'A different kind of truth' : fictionality in the novels of John Irving
Critical responses to John Irving's fiction have generally adhered to the well-rehearsed
notion that there is an unbridgeable divide between certain literary forms and traditions.
The oppositional thinking that has tended to dominate twentieth-century literary
criticism has consequently produced a distorted and rigidly binaristic view of Irving, as
either realist or postmodemist, populist or experimentalist.
This thesis sets out to establish a more complex language or framework for discussing
Irving's work, which, rather than erasing or ignoring those features that appear
anomalous when placed within the narrow parameters of a single literary tradition, is
more able to accommodate and analyze the tensions and contradictions that arise
through the juxtaposition and interaction of multiple literary codes.
In particular, this approach is designed to facilitate a more complex and fluid
exploration of the deployment of metafictional strategies in Irving's novels, as I argue
that his work demonstrates the acute interest in the issue of fictionality that is
characteristic of metafictional writing, without either rupturing the reader/writer contract
or rejecting the referential function of literary fiction. Irving's work thus both explores
and reasserts the capacity of narrative fiction to convey different kinds of truth.