant unlikelihood that you just have to suspend all realistic notions and go with the flow. The characters were often finely drawn and the narration was very good, because there are a lot of accents to be contended with. It's funny, but not very. More dryly observational. The set-piece comedy elements are too long-winded for me.
On the downside, it's far too long and slow. This is quite damning from me, someone who often likes long, slow reads. But this was too much even for me. Long periods elapsed when I couldn't recall even hearing it as my mind had wandered but it never mattered.
It took me a while to get into this book. In fact, I got about a quarter of the way through and then stopped for a few months, although this was more to do with the fact that I was listening on my Shuffle in the swimming pool and then stopped swimming while I healed from surgery. I had to go back to the beginning again...
I loved the plot of this book. Although it was slow to start, it was definitely worth persevering. It was rather different to the other John Irving books I've read. David Colacci brought this to life really, really well. It was especially notable when Dr Daruwhalla was getting exasperated and angry! A stellar performance and a narrator I shall keep an eye out for on Audible.
The characters in the book are as lifelike as in any novel of Irving's, or indeed anyone else's. Mr Setna (I don't know the spellings, since it was an audiobook, so please forgive me that!) the steward at the Duckworth Club was superb. And how about Patel, the police commissioner!
I particularly enjoyed following Martin Mills and his change from blind faith to doubt. Both he and John D are 39 in the story, which just happens to be the same age as I am, so it was interesting to hear about how Martin was still finding himself. Me too!
The only thing I find annoying about Irving's writing style, and it's evident in all his novels, is his overuse of beginning a sentence with the word 'that'.
'That his something or other was big or small was evidence of his whatever...'. That kind of thing. I just find it overused and ultimately annoying as a result. But that aside, I loved this book!
"Enjoyable but takes time to make sense"
If you’re familiar with John Irving’s novels you’ll know that he doesn’t tell a straightforward story and spins off into imaginative digressions. I’ve read/listened to four of his novels and this one has more seemingly irrelevant side-tracks. For much of the book I felt that, while I enjoyed the section I was listening to, the different stories didn’t seem to be connected, but after more than 20 hours of listening began to come together. Throughout there is an underlying theme of alienation owing to race, class, disability and sexuality. The harshness of life for many Indians isn’t avoided but there is much to chuckle about as the larger-than life-characters get involved in extraordinary scenarios.
Dr Daruwalla is the common thread of the narrative and is the only wholly sympathetic character. He is an orthopaedic surgeon of Indian origin based in Toronto who makes trips to India to study achondroplastic dwarfism, about which you will learn quite a bit. There’s a surprising amount of medical detail in the book about this genetic disorder as well as, for example, about sex-change operations and the symptoms of terminal AIDS. The doctor also writes story-lines for an Indian detective series so one learns about Indian cinema as well as circus acts, the transgender Hijra communities, prostitution and the Jesuits! In addition there is a serial killer at large and the doctor gets involved in trying to solve the crime.
As a consequence of all these diverse threads there are not only many characters to keep track of but there are also un-signalled jumps back and forth in time. An ambitious and complex book that gets better in the latter parts.
Not as good or memorable as A Prayer for Owen Meany, but in the end a satisfying listen.
"Paled into insignificance"
I so loved Owen Meanie and was delighted to find another John Irving tale on audible. Not for me, I was disappointed with the story, characters and narration. I may have had a better and more positive view had I read it pre- Owen.
This is a great big book that is funny, gripping and sad. I loved Garp and Owen Meaney but had read them so long ago that I had forgotten just how good a writer JI is. This story is packed; not everything works but the whole is constantly interesting and enjoyable.
The narrator is excellent, adding considerably to the humour and maintaining the pace throughout.
"A good story but it did get a bit long"
I really like John Irving, but I have to admit that this book dragged at times - it felt like it went over and over the same ground. At his best Irving had such an incredible gift for mixing tragedy with humour, but this book just seemed sad to me - all the characters seemed destined to remain in a bad place and it didn't really seem like there was any chance at anything better for them. It was fairly well, but the reader has a rather flat voice which didn't help make it any more exciting.
"So many books, so little time!"
I lost interest and abandoned this book. Chose it because I had liked a previous John Irving book but I guess I just didn't have the staying power for this one :o(
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