Book Review – In One Person

In One Person by John Irving (Doubleday) ISBN: 97808575220975

‘You’re not like anyone else, Billy – that’s what’s the matter with you.’ Nobody is like anyone else, yet somehow we are more comfortable putting people into boxes and questioning, if not condemning, those that don’t fit. In In One Person, John Irving throws boxes of gender and sexual identity wide open and introduces bisexual Billy.

In the late 1950s Billy spends his formative years at a boys’ school where pupils are warned against ‘unwelcome attractions to other boys’ Billy develops crushes on ‘the wrong people’, including a librarian and a bully who both are not as sexually straightforward as they portray. Through school plays his stepfather teaches him that ‘gender mattered a whole lot less to Shakespeare than it seems to matter to us’.

Though he’ll always be the one having to explain himself, he chooses to embrace his polymorphous identity. This connects him closely to that awful decade, when more Americans died of AIDS than were killed in Vietnam as Irving pointedly reminds us. Throughout his life the school community continues to play a role and ultimately he returns under different circumstances.

This is vintage John Irving; pleading tolerance in a wonderfully rich story filled with familiar landmarks, lovable characters and their idiosyncrasies and provocative opinions and ideas. I’ve read it twice already!

Josine Overdevest 

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Posted on: 13th September 2012