The second chance

The Fourth Hand

By John Irving

Irving’s awful A Son of the Circus burnt me. Although I loved several of his previous books, I steered clear for years. A one-dollar price tag on a copy of The Fourth Hand was enough to lure me back – and thank heavens it did. The novel is a triumphant study of redemption that features a cast of endearing and despicable  characters. The plot hangs together much better than those of some of Irving’s earlier works and the characters feel much more real. While critics of Irving could slate him for creating inauthentic, comical characters just to have someone to mock, he has silenced them with this book.

The story follows Patrick Wallingford, a television journalist and playboy whose hand is bitten off by a lion, an event that changes the course of his life and sets the seeds for his ultimate return to humility. Along the way we meet his hand transplant doctor, whose idiosyncrasies are well conceived and often hilarious, Wallingford’s various lovers, and the wife of his hand donor. Irving’s trademark is the creation of hyper-real situations and, while he will not disappoint fans of that here, the set-pieces in this novel are perfectly grounded and genuine. Everything is slightly ridiculous, but never once over the top – not even the sentimentality.

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