The first time of my reading A Prayer For Owen Meany was in, I would guess, 1990. Much of it – the end in particular – had stuck in my mind during the intervening quarter of a century or so. In some ways this is not so surprising: John Irving often, apparently, comes up with a dramatic end for a book and then works out how to get to that point, and the final tableau of Owen Meany is, as these things go, pretty unforgettable. Also, most of Irving’s books contain some common themes – a lot of New England, a few wild coincidences, helpings of family history and some passing tragedy, to name but four, which means it would be possible to mix up incidental detail from, say, The Cider House Rules, and be virtually none the wiser. Anyway, to go back to the beginning of this novel: Owen Meany, a physically stunted boy in 1950s America whose voice is so fractured that his speech is rendered in CAPITAL LETTERS throughout the book, accidentally kills his best friend (John Wheelwright)’s mother in a just-about plausible accident involving a baseball and from then knows his life has been chosen by God to perform some predestined service or other. During a turn as the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come in an amateur production of A Christmas Carol, he is convinced he sees his own name and date of death on Scrooge’s gravestone. He has a dream about the heroic way he is going to die. No-one believes him. I had completely forgotten some key details: the inventive and gruesome way in which Owen ensures John (the story’s narrator) will avoid the Vietnam draft, the identity of John’s father – and, to be honest, what an irritating prig John is. But then John does lose his mother when he is a boy, has a very odd best friend who speaks in CAPITALS and he also remains a virgin for the rest of his life. Still, don’t get stuck in a lift with the man: he would probably start banging on about Iran-Contra (after all, he is narrating in 1987). But oh, that dream and that gravestone: Owen is right, of course. It’s devastating, uplifting stuff.