Until I Find You by John Irving
Today on The Tattooed Book I review Until I Find You by John Irving, an award-winning American author and ex-professional wrestler who’s published fourteen novels including The World According to Garp and A Prayer for Owen Meany. His novel Cider House Rules was adapted into a film of the same name featuring Michael Caine, for which Irving won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. Until I Find You came to my attention while I was looking for novels with themes around tattoos.
Jack Burns’ earliest memories are of the fall of 1968 and the journey he took across Europe with his mother to hunt down his estranged father. His mother, Alice was a tattooist and his father had left her after she became pregnant. Tracking him through his hobbies as an organist and tattoo collector, Alice managed to track Jack’s father, William, from country to country.
Alice was the daughter of a famous tattooist and she had no problem finding work in some of the more reputable tattoo studios of the time, but even when she couldn’t find a studio she would work from whatever hotel room they could afford. From city to city, as he learnt more about his father, Jack becomes more aware of the shame that comes from being his father’s son. William always left his most recent employment under a black cloud, a woman, sometimes multiple women and even girls, damaged in his wake. Churches where he played the organ wouldn’t utter the man’s name, they certainly couldn’t bear to see the younger version of him in Jack.
From a very young age, Jack is told he is handsome, that he will break hearts and he must be careful not to become a monster like his father. The warnings are no use, as the people around his automatically tarnish him with the same brush. As he starts to get older and nudge towards puberty his mother starts to distance herself from him, leaving him feeling alone in the world. Leaving him vulnerable to the women he has been warned not to hurt.
Until I Find You is a brick of a novel at an incredible 960 pages long. I know this can be offputting and a bit overwhelming but I can assure you, this is a novel that is more than worth your time. Invest your time and this novel repays you with a deep and detailed insight into the life of a fascinating character that truly gets under your skin.
Jack’s tattooist mother, Alice is a brilliantly unpredictable character of two halves. Just when you think you understand what drives her, secrets are revealed that cause you to see her in an entirely new light. Jack, on the other hand, continues to be vulnerable and childlike into his adult years as a famous actor. Older women dominate his life, taking advantage of him when his is young and still controlling him as an adult. Irving’s portrayal of strong, powerful women truly stands out in Until I Find You. Where, in most modern novels, it would be young women that are written with wonder and admiration, it’s the women in their fifties and sixties that are portrayed as truly beautiful, admirable creatures. It makes for a wonderfully refreshing change.
Until I Find You by John Irving is a stunning novel, brimming with secrets and lies and the impact they have on a man throughout his life. This is the first novel I’ve read from John Irving but I can guarantee it won’t be the last. Until I Find You isn’t a novel I simply enjoyed but one I adored and admired. The way John Irving has written characters of such incredible depth and with such tenderness is awe inspiring. I wouldn’t even know how to begin creating such fully rounded characters and putting them to paper. By the end of this book, you’ll have followed Jack through decades and when you turn the final page, it’s like you’re saying goodbye to a good friend. There’s no better way to describe it other than a loss.
Until I Find You has become one of my favourite novels of all time. Raw, evocative and completely absorbing this book will stay with you for life.
If you like the sound of this then you’ll love The Electric Michelangelo by Sarah Hall