Avenue of Mysteries
By John Irving
Simon & Schuster, Hardcover, 9781451664164, November 2015, 480pp.
The Short of It:
A whirling, and at times totally surreal look at memory and how it shapes who we are.
The Rest of It:
This was a very strange story! I know some of Irving’s books are a little strange but it took me many chapters to wrap my brain around these characters and what was going on with them. That said, I am not even sure I understood exactly what was going on until the very, very end. But, I will attempt to share my feelings about it here.
Juan Diego and his sister Lupe are “dump kids” and live in a Mexican orphanage. Juan Diego is a bright kid but much of his waking hours are spent translating for Lupe because Lupe speaks a language that no one understands, except for Juan Diego. Plus, Lupe can read minds. Many times she spouts off about what is happening leaving Juan Diego “in the know” but unable to really let others know that he is “in the know” because much of what Lupe says is inappropriate in nature.
The story alternates between Juan Diego’s “dump kid” days and the present day, where he is a writer on a trip to the Philippines. In the present day, he meets a mother / daughter duo at the airport and they sort of set the stage for what’s to come. They are very mysterious and nothing they do really makes any sense but Juan Diego is strung out on Viagra and Beta Blockers so as a reader you never really know what’s real and what’s not. Plus, memory plays such a large role in this novel. He spends much of his trip remembering his sister and his dump kid days.
I had a really hard time with Lupe. Her dialogue is all one-sided, since no one but Juan Diego can understand her but she has this wild, crude side to her that makes her very animal-like. She’s an interesting character but not one that I could really figure out or relate to.
Juan Diego was more likable, but he too was a bit of a mystery with his bag of drugs at the ready. And the strange mother / daughter duo of Miriam and Dorothy who, in my opinion, provided some much-needed comedy to the mix seemed to come and go without explanation. At the end of the book, you learn why. Juan Diego is really a very tortured soul. His story is very sad at times.
A lot of people will pick this book up and give up on it. It’s REALLY hard to get into and I considered putting it down more than once. I mean, it took me weeks to read it and it wasn’t until the 50% mark on my Kindle that I really began to understand it and yes… like it. So, if you are reading it now, then keep reading it and if you haven’t picked it up yet because of the mixed reviews, give it a shot but don’t hold it up against his other books or you will be disappointed.
Source: Sent to me by the publisher.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.
11 thoughts on “Review: Avenue of Mysteries”
I love John Irving, so I’m really looking forward to this one. Its on my Christmas wish list – fingers crossed I get a copy. Glad you enjoyed it!
By the by, I downloaded the Bryson book, too. Should be a fun read 🙂
It took me over a month to read this one as well for the same reasons. I totally forgot to mention, Miriam and Dorothy in my review and I liked what they added to the story LOL
I was excited about this book at first and now can’t decide if I should give it a shot or not.
It’s not your thing.
Glad you’ve been persistent. A good example of not giving up at midpoint, or earlier.
I’m sure it helped that I am familiar with Irving’s work. Had this been a new author I probably would have given up on it. I am glad I stuck with it, though.
I hadn’t even heard of this one, but I don’t think I’ll start reading Irving here.
I actually like it when you have to work for it, so to speak 🙂 I wanted to ask about the vulgarity factor… I came across this review on Audible in which a woman was calling it pornography and filth? It was kind of shocking, to tell you the truth…
Love the review, of course ❤ I'm not sure I'll be able to get to it by the end of the year, but I will read it for sure.
You know that scene in the Exorcist where Linda Blair’s character starts spewing out expletives? Remember how crude that sounded coming out of a child’s mouth? That is how Lupe is in this book. She is not all there and what comes out of her mouth are crude observations of what people are thinking. Yes, maybe the circus guy has eyes for all of the female acrobats in the book but she doesn’t explain it that way.
There is no pornography but there is sex and one character is as loud as can be and I thought that part was hysterical. There is a lot of it but Juan Diego is always in a drug induced haze so there are never really any details. I can see how the book can offend people though. The crudeness didn’t seem necessary to the story at all.
On Tue, Dec 15, 2015 at 11:27 PM, Book Chatter wrote:
Hmm. I think I might pass on this book. There’s too much good to read that I haven’t. I never did go to the Author Talk & Signing with Irving b/c it was in a traffic chaos part of town and was $25 for each person and it was at 7 on a weeknight when my world is winding down. So regrettably I didn’t go, but I have heard him on radio interviews for his new book and he’s pretty cool to listen to.
It was a really strange read. I am still thinking about some of it.
On Sun, Dec 20, 2015 at 1:36 PM, Book Chatter wrote: