Sometimes there exists a book that upon reading it, you cannot help but want to discuss it. These are the books that make fantastic book club picks and the ones that you can’t help but tell everyone how much you loved. John Irving’s In One Person is this type of book. It’s intriguing and ‘meaty’ and full of interesting things to talk about.
Luckily for us at Random House, there is never a shortage of smart people willing to discuss good books. Lindsey and I had a great conversation about In One Person and we thought, “Why not share it with all of you?” Please leave us your comments, ideas, thoughts and opinions. We’d love to hear what you have to say!
Katerina - I very much enjoyed In One Person; it was a big book, in size and in story. My favourite part of the book was the characters. Each one is so individual and uniquely created. It’s amazing how the reader really gets a sense of who they are as people. My favourite characters were Elaine, and of course, her mother Mrs. Hadley. It’s hard not to like these two. They are so accepting and supportive of Billy’s journey of self-discovery. I particularly enjoyed the part where Billy steals Elaine’s bra and when she realizes, she says to him that he can keep it. That’s what true friends do.
Lindsey – You’re right, real friends let you keep their bra after they “borrow” it. I read this novel for our Random Reader John Irving Challenge and I couldn’t put it down (despite its page count). It was as gripping as Irving’s, A Prayer for Owen Meany and that’s one of my top 5 favorite novels. Like you, I really enjoyed Elaine (and her mother), but I’d have to say my favorite character was Miss Frost. I thought she was a brilliant woman that exuded confidence, strength and perseverance; the key components to any great character (and woman).
KO – Very true, Miss Frost was definitely a memorable character. In One Person is a memorable book. Did you think anything about it was shocking, disturbing or challenging?
LR – While I was reading it, I didn’t find any of it shocking or disturbing, but I was surprised over and over again while reading about Kittredge, the boy which both Elaine and Billy crush on. His character development is an interesting one to watch and as I was nearing the end, I was most curious to hear about his future. Speaking of which, I enjoyed the fact that Irving took characters from childhood to adulthood, a full circle effect, don’t you think?
KO – That’s true. The story flowed so naturally that I didn’t have an obvious sense that it was happening but now that you mention it, it really adds a full-bodied feel to the writing. I think that’s one of the reasons the story sticks with you, you feel that you are with the characters, particularly Billy, from childhood to adulthood and in some cases until death. I found it very interesting that Irving chose to highlight and spend so much time on the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the late 70’s and early 80’s, what do you think he was trying to achieve or have the reader feel by going through the details of the disease in so much detail?
LR – I actually admired the dissection of the HIV/AIDS epidemic; it proved to me that Irving is never afraid to “go there”. He never seems to shy away from the hard topics. It seemed to me that he wanted his reader to understand the world of uncertainty and terror that was felt by the population during that time. I think he also wanted to describe it from a bisexual’s point of view, which was seemingly even more difficult because there was a lot of finger pointing and accusations being made of the LGBTQ community. Do you feel the same way or do think he had a different purpose?
KO – I think that’s a very good point. The very detailed descriptions of what happens to a person when they are sick with AIDS and also the very emotional toll it takes on their friends and family definitely highlights Irving’s ability to tell that history with confidence, accuracy and heart. That part of the story works to create a brilliant literary arch in the sense that these things actually happened and this adds a truthful and very real aspect to the writing and the story. I would say that In One Person is not a quick, easy read but it gives more than it takes and if you are willing to go on Irving’s journey, it is well worth it!
Tell us what you thought of In One Person and how you felt while reading it in the comments.