"My dear boy, please don't put a label on me - don't
make me a category before you get to know
John Irving's new novel is a glorious ode to sexual difference, a
poignant story of a life that no reader will be able to forget, a
book that no one else could have written.
Told with the panache and assurance of a master storyteller,
In One Person takes the reader along a
dizzying path: from a private school in Vermont in the 1950s to the
gay bars of Madrid's Chueca district, from the Vienna State Opera
to the wrestling mat at the New York Athletic Club. It takes in the
ways that cross-dressing passes from one generation to the next in
a family, the trouble with amateur performances of Ibsen, and what
happens if you fall in love at first sight while reading
Madame Bovary on a troop transport ship,
in the middle of an Atlantic storm. For the sheer pleasure of the
tale, there is no writer alive as entertaining and enthralling as
John Irving at his best.
But this is also a heartfelt, intimate book about one
person, a novelist named William Francis Dean. By his side as he
tells his own story, we follow Billy on a fifty-year journey toward
himself, meeting some uniquely unconventional
characters along the way. For all his long and short relationships
with both men and women, Billy remains somehow alone, never quite
able to fit into society's neat categories. And as Billy searches
for the truth about himself, In One Person
grows into an unforgettable call for compassion in a world
marked by failures of love and failures of understanding.
Utterly contemporary and topical in its themes, In One
Person is one of John Irving's most political
novels. It is a book that grapples with the mysteries of identity
and the multiple tragedies of the AIDS epidemic, a book about
everything that has changed in our sexual life over the last fifty
years and everything that still needs to. It's also one of Irving's
most sincere and human novels, a book imbued on every page with a
spirit of openness that expands and challenges the reader's
A brand new story in a grand old tradition, In One
Person stands out as one of John Irving's finest
works - and as such, one of the best and most important American
books of the last four decades.
The World According to Garp, which won the
National Book Award in 1980, was John Irving's fourth novel and his
first international bestseller; it also became a George Roy Hill
film. Tony Richardson wrote and directed the adaptation for the
screen of The Hotel New Hampshire (1984). Irving's
novels are now translated into 35 languages, and he has had nine
international bestsellers. Worldwide, the Irving novel most often
called "an American classic" is A Prayer for Owen
Meany (1989), the portrayal of an enduring
friendship at a time when the Vietnam War had its most divisive
effect on the United States.
In 1992, John Irving was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall
of Fame in Stillwater, Oklahoma. (He competed as a wrestler for 20
years, until he was 34, and coached the sport until he was 47.) In
2000, Irving won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for
The Cider House Rules, a Lasse Hallström film that
earned seven Academy Award nominations. Tod Williams wrote and
directed The Door in the Floor, the 2004 film
adapted from Irving's ninth novel, A Widow for One
In One Person is John Irving's 13th
1. "Goodness me, what makes a man?" asks Miss Frost. What makes
a man, or a woman, in In One Person? Discuss, with
reference to as many characters as possible.
2. What are some of the different meanings of the title
In One Person?
3. "All children learn to speak in codes." What are some of the
codes people speak in in the book, and how well do the characters
4. What does John Irving's choice of epigraph to the novel tell
5. What is the importance of other works of literature -
Madame Bovary, Giovanni's Room or
The Tempest, for example - in this novel? What
kind of reading list is it?
6. Who is your favourite character in the novel, and why?
7. Compare and contrast In One Person with
other recent works on related themes: you could look at
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, or the movie
Hedwig and the Angry Inch, or The Crying
Game, for example. What do all these works have in common,
and how do they differ? What are they addressing in our society and
in our time?
8. "You're a solo pilot, aren't you, Bill… You're cruising solo
- no copilot has any clout with you," Larry Upton tells Billy. Is
this a fair assessment?
9. In what ways is In One Person a book about
10. Plays are important to In One Person. What
do the performances of Shakespeare and Ibsen add to the book? What
other kinds of acting and performance are highlighted in the novel,
11. Sex is notoriously hard to write well about - there's even a
"Bad Sex Award" in Britain for the worst example that comes to
light each year. How does John Irving get around the pitfalls of
writing about sex?
12. Billy tells us that writers are people who make up stories,
and at times he forgets details of his own story. Do you trust him,
as a narrator? Why, or why not?
13. "My sexual awakening also marked the fitful birth of my
imagination." What are the links between creativity (specifically
writing) and sex in In One Person?
14. Why do so many characters in In One Person
have difficulty pronouncing strange, foreign or important
15. Do you find this a shocking book? What in particular is
challenging or disturbing about it? What is John Irving trying to
make his readers confront?
16. As a novel, what does In One Person
contribute to society's ongoing debates about sexuality,
gender and identity?
17. How do you feel at the end of the book?
18. Will you recommend In One Person
to your friends? Why, or why not?