Book Review: A Widow For One Year – John Irving

A Widow for One Year
About A Widow For One Year (1998)
A Widow for One YearMarion Cole, a thirty-nine-year-old woman — and a faithful wife for twenty-two years — has an affair with a sixteen-year-old boy; she then leaves her philandering husband. And also abandons her four-year-old daughter, Ruth.

By the age of thirty-six, Ruth Cole has become an internationally acclaimed novelist. But she is an angry, impulsive, often self-contradictory, unmarried woman whose personal life is not nearly as successful as her literary career, and she distrusts her judgement in men, for good reason. Five years later, at forty-one, Ruth Cole is a widow and a mother. Ruth’s child is the same age Ruth was when her mother left her. Now Ruth is about to fall in love for the first time.

A Widow for One Year is a multilayered love story of astonishing emotional force. Both richly comic and erotic, it is also a brilliant novel about the passage of time and the relentlessness of grief.

Amazon US Amazon UK B&N Goodreads

Review: A Widow For One Year

I had never read a John Irving novel until earlier this year when the one who is always right, Mrs B, handed me a copy of “The World According To Garp.” Mrs B once told me my style of writing reminded her of Irving so I was understandably intrigued to try one of his books. I found Garp a stunning read with its mixture of comedy and tragedy shared by a group of memorable characters. In facing “A Widow For One Year” my hope was that the magic of Garp would remain.

The novel is divided into three parts covering the years 1958, 1990 and 1995 with the central character being the steadfast novelist, Ruth Cole. Ruth is only four in the first part and the focus of the story is mostly on an affair between Ruth’s mother, Marion, and a 16 year old student, Eddie O’Hare, who is working for Ruth’s father, Ted, throughout the summer. The first part ends with Marion’s sudden departure, the conclusion of Eddie’s summer job and Ruth being left in the care of her father Ted, a once renowned children’s author who is now more interested in sketching sordid images of the countless women he indulges in affairs with and casts aside without a second thought.

In the second part Ruth is a famous writer promoting her third novel. While the shadow of her mother’s departure still hangs over her, Ruth remains an independent but cautious woman who has little faith in men. Amongst the key events in this second part is a reunion for Ruth with Eddie O’Hare and a visit to Amsterdam that helps shape Ruth’s fourth novel but leaves a lasting impact on her. The third and final part sees Ruth having taken a chance with a man and been left a widow and single mother. In trying to put her life back together Ruth finds love waiting for her in the most unexpected of places.

As with Garp, Irving once again displays the quality of making us smile before lining up unforgettable tragedy. In the first part, the Cole household on Long Island is haunted by the images of Ted and Marion’s dead sons, Thomas and Timothy, the brothers Ruth has never met and has only ever known through photographs. Irving’s later revelation of how the brothers were killed is a chilling chapter with striking imagery as Ted Cole finally tells Ruth the story about her siblings while she is behind the wheel of a car and focussed on the road ahead. It’s the most powerful moment of the book for me.

I found the first part the most enjoyable for the bulk of the laughs could be found here, particularly Ted Cole having to run through a series of gardens to escape a mistress he has rejected and wished he hadn’t. As adults Ruth and Eddie are moving slowly forward with their lives but always being held back by the past. Ruth anticipates her mother’s return at significant events in her life and always feels the void whenever this doesn’t occur, while Eddie, now also a novelist, remains in love with Marion after more than three decades. The final part is the shortest and weakest of the three for me as Irving brings all the main characters together but somehow it feels a bit rushed. Had the book been longer, particularly in part three, I don’t think it would have been any less enjoyable though what’s there is still brilliant.

“A Widow For One Year” has maintained my faith in John Irving. There are some great characters with the majority reflecting the stranglehold the past can have on us no matter how many years have passed. Many of the book’s images – Thomas and Timothy’s pictures, Ruth’s drive with Ted, the Red Room in Amsterdam, Eddie O’Hare’s everlasting love for Marion – stayed with me after reading the last page. Though not as good as Garp I would still mention “A Widow For One Year” in the same breath.

Verdict: 5/5

(Book source: reviewer’s own copy)

Follow Dave

Dave Brown

I was born in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, England and have always been a bookworm and enjoyed creative writing at school. In 1999 I created the Elencheran Chronicles and have been writing ever since. My first novel, Fezariu's Epiphany, was published in May 2011. When not writing I'm a lover of films, games, books and blogging. I live in Barnsley, with my wife, Donna, and our six cats - Kain, Razz, Buggles, Charlie, Bilbo and Frodo.
Follow Dave
Pin It

Leave a Comment