Book Review: Avenue of Mysteries / John Irving


“…unique humour and even farcical comedy.”
“…a thought and emotion provoking opus.”
“…a classic on its own.”

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In Irving’s hands, reminiscences of a middle-aged author’s early life with a backdrop of poverty, Jesuit Catholicism and a circus full of tragedy, make the unlikely and improbable become wholly believable.  The incidents of crisis are often infused with Irving’s unique humour and even farcical comedy.

While trying to keep a hopeless 40 year old promise to a draft-dodging hippy during an eventful trip to the Philippines, Juan Diego examines his early inauspicious life. As a 14 year old, he lived in a shack next to a garbage dump in Mexico, with his mind-reading and sometimes clairvoyant sister whom only he could understand.

Under the dubious guardianship of someone who may or may not be their father, his sister has developed her own sacrificing rituals for the unique Faith she has evolved but refuses to accept a predestined fate for her brother. Thanks to his sister’s self-sacrificing manipulation of events, Juan is rescued by a would-be priest who finds his own identity with the help of a cross-dressing gay clubber.

Avenue of Mysteries is a thought and emotion provoking opus. Once again using an author as the protagonist, Irving revisits the Vietnam War, AIDS, and changing attitudes marking the last half century. Religious and philosophical quandaries sprinkled with classic literary quotes, mark this, Irving’s 14th book in the last 48 years, as a classic on its own.

E. L. Simon