autobiography. but neither is The Imaginary

Girlfriend a macho sports hero book in the Hemingway genre. with emotion and intimacy sacrificed to bald facts about wrestlers‘ weights. match scores and the like. Irving chronicles close friendships with pivotal coaches like Ted

Seabrooke and CliffGallagher. He also writes of

literary friendships with big guns like Kurt Vonnegut. who once prophesised: ‘I think capitalism is going to treat you okay’; and Robertson Davies. who Irving’s youngest son once mistook for God. His love of Charles Dickens and Graham Greene appears to sit happily with his passion for the art of wrestling.

Throughout the book. however. is a palpable sense of dismay and a muffled realisation of the

inevitable ageing and death of so many of

Irving‘s mentors. ‘I think that is true.‘ he acknowledges. ‘Perhaps it was a residue for

‘I have always said that it I ever did write a book about me it would only be an eighth of the length of any of my novels. Since I have dedicated myself to these two disciplines of wrestling and writing, I haven’t really had time to have an expansive life.’

feeling sorry for myself after the injury. l did

have that sudden rude awakening. or feeling of

fragility. in being completely unprepared for how nasty the healing process was . . . ' He hesitates before adding: ‘Certainly. when you think of writing a memoir. you‘ve already started thinking about age.‘

Irving confesses he is in no hurry to repeat this act of remembering. ‘I didn’t like the mood it put me in.‘ he says. ‘The combination of nostalgia and morbidity I found quite unpleasant. I didn’t have the same enthusiasm for it when I went to work in the morning compared to when I write a novel. The act of IN—VENTION [he stresses each syllable with enthusiasm] is so much more stimulating than the act of remembering which has smaller rewards and offers less gratification.’

The pleasure Irving derives from his two-hour daily workouts clearly supplements other less stimulating aspects of life. His wrestling room. packed with ropes. wrestling mats. weights and more than 3()() photographs capturing his sons‘ wrestling achievements. is only 25ft from his Vermont office. ‘lt is the one place I can go when the object is not to think about anything.’ he says. ‘Ifl wake up at 5am and can‘t get back to sleep. then I‘ll start thinking about a sentence I’ve written earlier. If there‘s a lull in a conversation I’ll do the same thing. but the great thing about working out is that you get tired and have to push yourself so hard there's no room to concentrate on anything else. I find it very restorative.’

With his tendon now fully healed. Irving is back to work on a new novel. ‘It might be called A Widow For One Year or it might not.‘ he ponders. Meanwhile. the wrestling mat is getting a pounding from none other than Irving’s four-year-old son Everett. ‘Yeah. he likes to come in and roll around.’ chuckles Irving. ‘But I‘d be kind of relieved if he didn’t take it up.’

Perhaps the time has finally come for the wrestler to hang up his vest and take a well- deserved breather.

The Imaginary Girlfriend by John Irving is published by Bloomsbury at £9. 99.

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Winnlng formula: John Irving now (top); wlth son Brendan



-- "Us :5 .

In 1985 (left) and galnlng the upper hand In 151.

The List 8-21 Mar 199613