Grand masquerade

In One Person, by John Irving, Atlantic RRP£20, 400 pages

At the centre of John Irving’s new novel is Billy Abbott, a writer in his late sixties. By turns introspective and jocular, he tells the story of his life – from his childhood in New England and struggle with “the confusing aspects” of his bisexuality, to his successful career as a novelist and his belated turn to political activism.

Throughout, he draws parallels between art and desire, associating his nascent literary ambitions with adolescent “crushes on the wrong people” (such as a local transsexual wrestler with perky breasts). The message of his story is that human sexuality is a grand “masquerade” all the better for its colourful variety.

In the end, all this amounts to the sort of big-hearted celebration of difference that Irving has long been known for. But he has rarely written with the gorgeous poise and control he musters here – and in any case, as one of Billy’s own admirers puts it, “pleas for tolerance never grow tiresome”.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved. You may share using our article tools. Please don't cut articles from and redistribute by email or post to the web.