03 Jan 2023

An “Incredible Amount of Horribly Described Sex”’

, ,

Jenny Colgan reviews John Irving’s latest in the world-edition Spectator.

Some time ago I was a guest at a book festival in France where we were invited to dinner in the town hall with local dignitaries. I was asked if I liked asparagus. I do, I said, thinking of delicious green spears. Good, said the woman in charge, as it was the asparagus season. I was then presented with an enormous plate of leek-sized white asparagus with a tiny dab of hollandaise on the side, and then expected to eat my way through essentially a fibrous albino python as the dignitaries looked on expectantly. It was a long evening.

I mention this because that’s basically what the experience of reading this book is like. A fellow reviewer demurred and said, no, it’s more akin to dragging your broken leg down a mountain, à la Touching the Void.

Oddly enough, I was recently re-reading Proust, and in the course of some endless and interminable rhapsodic descriptions of French food, I found myself marveling over his expression of preference for great big, thick asparagus. The large version, in my experience, is always woody or soggy. We avoid it and seek out the young, small shoots. The French are weird, and John Irving is a terrible author.

4 Feedbacks on "An “Incredible Amount of Horribly Described Sex”’"

Hairless Joe

According to my brother, who traveled to Germany frequently on business, white asparagus is very popular there. (I think of it as “blind cave asparagus” and avoid it in favor of the fresh green kind, quickly sauteed in garlic butter.)

Like asparagus’ albino cousin, it seems that John Irving has spent a long time in the dark, haunted by the ghosts of John Updike and Philip Roth. It has not improved him and at this point any exposure to sunshine might well be fatal.


Spargel, or white asparagus, is grown under sheets. The tender young shoots are harvested in May. They are expensive, and they are delicious, and they are only available fresh for two or three weeks per year. The canned stuff is not nearly as good.

I’ve no idea how the French abuse the poor things. The Germans know to fry them in butter and serve them with schnitzel.


Yes. Thank you. I agree completely. About white asparagus, and the works of John Updike.

basket random

The information is very special, I will have to follow you.


Please Leave a Comment!

Please note: Comments may be moderated. It may take a while for them to show on the page.

Entries (RSS)
Comments (RSS)
Feed Shark