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14 June 2012

I Was Ready to Fall in Love by John Irving Clarke

I Was Ready to Fall in Love by John Irving Clarke was, to me, a most surprising read.

This collection of short stories, all linked by education – through either institution or experience – was also a delight.

After I’d read the fourth story, Peaches and Cream, I’d decided that was my favourite.  But as I continued, my choice changed with each story read.

The journey through adolescence to adulthood is often a bitter-sweet passage.  In Peaches and Cream, youths feared they would be ‘forever bound to the rock of virginity’.  How many teenagers have believed the same?

There’s so much to this charming collection that I adored – and I’m not over-egging my praise.  The author has created characters that are so ordinary, they become extraordinary.

Steve, in On the Trail of the Phoenix, is just a teenager with a girlfriend.  But the author brilliantly uses an exploration of DH Lawrence’s work to carry the character towards a different world, escaping from a ‘conflict of adolescence and social expectation’.

But this isn’t a book for teenagers about teenagers.  It’s about life, that journey – of hopes and regrets.  Whilst all the main characters are mostly men or boys, the girls and women were still essential to the success of each story.

Have you ever read a book in which the ending comes as a total surprise?  This is only the second for me.  The first is irrelevant to this review – but after I finished the final story, I Was Ready to Fall in Love, I actually said those immortal words – ‘I never saw that coming’.

This was, as I’ve already written, a surprise and delight to read.  If you made me get off the fence and pick my favourite?  I still couldn’t do it.