Until I Find You is the story of the actor Jack Burns – his life, loves, celebrity and astonishing search for the truth about his parents.
When he is four years old, Jack travels with his mother Alice, a tattoo artist, to several North Sea ports in search of his father, William Burns. From Copenhagen to Amsterdam, William, a brilliant church organist and profligate womanizer, is always a step ahead – has always just departed in a wave of scandal, with a new tattoo somewhere on his body from a local master or “scratcher.”
Alice and Jack abandon their quest, and Jack is educated at schools in Canada and New England – including, tellingly, a girls’ school in Toronto. His real education consists of his relationships with older women – from Emma Oastler, who initiates him into erotic life, to the girls of St. Hilda’s, with whom he first appears on stage, to the abusive Mrs. Machado, whom he first meets when sent to learn wrestling at a local gym.
Too much happens in this expansive, eventful novel to possibly summarize it all. Emma and Jack move to Los Angeles, where Emma becomes a successful novelist and Jack a promising actor. A host of eccentric minor characters memorably come and go, including Jack’s hilariously confused teacher the Wurtz; Michelle Maher, the girlfriend he will never forget; and a precocious child Jack finds in the back of an Audi in a restaurant parking lot. We learn about tattoo addiction and movie cross-dressing, “sleeping in the needles” and the cure for cauliflower ears. And John Irving renders his protagonist’s unusual rise through Hollywood with the same vivid detail and range of emotions he gives to the organ music Jack hears as a child in European churches. This is an absorbing and moving book about obsession and loss, truth and storytelling, the signs we carry on us and inside us, the traces we can’t get rid of.
Jack has always lived in the shadow of his absent father. But as he grows older – and when his mother dies – he starts to doubt the portrait of his father’s character she painted for him when he was a child. This is the cue for a second journey around Europe in search of his father, from Edinburgh to Switzerland, towards a conclusion of great emotional force.
A melancholy tale of deception, Until I Find You is also a swaggering comic novel, a giant tapestry of life’s hopes. It is a masterpiece to compare with John Irving’s great novels, and restates the author’s claim to be considered the most glorious, comic, moving novelist at work today.
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.16(w) x 7.99(h) x 1.37(d)|
About the Author
John Irving has been nominated for a National Book Award three times—winning once, in 1980, for the novel The World According to Garp. In 1992, Mr. Irving was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Oklahoma. In 2000, he won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Cider House Rules—a film with seven Academy Award nominations.
Date of Birth:March 2, 1942
Place of Birth:Exeter, New Hampshire
Education:B.A., University of New Hampshire, 1965; also studied at University of Vienna; M.F.A., Iowa Writers' Workshop, 1967
Read an Excerpt
Until I Find YouA Novel
By John Irving
Random HouseCopyright © 2005 John Irving
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIn the Care of Churchgoers and Old Girls
According to his mother, Jack Burns was an actor before he was an actor, but Jack's most vivid memories of childhood were those moments when he felt compelled to hold his mother's hand. He wasn't acting then.
Of course we don't remember much until we're four or five years old-and what we remember at that early age is very selective or incomplete, or even false. What Jack recalled as the first time he felt the need to reach for his mom's hand was probably the hundredth or two hundredth time.
Preschool tests revealed that Jack Burns had a vocabulary beyond his years, which is not uncommon among only children accustomed to adult conversation-especially only children of single parents. But of greater significance, according to the tests, was Jack's capacity for consecutive memory, which, when he was three, was comparable to that of a nine-year-old. At four, his retention of detail and understanding of linear time were equal to an eleven-year-old's. (The details included, but were not limited to, such trivia as articles of clothing and the names of streets.)
These test results were bewildering to Jack's mother, Alice, who considered him to be an inattentive child; in her view, Jack's propensity for daydreaming made him immature for his age.
Nevertheless, in the fall of 1969, when Jack was four and had not yet started kindergarten, his mother walked with him to the corner of Pickthall and Hutchings Hill Road in Forest Hill, which was a nice neighborhood in Toronto. They were waiting for school to be let out, Alice explained, so that Jack could see the girls.
St. Hilda's was then called "a church school for girls," from kindergarten through grade thirteen-at that time still in existence, in Canada-and Jack's mother had decided that this was where Jack would begin his schooling, although he was a boy. She waited to tell him of her decision until the main doors of the school opened, as if to greet them, and the girls streamed through in varying degrees of sullenness and exultation and prettiness and slouching disarray.
"Next year," Alice announced, "St. Hilda's is going to admit boys. Only a very few boys, and only up to grade four."
Jack couldn't move; he could barely breathe. Girls were passing him on all sides, some of them big and noisy, all of them in uniforms in those colors Jack Burns later came to believe he would wear to his grave-gray and maroon. The girls wore gray sweaters or maroon blazers over their white middy blouses.
"They're going to admit you," Jack's mother told him. "I'm arranging it."
"How?" he asked.
"I'm still figuring that out," Alice replied.
The girls wore gray pleated skirts with gray kneesocks, which Canadians called "knee-highs." It was Jack's first look at all those bare legs. He didn't yet understand how the girls were driven by some interior unrest to push their socks down to their ankles, or at least below their calves-despite the school rule that knee-highs should be worn knee-high.
Jack Burns further observed that the girls didn't see him standing there, or they looked right through him. But there was one-an older girl with womanly hips and breasts, and lips as full as Alice's. She locked onto Jack's eyes, as if she were powerless to avert her gaze.
At the age of four, Jack wasn't sure if he was the one who couldn't look away from her, or if she was the one who was trapped and couldn't look away from him. Whichever the case, her expression was so knowing that she frightened him. Perhaps she had seen what Jack would look like as an older boy, or a grown man, and what she saw in him riveted her with longing and desperation. (Or with fear and degradation, Jack Burns would one day conclude, because this same older girl suddenly looked away.)
Jack and his mom went on standing in the sea of girls, until the girls' rides had come and gone, and those on foot had left not even the sound of their shoes behind, or their intimidating but stimulating laughter. However, there was still enough warmth in the early-fall air to hold their scent, which Jack reluctantly inhaled and confused with perfume. With most of the girls at St. Hilda's, it was not their perfume that lingered in the air; it was the smell of the girls themselves, which Jack Burns would never grow used to or take for granted. Not even by the time he left grade four.
"But why am I going to school here?" Jack asked his mother, when the girls had gone. Some fallen leaves were all that remained in motion on the quiet street corner.
"Because it's a good school," Alice answered. "And you'll be safe with the girls," she added.
Jack must not have thought so, because he instantly reached for his mom's hand.
In that fall of the year before Jack's admission to St. Hilda's, his mother was full of surprises. After showing him the uniformed girls, who would soon dominate his life, Alice announced that she would work her way through northern Europe in search of Jack's runaway dad. She knew the North Sea cities where he was most likely to be hiding from them; together they would hunt him down and confront him with his abandoned responsibilities. Jack Burns had often heard his mother refer to the two of them as his father's "abandoned responsibilities." But even at the age of four, Jack had come to the conclusion that his dad had left them for good-in Jack's case, before he was born.
And when his mom said she would work her way through these foreign cities, Jack knew what her work was. Like her dad, Alice was a tattoo artist; tattooing was the only work she knew.
In the North Sea cities on their itinerary, other tattooists would give Alice work. They knew she'd been apprenticed to her father, a well-known tattooer in Edinburgh-officially, in the Port of Leith-where Jack's mom had suffered the misfortune of meeting his dad. It was there he got her pregnant, and subsequently left her.
In Alice's account, Jack's father sailed on the New Scotland, which docked in Halifax. When he was gainfully employed, he would send for her-or so he had promised. But Alice said she never heard from him-only of him. Before moving on from Halifax, Jack's dad had cut quite a swath.
Born Callum Burns, Jack's father changed his first name to William when he was still in university. His father was named Alasdair, which William said was Scots enough for the whole family. In Edinburgh, at the time of his scandalous departure for Nova Scotia, William Burns had been an associate of the Royal College of Organists, which meant that he had a diploma in organ-playing in addition to his bachelor's in music. When he met Jack's mother, William was the organist at South Leith Parish Church; Alice was a choirgirl there.
For an Edinburgh boy with upper-class pretensions and a good education-William Burns had gone to Heriot's before studying music at the University of Edinburgh-a first job playing the organ in lower-class Leith might have struck him as slumming. But Jack's dad liked to joke that the Church of Scotland paid better than the Scottish Episcopal Church. While William was an Episcopalian, he liked it just fine at the South Leith Parish, where it was said that eleven thousand souls were buried in the graveyard, although there were not more than three hundred gravestones.
Gravestones for the poor were not permitted. But at night, Jack's mom told him, people brought the ashes of loved ones and scattered them through the fence of the graveyard. The thought of so many souls blowing around in the dark gave the boy nightmares, but that church-if only because of its graveyard-was a popular place, and Alice believed she had died and gone to Heaven when she started singing for William there.
In South Leith Parish Church, the choir and the organ were behind the congregation. There were not more than twenty seats for the choir-the women in front, the men in back. For the duration of the sermon, William made a point of asking Alice to lean forward in the front row, so that he could see all of her. She wore a blue robe-"blue-jay blue," she told Jack-and a white collar. Jack's mom fell in love with his dad that April of 1964, when he first came to play the organ.
"We were singing the hymns of the Resurrection," was how Alice put it, "and there were crocuses and daffodils in the graveyard." (Doubtless all those ashes that were secretly scattered there benefited the flowers.)
Alice took the young organist, who was also her choirmaster, to meet her father. Her dad's tattoo parlor was called Persevere, which is the motto of the Port of Leith. It was William's first look at a tattoo shop, which was on either Mandelson Street or Jane Street. In those days, Jack's mom explained, there was a rail bridge across Leith Walk, joining Mandelson to Jane, but Jack could never remember on which street she said the tattoo parlor was. He just knew that they lived there, in the shop, under the rumble of the trains.
His mother called this "sleeping in the needles"-a phrase from between the wars. "Sleeping in the needles" meant that, when times were tough, you slept in the tattoo parlor-you had nowhere else to live. But it was also what was said, on occasion, when a tattoo artist died-as Alice's father had-in the shop. Thus, by both definitions of the phrase, her dad had always slept in the needles.
Alice's mother had died in childbirth, and her father-whom Jack never met-had raised her in the tattoo world. In Jack's eyes, his mom was unique among tattoo artists because she'd never been tattooed. Her dad had told her that she shouldn't get a tattoo until she was old enough to understand a few essential things about herself; he must have meant those things that would never change.
"Like when I'm in my sixties or seventies," Jack's mom used to say to him, when she was still in her twenties. "You should get your first tattoo after I'm dead," she told him, which was her way of saying that he shouldn't even think about getting tattooed.
Alice's dad took an instant dislike to William Burns, who got his first tattoo the day the two men met. The tattoo gripped his right thigh, where William could read it when he was sitting on the toilet-the opening notes to an Easter hymn he'd been rehearsing with Alice, the words to which began, "Christ the Lord is risen today." Without the words, you'd have to read music, and be sitting very close to Jack's father-perhaps on an adjacent toilet-to recognize the hymn.
But then and there, upon giving the talented young organist his first tattoo, Alice's dad told her that William would surely become an "ink addict," a "collector"-meaning he was one of those guys who would never stop with the first tattoo, or with the first twenty tattoos. He would go on getting tattooed, until his body was a sheet of music and every inch of his skin was covered by a note-a dire prediction but one that failed to warn Alice away. The tattoo-crazy organist had already stolen her heart.
But Jack Burns had heard most of this story by the time he was four. What came as a surprise, when his mother announced their upcoming European trip, was what she told him next: "If we don't find your father by this time next year, when you'll be starting school, we'll forget all about him and get on with our lives."
Why this was such a shock was that, from Jack's earliest awareness that his father was missing-worse, that he had "absconded"-Jack and his mother had done a fair amount of looking for William Burns, and Jack had assumed they always would. The idea that they could "forget all about him" was more foreign to the boy than the proposed journey to northern Europe; nor had Jack known that, in his mom's opinion, his starting school was of such importance.
She'd not finished school herself. Alice had long felt inferior to William's university education. William's parents were both elementary-school teachers who gave private piano lessons to children on the side, but they had a high regard for artistic tutelage of a more professional kind. In their estimation, it was beneath their son to play the organ at South Leith Parish Church-and not only because of the class friction that existed in those days between Edinburgh and Leith. (There were differences between the Scottish Episcopal Church and the Church of Scotland, too.)
Alice's father was not a churchgoer of any kind. He'd sent Alice to church and choir practice to give her a life outside the tattoo parlor, never imagining that she would meet her ruin in the church and at choir practice-or that she would bring her unscrupulous seducer to the shop to be tattooed!
It was William's parents who insisted that, although he was the principal organist for the South Leith Parish, he accept an offer to be the assistant organist at Old St. Paul's. What mattered to them was that Old St. Paul's was Scottish Episcopal-and it was in Edinburgh, not in Leith.
What captivated William was the organ. He'd started piano lessons at six and had not touched an organ before he was nine, but at seven or eight he began to stick bits of paper above the piano keys-imagining they were organ stops. He'd already begun to dream about playing the organ, and the organ he dreamed about was the Father Willis at Old St. Paul's.
If, in his parents' opinion, to be the assistant organist at Old St. Paul's was more prestigious than being the principal organist at South Leith Parish Church, William just wanted to get his hands on the Father Willis. In Old St. Paul's, Jack's mother told him, the acoustics were a contributing factor to the organ's fame. The boy would later wonder if she meant that almost any organ would have sounded good there, because of the reverberation time-that is, the time it takes for a sound to diminish by sixty decibels-being better than the organ.
Alice remembered attending what she called "an organ marathon" at Old St. Paul's. Such an event must have been for fund-raising purposes-a twenty-four-hour organ concert, with a different organist performing every hour or half hour. Who played when was, of course, a hierarchical arrangement; the best musicians performed when they were most likely to be heard, the others at the more unsociable hours. Young William Burns got to play before midnight-if only a half hour before.
Excerpted from Until I Find You by John Irving Copyright © 2005 by John Irving. Excerpted by permission.
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Reading Group Guide
1. Jack Burns’s most vivid childhood memory is the moment of reaching for his mother’s hand. Why is this feeling so significant for Jack? Is there a similarly powerful memory from your own childhood that you can recall? Why has it stayed with you?
2. “The trip to the North Sea with his mother had formed Jack Burns” (309). In what ways had the search for his father–which took Jack and Alice from Copenhagen’s tattoo parlors to Amsterdam’s red light district–shaped Jack’s character? Also, discuss how Jack’s perception of the odyssey changes over the course of the novel. If this trip “formed” him, how does the “revision” of the trip later in the novel “un-form” him?
3. Describe Jack’s mother, Alice Stronach, and discuss her heartache and human failings. Did you feel sympathy for her? Anger? Both? In her own way, was Alice ever a good mother to Jack? Do you think she would have been a different mother, or woman, had William Burns chosen to stay with her?
4. As a reader, you also may have felt subject to Alice’s deceptions; are you willing to forgive her? Is Jack?
5. John Irving captures the peculiar, gritty, and fascinating world of tattooing with its eccentric heroes, history, and unique fraternity. What about this subculture surprised you most? Why do you think some people are addicted to being tattooed?
6. Describe the image and significance of the broken heart tattoo on the cover of the novel. Do you think tattoos are for the fierce at heart, or for the sentimental? If you were ever to get a tattoo, what would you choose?
7. In both positive and negative ways, women and girls have a profound impact on Jack Burns. How is the “sea of girls” at St. Hilda’s transformative for him? Describe Emma Oastler, and her peculiar relationship with Jack. Consider also Miss Wurtz, and Mrs. McQuat–the “Gray Ghost” who was “always the voice of Jack’s conscience” (330).
8. As John Irving writes, “In this way, in increments both measurable and not, our childhood is stolen from us–not always in one momentous event but often in a series of small robberies, which add up to the same loss.” How is Jack slowly robbed of his childhood? Discuss Alice, Mrs. Oastler, and Mrs. Machado as “thieves” of Jack’s childhood. Do you think it is possible to have an innocent childhood today? How long does childhood last?
9. Why does Jack Burns love performing? After working with Miss Wurtz, why does he come to the conclusion that “Life was not a stage; life was improv” (163)?
10. Who is Jack’s “audience of one,” and how does the vision of this sole spectator affect his acting and, more generally, his life? In your own life, who would you choose to envision as your “audience of one”?
11. Discuss the theme of sexuality in the novel, both in its positive and negative forms. How does Jack’s abuse haunt his later relationships with Michele and Claudia? Also, why does Jack feel most comfortable portraying women in film? Is Jack’s transvestism a way for him to control, or perhaps hide, his sexuality?
12. Consider Jack’s reaction to Emma’s death. Why can’t he cry? Describe Emma’s hold on Jack, both in life–at St. Hilda’s, the Oastler household and the house on Entrada Drive– and in death, with her odd “gift” of the Slush-Pile Reader screenplay. Did Emma ultimately help Jack or hurt him? Do you think her motivations were selfless, or selfish? Finally, why does her death leave Jack feeling as though he “[doesn’t] know who he [is]” (431)?
13. As Irving writes, “So much of what you think you remember is a lie” (532). After Alice’s death, when Jack embarks on his second trip to the North Sea ports, we learn along with him that much of what he remembers about his past is untrue. How did you feel, as a reader, to learn that Jack had been lied to, and that his memories (and our memory, as readers) were false? Discuss your reaction to the “revision” of Jack’s life, to the elusive nature of memory, and consider how perspective can change the entire truth of a story.
14. Describe Jack’s reunion with his father. Were you surprised by William’s condition? Even though William was absent for many years, how did he manage to be very much involved in his son’s life?
15. When does Jack finally stop “acting”? Describe the moment with Heather when he becomes “the real Jack Burns at last” (747). What brings him into himself for the first time? Have you ever had a moment like this, when your life suddenly clicked? When your sense of self became noticeably whole or true, even for an instance?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I liked the first third of the book. The tattoo artists and tromping around Scandanavia i found great reading. But as Jack grew older i basically lost interest. Emma was the most interesting character but she died off early. I slogged through the rest of the book because i can't just stop reading a book, i force myself to finish. The Hollywood name dropping and Jack's success as a movie star just didn't do it for me. In the end i didn't care. I enjoyed Hotel New Hampshire, Owen Meany and Garp so i expected more.
I love John Irving. A Prayer for Owen Meany is one of the most compelling, intuitive and thoughtful novels ever penned. Until I Find You, on the other hand, is an old man's sexual fantasy run amok. The women characters are either flat, two-dimensional, nuts or simply incomprehensible. Jack himself is a dull blank slate. And the gratuitous sexual molestation strains credibility, good taste and interest. By the 50th time Emma took his 'little guy' into her hands and cooed at it I wanted to throw the book at the wall. John, you can do better.
I enjoyed this book because I enjoy John Irving's writing style. The characters were vibrant and quirky as usual. My favorite character was William Burns because of his many layers. He is the mystery of this novel and I very much enjoyed meeting him finally. However, I didn't enjoy the plot all that much. The sexuality in this sometimes seemed far fetched. I can understand a few events happening to one character but everything was over the top. I liked the overall theme of how we all are performers in life and how it affects us but felt this novel fell a tad short of Irving's usual adventure. Expressing the latter, I must also reveal that this novel still falls under an epic novel and will take you for quite a ride. Keep an open mind.
I did not enjoy reading this book. That having been said, I still think it is a good book worth reading. There is something to be said for Irving's ability to envelope the reader into his worlds to the point that we empathize greatly with the characters involved. The ending brought the book back for me because of how the author articulated the father's feelings of joy that his son found him. I agree with several of the reviews I've read that spell out how unattached to Jack we feel throughout the course of the book. However, by the end of the book I felt like I could empathize with the relationship between Jack and his father upon finding each other. The entire book Jack is searching for something (his father, his identity) and at the end Irving provides a conclusion in which that something is found - but from the father's point of view. This was hard to understand during the course of reading the book because it seemed to drag and did not keep me at the edge of my seat like Owen Meany and Cider House did. Looking back, though, Jack's character is supposed to be detached because he himself does not know himself. This is an intelligent literary device that is overlooked as simple poor writing. I'm not sure Irving will ever top Owen Meany, but I look forward to every attempt of his to do so.
Hester the molester, Jenny Fields, Garp, even a mention of Binky! And of course Ruth's voyeuristic tendencies with prostitutes. Bears and elephants and wrestlers, OH MY! It is always worth the five year wait for the next John Irving tale. I must say though, that this is the first time I've recognized characters from the past. It was a pleasant reminder of just how gifted Mr.Irving is and why some twenty years ago I fell in love with Garp. For those of you who have never read an Irving novel, get ready for a treat. For all the rest of you, be happy that the past five years are over!
I eagerly anticipate reading any of John Irving's novels and his latest certainly does not disappoint. The characters, as always, are flawed, yet endearingly so. The situations are at once heartbreaking and uplifting. Throughout the novel's pages, every emotion is evoked, leaving you feeling as if you've experienced the characters' joys and pains along with them. As far as the length, who wants to give up new friends quickly?
I think this is my favorite Irving. I literally cried, and laughed while reading it, there is something so emotionally raw, all-consuming in it. I am amazed by Irving's original voice, and dizzying talent as always, incredible.
I've always enjoyed reading John Irving's novels with his eccentric, but caring characters and wildly implausible incidents that somehow seem both real and satisfying. Irving's humor, intelligence and compassion always insured an engaging experience. All of that is also true with this book, except that these events are more personal and less camoflauged. The author's deliberate vulnerability makes the intimacy painful to the reader. It's difficult to reccomend this book because it deals so thoroughly with child abuse-- sexual abuse, as well as abandonment, neglect and betrayal. Still, the writing is wonderful. The author's strategy in organizing the book has the story weaving in and out and back on itself. By adding new layers of experience and perspective, he transforms the scenes that he'd described earlier, changing the characters, the order, and even the consequences. The whole first half of the book (told in chronological order) is retold in the second half as if it were a puzzle being solved. It is as if the lighting on a familiar set were changed to reveal and highlight subtle, new aspects, redefining the scene. It's also very much about storytelling-- many kinds of storytelling: his purported memories, Emma's scary stories,later, her novels and the screenplay, his acting, his trans-gender roles, his mother's lies, his father's tatoos, his psychiatrist's theraputic journaling. There are as many layers as an onion. It'll take me a while longer to think about and understand it better. It's a wonderful book, but not an easy one to read.
I finished this behemoth of a book Thursday night. I'm torn about whether to recommend it or not. It's John Irving after all and the writing itself is exactly what you'd expect. I've always loved Irving and A Prayer For Owen Meany is probably my favorite book ever. So I personally was completely caught up in the story. I read 800+ pages in the time it usually takes me to read a 300 page book. There were times I literally couldn't put it down.That said, the story itself is disturbing. It's about a child who is sexually abused. It's about memory and what we think we know and how we are changed when we find the truth (in this way, it was reminiscent of the excellent Julian Barnes book, The Sense of an Ending).There are graphic scenes in the book. That probably won't surprise you if you've read any other Irving. But the scenes don't feel prurient. They simply feel like reporting a story. Or, as Irving says in this book, telling the whole story in chronological order.So, would I recommend it? Maybe. Did I think it was a good book? Definitely.
By now I think I've clearly established that I'm a huge John Irving fan. I just finished his most recent, Until I Find You, and I loved it. I adored it. I didn't want it to end, which may seem odd since it's 820 pages long. Please don't let the length deter you. I loved the narrator's voice, the characters-major and minor. I loved the story, the journey, the quest; the twists and the passage of time. Every last bit of it seemed plausible to me, but I've always embraced the bizarreness of Irving's characters and settings.Two favorite passages:So much of what you think you remember is a lie, the stuff of postcards. The snow untrampled and unspoiled; the Christmas candles in the windows of the houses, where the damage to the children is unseen and unheard.If you can't forgive her, you'll never be free of her. It's for your own sake, you know- for your soul. When you forgive someone who's hurt you, it's like escaping your skin- you're that free, outside yourself, where you can see everything.
The first 100-pages were painful. But they serve a deliberate purpose, and I enjoyed the remainder of the novel. While there was no dramatic climax, ala "Owen Meany", the gradual self-actualization of Jack Burns was satisfying. Irving's characters seem a little more well-rounded, a little less sex-obsessed, perhaps, in the end, a little more real. What happens when a person finds out that everything he thought he was turns out to be a lie? In this story, the truth of who Jack is is not relative. Jack must eventually grapple with truth existing outside of his frame of reference and experience. As an adult, Jack must rediscover his entire life, and reconcile every relationship and memory. An intriguing exercise.
How can one condense a tightly packed 800 pages in a paragraph? Plow on, reader, plow on! After dealing with Jack's bizarre and disconforting sexual childhood and then his similary described sexual adulthood, I came to terms with his more balanced adventures (around part III). I was almost interested and excited about the novel (after casting it aside 3 times) when Jack decided to persue a psychoanalysis which utimately ends in an unbelievable (this is Irving after all) and farcical reunion. Too bad. I usually enjoy Irving, but there are too many episodes that drag on and my favorite characters get killed off.
Until I Find You describes the growing up of Jack Burns. Like any Irving, the book is filled with people who are searching for their true identities and to come in peace with their past. Thorough research in the world of tattoos is highly readable. The story is placed in Amsterdam for some episodes, very recognizable (when you live there like me). The first part of the book is captivating, but near the end I had difficulties in reading on. The end is predictable but makes the circle round in a nice way.
Standard John Irving fare; sex, school wrestling, some Wiennamania (although less than usual), a couple of unexpected deaths. As usual, the characters become persons (although it did take four or five hundred pages).Although not as good as A prayer for Owen Meany or Garp, John Irving fans will probably enjoy this. But considering that it's rather lengthy and the story isn't that great, it doesn't make for a very good introduction to the authorship.
Forget what you¿ve heard about John Irving ¿ the man is popular, yes, but he is not really a popular novelist. He is instead a popular biographer of fictional people, and if you read three or four of his better literary efforts this is very apparent; the strength of his work comes not from the popular novelist¿s knack for finding one central dramatic occurrence around which to build a story, but a biographer¿s bent for showing how every occurrence ¿ the ones that ought to be interesting, the ones that ought to induce yawns, and best of all, the ones that ought to be kept private ¿ is a part of the single seamless drama of a life. Irving himself must have forgotten he wasn¿t a popular novelist for a while. There really is no other explanation for his last book, The Fourth Hand, which is, with barely a handful of compelling characters squeezed into its 316 pages, both literally and figuratively thin, at least by its author¿s usual lofty standards. The Fourth Hand is far from a terrible book, but it isn¿t the sort of 500 or 600 page Irving story whose fullness you can crawl down inside, spread yourself out and live within for a good long time ¿ not the way you can with, say, The World According to Garp, A Prayer for Owen Meany or A Widow For One Year. Thankfully Irving has abandoned the faster pace of The Fourth Hand and returned to the longer, fuller structure of which he is a master, and the result is the bulkiest of all his novels to date ¿ essentially the biography of fictional Hollywood actor Jack Burns¿ life without a father, Until I Find You covers nearly four decades of Burns¿ personal history, makes use of more than a half-dozen countries as settings, and tips the scales at more than 800 pages. At least one thing is certain: You won¿t be able to pan this novel for being too thin. Whether you¿ll pan it for other deficiencies, however, will likely depend on your patience for the increasingly repetitive themes and crutch details of the Irving canon. Wrestling, the early development of the careers of writers, missing fathers, dysfunctional relationships and life at elite boarding schools ¿ read the list of ingredients, and you¿d swear this was the exact recipe Irving used to cook up his masterpiece, Garp. And you¿d be right. But to his credit, in Until I Find You Irving does stir things around a bit, adding a dash of something new here and there as needed, so that, finally, the story is not ¿ as some will no doubt suggest ¿ the work of an author who after 11 books can do nothing more than repeat himself. The narrative joins Burns at the age of four. His mother, Alice, a professional tattooist, has dragged him to Europe to track down his ink-addicted, organ-playing runaway father, William Burns, an alleged womanizer whose lifelong goal is to play all of the most famous organs in the world while simultaneously covering every inch of his body in ink. Like the best biographers, Irving¿s sense of setting is impeccable, and his take on the colorful history and inhabitants ¿ primarily prostitutes, tattooists and tattoo addicts ¿ of the underground ink culture prove it. But he doesn¿t linger overlong in the overseas settings. The pursuit of William from country to country, organ to organ, tattooist to tattooist, quickly becomes more than Alice can sustain, and she returns with her son to Canada, where the boy is allowed to attend an all-girls private grade school and hone his acting skills ¿ both on the stage, and in his daily life. From the moment he begins school, Jack¿s life takes shape around a series of strange relationships with women, most of them older and in some way emotionally challenged. He¿s molested by high school girls, their mothers, his maid, a teacher, and later, by complete strangers. Although these women are generally in a position of power over him, Burns convinces himself the encounters are all his fault; he believes he takes after his father, the womanizer, and that he¿s simply fulfillin
Some of these people actually exist! I met Tattoo Ole exactly where he was in the book!
This is Irving's most autobiographical book. It is very moving. He travels with his mother who is a tatoo artist away from/towards his father whom he doesn't know... It is excellant.
The blurb on the back of this book sounded OK so I bought it. Big fat book, but most of Irving's tend to be. Unfortunately this should have been much shorter IMO - so much of it seems to repeat the same themes over and over, and whilst some scenes are comical (the doctors' conflab for example) they go on and on, like a Catherine Tate sketch, long after they have ceased to be funny. There was a story in here trying to get out and it was being smothered. Perhaps the worst bit was the middle section which had Emma in it. I swear if she had called Jack 'Baby Cakes' one more time my head would have exploded. And was it just me that found the older girls' obsession with Jack's tackle a bit icky?And don't get me started on the wrestling.Please.....no more wrestling!!
This book would have earned five stars from me if the last eighth had been deleted. Irving has a tendency to try and fit too many plot points/storylines into one work, and after you've reached the climactic moment of the book, another hundred pages are tiresome.
I found this book way too long, which was a real disappointment because I usually enjoy John Irvings stuff. It started out well, with John Burns and his mother looking for William his father. It had the usual amount of eccentric behavior from the main characters, including a tattoo artist, wrestlers and some very odd people indeed!! but about half way through it started dragging on and on with way too much sex for a little boy to see and experience and behaviour that was weird to say the least.Not one of my favourites I am afraid.
When I look at other reviews for this book I realize that, as with all authors, you either love their work or you don't. In the case with Until I Find You, Irving fans either appreciate the fact that he spent 800+ pages telling the life of Jack Burns or they felt he was being long-winded and extremely repetitive and needed a really good editor. My opinion? After reading only one other book from Mr. Irving, (The Water Method Man) I cannot really do any comparisons as to his style in this versus that. But as I read through the book, I did find it somewhat repetitive in places. But for me? I didn't find that a big problem here.And when I got to the end of the book and the story had been turned around during the final section so that there were things we had learned about characters that were completely different than what we were led to believe? Those 800+ pages were totally worth it.The child neglect and abuse were painful. There was a lot of unfair treatment to characters that was painful. But without feeling manipulated like a puppet on a string as I did when I read some of the formulaic crap writing of certain unnamed authors that I refuse to read any more (no matter how often friends or family try to force their books upon me!), I felt deeply the deaths of certain characters and the final pages, too. In the end, I will miss Jack Burns.
John Irving has a few recurring themes in his books: wrestling, bears, family, (disturbing) sex, and writers. This book could have used a bear or two instead of all the sex; there is just too much. If Until I Find You would have half the amount of sex, it would have been a slightly absurd, but wonderful story about family and forgiveness.
This story centers around Jack Burns who with his mother Alice, has been on a lifetime quest to find William, Jack's father. William left Before Jack was born ... never married Alice. Knowing that he is an ink addict, after her father gave him his first tattoo, she learns the trade herself, and visits tattoo studios across the Baltic seas in search of William. She is quite skilled and sets up her studio in many ports, looking for William. The story has hidden twists, and although Jack becomes the center fiqure, finding his father after his mother dies, I became partial to Alice. She is an intirquing character and does many unexpected things. I also like her taste in music. She blasts Bob Dylan while working, and Jack himself says: "Dylan is kind of like a tattoo ... he gets under your skin and stays with you."
I'm glad Bookclub made me read a John Irving title - it's one of those books I sometimes wanted to give up on but am glad I didn't, although very few of his characters appealed to me. His central characters, Jack Burns and his mother, are both selfish and self-centred, although Jack redeems himself with his father in the end. Won't rush to read more John Irving though, especially not if this is his 'magnum opus' as blurb suggests (I had heard of The World According to Garp but never read it).
A long long book. I had the feeling that alot of this could be left out and still make a good story. Loved the trips around Europe but the bits inbetween.... not really sure about