Thursday, 5 November 2009

The Cider House Rules - John Irving

The Cider House Rules (1985) by John Irving has been on my TBR list for some time. I loved the movie of the same name, but admit to having watched it several years ago in a half-asleep state; my memory of the details meant that I was almost reading this novel as if encountering the story for the first time. Perhaps it's just as well; the film has many differences from the original novel.

Described as an epic novel, The Cider House Rules is truly an old-fashioned, big-hearted tale and a champion for storytelling. Abortion is the key theme here; Dr Wilbur Larch has committed his life to doing "the Lord's work", which he argues also encompasses "the Devil's work" and cannot be separated. His orphanage at St Cloud's serves dual purposes, but either way the women enter pregnant and secretly leave soon after, sans baby. In Maine during the first half of the twentieth century, this is how things were done.

Dr Larch surrounds himself with insufferable staff in the form of Nurse Angela, Nurse Edna, and Mrs Grogan, who looks after the girls' dormitory. Their ongoing devotion to the orphans and Dr Larch himself is admirable. It is agreed that Homer Wells, the orphan who never manages to stay adopted for very long, "belongs" to St Cloud's and will inevitably continue to return. The story moves in parallel between the orphanage and Homer's new life at Ocean View Orchard. The elaborate tale is peppered with humour, sadness, and the richness that the mixture of such a diverse range of characters brings, even those who are distinctly not likable.

Literature weaves a thread throughout the novel, with ongoing references to Jane Eyre, Great Expectations, and David Copperfield. Dr Larch is also credited with coining one of my favourite phrases from a book or movie: "Goodnight, you princes of Maine. You kings of New England."

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