This is a wonderful novel--engrossing, well-crafted, moving, humorous, and profound. Even after 630+ pages, I was sorry to come to the end of the book. To this I must add: based on some other reviews I have read, a prerequisite for reading *A Son of the Circus* evidently is development of an attention span longer than that typical of today's channel-surfing, sound-byte-seeking generation.
The plot is Byzantine and carefully-woven, but ultimately predictable in some ways. The story and its ending are not particular strengths of the novel, but are mainly vehicles for Irving's skillful neo-Dickensian depiction of contemporary India--more specifically, some of its colorfully bizarre social settings and the diverse personalities that animate these unusual environments.
Oh, the characters! I will miss them so! The endlessly fascinating personages who appear, disappear, and reappear throughout this lengthy narrative provide the very heart of Irving's masterpiece. There are so many! Particularly unforgettable are the actor John D., whose alter ego is his forever-sneering on-screen persona, Inspector Dhar; John D.'s garrulous and impulsive Jesuit missionary twin (long-lost, of course!); the crippled elephant boy, with his dreams of skywalking on the circus high wire; the staid and forever disapproving steward at the exclusive Duckworth social club, at which much of the principal action in the novel occurs; the twisted and tortured transsexual, Rahoul; and finally, at the center of this circus there is the essential straight man, Dr. Farruk Daruwalla, a childrens' orthopedic surgeon (and screenwriter) who splits his time between his native India and his adoptive home in Toronto, where he feel "always an immigrant." Complementing these unforgettable characters is a lengthy cast of dwarfs, transsexuals, prostitutes, drug dealers, drunks, drifters, and other assorted misfits and freaks. As always, Irving shows his affinity for the strange and tortured underside of human existence.
At one level, the novel is simply another of Irving's jaundiced romps through the absurd, the socially marginal, and the unspeakable, and the author's typically ironic dry wit can lull the reader into thinking this is all just a lengthy exercise in twisted humor and world-weary cynicism. But there is so much more! In the end, Irving has succeeded in creating a profound, complex, poignant, and moving portrait not only of the rich and glorious chaos that is contemporary India, but of humanity as a whole.