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Monday Book Review: The World According to Garp February 8, 2010

Posted by pupfiction in Book Reviews, Book vs. Movie.
Tags: , , ,

It is nearly impossible to review a book like The World According to Garp by John Irving. First of all, it was published in 1978 and adapted into a movie in 1982. Secondly, its popular success has brought it to near-classic status and it has been widely read. Third, it is (in its newest edition) 609 pages long and covers a man’s lifetime, and the huge themes of death, sexuality, and gender. Even if I wanted to attempt a review of this book, it would most likely be far too long of a blog post for anyone to read.

So, instead, I will attempt to compare the movie and the book. First I will say that the casting is phenomenal. Robin Williams plays Garp, the eccentric but essentially caring and loving family-man protagonist. Besides the fact that Irving mentions Garp’s unknown father may have been Japanese, the casting is dead on. Glenn Close as Jenny Fields, Garp’s mother, unintentional feminist and strong, independent woman is also a perfect match. But even better than the casting of these two important roles is John Lithgow as Roberta Muldoon, the transsexual tight-end for the Philadelphia Eagles. Lithgow both physically and mentally inhabits the role and his performance is both heart-wrenching and comedic in the same way Irving presents it in the book.

(Warning: Spoilers in this paragraph!) The movie, at a little over two hours, necessarily takes some shortcuts. I think many of these actually had to do with the movie being produced in the eighties. One of the biggest disappointments, for me, was that Garp and his mother spend his formidable years in New York City instead of Vienna. Movie budgets weren’t as inflated in the early eighties as they are now, and so I understand this choice, but in doing so, the movie lost a certain feel that the book had. Second, the opening (and very graphic) sex scene where Jenny Fields seduces Garp (senior) was completely skipped and only alluded to later. Third, the climatic scene of the car crash where Garp’s youngest son is killed is depicted by crash-like noises and zooming in on the boy’s face. Had the movie been made now, it would have certainly been a gory, grisly scene. But does that affect the impact? As someone who regularly covers their eyes during more visceral scenes, I would argue no.

The movie mostly still conveys the same sentiments that Irving does in the book. Garp came across as a hardworking, eccentric, family-loving man. Jenny Fields came across as strong willed and loving as well. The question of gender and sexuality was still present but not as strongly. Yes, there was still Roberta the transsexual and a house of suffering feminists and rape-victim sympathizers, but the real argument about the abuse of women and the detrimental effects of militant, dogmatic feminists, could not be conveyed.

Perhaps even more pervasive than themes of sexuality and gender is Garp’s fear of the world, danger, and death which manifests itself in his over-protection of his family and his debilitating fears. While the movie attempts to convey this, you simply cannot convey the same amount of information that an omniscient narrator can in a book. So while the movie valiantly attempts to depict Garp’s inner fears, it still falls short.

Overall: a good movie (I still cried), but highly condensed. If you’re too busy to pick up a tome, then rent it, but if you really want a whirlwind ride, “skip the movie, read the book.”

From cafepress.com



1. James Cameron - July 14, 2010

Well, that was a great (non-)review, in my book! You hit it all pretty much right on the head. I found both the literary work and screen adaptation to be a joy, and I too would find it very difficult to review and critique. As far as the movie goes, I still think Williams’ and Lithgow’s performances were their best to date; though I’m sure many would argue. I loved it. – James S. Cameron

2. Bunche - August 30, 2010

If I’m not mistaken, in the novel Garp’s father is clearly stated to have been an American tailgunner during WWII and not of Japanese origin. The alleged “Japness” of Garp was noted by his grandfather who was referring to the child’s unusual features and semi-epicanthic eyefolds. Other than that visual trait, Grap was straight-up non-Asian.

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