Monday 28 March 2011

A prayer for John Wheelwright

In the summer of 1996 I packed a few books for holiday, including one that I was perhaps half way through reading; A Prayer for Owen Meany. I remember finishing The Remains of The Day, a book as disturbing as it was sad, even more so than the film. I know I read a few others, perhaps another John Irving, but I can’t remember why I stopped Owen Meany as it was terrific, perhaps I thought it too good to waste on the sun? Whatever the reason, the book remained in the suitcase and wasn’t removed until I returned home – where it was placed on a bookshelf to gather dust.

Last week I decided to pick up where I left off 15 years ago. Actually, since it was that long ago I decided to recap from the beginning and I’m glad that I did. I found myself laughing at the same places as before; Owen’s part in the nativity play had me in tears, and how many books have managed that? More surprising was my reaction to John Wheelwright, the narrator of a story told in extended flashback. As is usual for this style, we are more interested in the story than the ‘present day’ interludes but this time around I am struck by another thought; the older John Wheelwright is so tiresome!

The narrator’s target is Reagan, but since there’s been quite a few since then I can’t help wondering; is there a Republican president that the Democrats haven’t wanted to impeach? This is possibly a little unfair because the Republicans are more than capable of dishing it out; from laughable suggestions that Obama is a communist to impeaching Clinton, who to be fair did lie under oath, but I guess it wasn’t a big lie or it was the kind of lie that’s OK.

But I digress, I’m curious that it should bother me more now, when my own political views are, shall we say, less strident than before. Was it because in ’96 there had been 17 years of a Conservative government, and one felt obliged to listen to an alternative voice? Or was it because I was still in my twenties (just), where I could relate to an earnest attitude, albeit one in danger of tipping over into boorish behaviour. Or am I just as tiresome?

I think I am still reeling from Ed Miliband’s nonsense on the weekend, and as a result perhaps a little less predisposed towards our storyteller. And it’s a good story, I’ve almost caught up to the part where Owen helps John avoid the draft, it will be all new from there on in. Of course it’s Owen I really want to hear about, but I wonder about John too. What calamity waits, what event transpires allowing me to bridge this gap? I suppose that means I care, and I hope we can be friends; what greater achievement than to make a friend with whom you disagree.


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