Book Review: A Widow for One Year by John Irving

  • Review: A Widow for One Year
  • Series: —
  • Author: John Irving
  • No of Pages: 576
  • Release Date: June 1, 2004


Book Review: Widow for a Year by John Irving

Marion Cole, a thirty-nine-year-old woman — and a faithful wife for twenty-two years — has an affair with a sixteen-year-old boy; she then leaves her philandering husband. And also abandons her four-year-old daughter, Ruth.

By the age of thirty-six, Ruth Cole has become an internationally acclaimed novelist. But she is an angry, impulsive, often self-contradictory, unmarried woman whose personal life is not nearly as successful as her literary career, and she distrusts her judgement in men, for good reason. Five years later, at forty-one, Ruth Cole is a widow and a mother. Ruth’s child is the same age Ruth was when her mother left her. Now Ruth is about to fall in love for the first time.

A Widow for One Year is a multilayered love story of astonishing emotional force. Both richly comic and erotic, it is also a brilliant novel about the passage of time and the relentlessness of grief. — Goodreads


What’s happening:

We meet Ruth Cole when she is still four years old. She has a good life, lives with an attentive father, a mother who is sorta out of sorts but nothing Ruth is too worried about at four and for the summer when she’s four, a man named Eddie. Now this story isn’t about Eddie, it’s about Ruth and her life after her mother has an affair with Eddie, who is only 16 while Marion is 37, and then decides to leave Ruth to her father, Ted Cole. Marion up and leaves Eddie as well not giving him any word to where she’s going, her love struck teenager. Eddie tries to make things easy on Ruth who is upset that her mother isn’t home but she is more upset about the pictures.

The pictures were their lives. Pictures of two boys in various stages of their lives. Ruth could tell you exactly what was happening in each photograph even though the boys had been dead for years, in fact Ruth didn’t even know them. But the pictures, and more importantly the boys’ deaths ruled all of their lives for years after her mother left them.

My thoughts:

My very first book club book! And I’m super excited because honestly I may never have picked this one up. I enjoyed it quite a bit and although I do like John Irving’s eccentric style of writing I’ll have to read another of his books to see if I’m a new fan or not. So far though, so good.

A Widow for One Year was an interesting story. And I’m not saying that in a ok, that was weird kind of way. It was good, really good. Kind of convoluted at times but still overall John Irving was able to bring every aspect of the book together at the end. And there were a LOT of different ends to tie up.

I enjoyed Ruth’s relationship with Eddie. Actually, I really liked all of the characters, even the abused and really messed up Marion. She helped the book move along even though she wasn’t really a part of it for 95 percent! Everyone’s lives were still centered around her even with her gone. In each important event Ruth waits to see if her mother will show up, waits to know if her mother will ever explain why. Until one day when Ruth understands because of something terrible that happens to Ruth. Death is the changer of everyone and we can not judge how one person or the other will grieve. But that is not all this book is about, it’s about finding love in the most difficult of times and really being able to lay it all on the table with that person. It’s an amazing thing that can never be replaced no matter how each character in this novel tried.

Although this was a long read and a bit slow at times I do recommend it. It’s a bit of a mystery, a bit of romance and a bit of fun!


  1. […] A Widow for One Year by John Irving […]

  2. Funny, I JUST posted a blog, a tribute to John Irving and his boldness and the political issues he covers (e.g. women’s and LGBTQ right, rape, racism, etc.) I’d LOVE for you to check it out!

    –Love and Liberation–

    Jan @ TheRewildWest

  3. Finally got a chance to read your whole review/thoughts on the book. I like what you had to say. I don’t remember the book TOO well, but i LOVE the scene where the gardener is hanging upside down breathing the exhaust fumes from the nearby car, that was really funny. And one of the last scenes, maybe the last scene, when ______ returns (don’t want to spoil for people who haven’t read it)….it’s just so beautiful, Eddie, how he never stopped. You know what I’m hinting at 😉 It was so strange and sweet.

    1. It really was interesting! The poor gardener!!! I would have been ticked but he was so gracious. The end was my favorite part. I’m a big crier for stuff like this and I was balling! But John Irving did it so perfectly. There could be no other ending for this book. Ever. Period. Can’t say that about many books out there! But yes, now is the hunt for the next one from him. I’m not entirely sure which to pick up and it seems that you love them all! That’s a good sign. 😀

      1. I’ll be honest with you, I don’t LOVE them all, some I don’t even like very much, one I couldn’t even finish. I started his newest, In One Person, a couple days ago, so this’ll be my 14the Irving book read! I could tell you the ones you’ll definitely want to stay away from as an early Irving reader, or you could just take my top 3 recs and see which one sounds most interesting…lemme know, I’m happy to give advice, especially when it comes to my favorite novelist! 😉

      2. Let’s try top three! I’m always willing to dive right in so… And besides reading new (to me anyhow) authors always makes me feel like I’m being invited into a secret club! It’s John Irving Club Time!

      3. Sounds fun! I’ll play. Top 3 recs for a reader new to Irving, of course in my (not-so-)humble opinion:

        1) Hotel New Hampshire
        2) World Acc. to Garp
        3) Cider House Rules


  4. Although I have to reiterate that, as I said in my post, Cider House Rules is his most important book. BUT it’s not as accessible to a newer Irving fan–a little more dense, a little slower-moving than those other two.

    1. I will see which I can get first! 😀

      Thank you so much. He is an intense but very interesting writer. I’m really looking forward to reading more from him.

      1. It gets waaaaaay more intense than Widow For One Year. That’s tame compared to Garp, Until I Find You (also brilliant), Hotel NH, Owen Meany, Cider House…

      2. I can deal with intense 😀 Widow for One Year didn’t even phase me. Although I really wanted Ruth to get up and kick some serious behind. I’m going to hit my library this weekend and see what I can come up with. Worst case scenario I may be able to order a book or two and see which comes in first!

      3. I’m happy and excited for you. Being a new John Irving reader is a beautiful thing!

  5. […] A Widow for One Year by John Irving (Review) […]

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