Until I Find You


824 pages
ISBN 0-676-97716-2
DDC 813'.54





Reviewed by Trevor S. Raymond

Trevor S. Raymond is a teacher and librarian with the Peel Board of Education and editor of Canadian Holmes.


Midway through John Irving’s often absorbing but overlong novel, the
protagonist refers to a friend’s book as “hardly an old-fashioned
novel with a complicated plot and a complex cast of characters … [but]
a psychological study of a relationship … and a dysfunctional
relationship at that.” This sprawling story, which takes place over
four decades and in several countries, fits both these descriptions. The
book is, in the best sense, an “old-fashioned” novel. So
“old-fashioned” is it that its chapters have titles, and breaks in
the narrative sometimes end with sentences such as: “Boy, were their
lives about to change.”

It is the tale of Jack Burns, born in Halifax to a tattoo-artist mother
and a father he knows only by unpleasant reputation and whom he seeks
intermittently during a life that takes him from the sleazy world of
tattoo artists and Amsterdam prostitutes to the pinnacle of Hollywood
success but never—until encounters in Edinburgh and Zurich at the
story’s end—to any peace of mind. Perhaps a promiscuous teenaged
girl he meets near the book’s end best describes him: “You seem like
a good guy, Jack—just a sad one.”

The narrative is rich in colourful characters and often grotesque
episodes, and if these incidents lack the laugh-out-loud quality that
characterizes much of Irving’s storytelling, it is because they
frequently deal with the sexual molestation of its central character,
not just from teenaged girls when he is in primary school but, before he
is 11, from a predatory woman older than his mother. Even his best
friend’s mother is “one of the thieves of Jack’s childhood” and
his sexual relationships continue to be dysfunctional and depressing
when he is an adult.

The book’s first half is overlong; several chapters detailing his
wretched early life are too much of a bad thing. The tale becomes more
engrossing, but its twin themes are consistently bleak: a person’s
life is forever damaged by a cruelly stolen childhood, and our earliest
memories may turn out to be deceits and distortions that can devastate
our adult lives.


Irving, John., “Until I Find You,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed February 21, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/16270.