The Cider House Rules

( 151 )


First published in 1985, The Cider House Rules is John Irving's sixth novel. Set in rural Maine in the first half of this century, it tells the story of Dr. Wilbur Larch - saint and obstetrician, founder and director of the orphanage in the town of St. Cloud's, ether addict and abortionist. It is also the story of Dr. Larch's favorite orphan, Homer Wells, who is never adopted.
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First published in 1985, The Cider House Rules is John Irving's sixth novel. Set in rural Maine in the first half of this century, it tells the story of Dr. Wilbur Larch - saint and obstetrician, founder and director of the orphanage in the town of St. Cloud's, ether addict and abortionist. It is also the story of Dr. Larch's favorite orphan, Homer Wells, who is never adopted.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
It has been said before, and it shall be said 1,000 times again: John Irving is the American Dickens. Rich in characterization, epic in scope, The Cider House Rules is the heart-wrenching story of orphan Homer Wells and his guardian, Dr. Wilbur Larch. With nods of affection to both David Copperfield and Jane Eyre, Irving's novel follows Homer on his journey from innocence to experience, brilliantly depicting the boy's struggle to find his place in the world. Irving also wrote an Oscar-winning screenplay for the 1999 film adaptation of the novel that starred Michael Caine, Tobey Maguire, and Charlize Theron.
Christopher Lehmann-Haupt
The point {of the novel] which is driven home with the sledgehammer effect that John Irving usually uses -- is that there are always multiple sets of rules for a given society. . . .Actually, this is a sharper point than Mr. Irving has made in any of his previous five novels. . . .[Cider House Rules is] funny and absorbing, and it makes clever use of the plot's seeming predictability.
— The New York Times
From the Publisher

"An old-fashioned, big-hearted novel...with its epic yearning caught in the nineteenth century, somewhere between Trollope and Twain." The Boston Sunday Globe

"An example, now rare, of the courage of imaginative ardor." The New York Times Book Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345387653
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/2/1999
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 608
  • Sales rank: 571,777
  • Product dimensions: 4.13 (w) x 6.86 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

John Irving

JOHN IRVING was born in Exeter, New Hampshire, in 1942. His first novel, Setting Free the Bears, was published in 1968, when he was twenty-six. He competed as a wrestler for twenty years, and coached wrestling until he was forty-seven. Mr. Irving has been nominated for a National Book Award three times—winning once, in 1980, for his novel The World According to Garp. He received an O. Henry Award in 1981 for his short story "Interior Space." In 2000, Mr. Irving won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Cider House Rules. In 2013, he won a Lambda Literary Award for his novel In One Person. An international writer—his novels have been translated into more than thirty-five languages—John Irving lives in Toronto. His all-time best-selling novel, in every language, is A Prayer for Owen Meany. Avenue of Mysteries is his fourteenth novel.

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    1. Also Known As:
      John Wallace Blunt, Jr.
    2. Hometown:
    1. Date of Birth:
      March 2, 1942
    2. Place of Birth:
      Exeter, New Hampshire
    1. Education:
      B.A., University of New Hampshire, 1965; also studied at University of Vienna; M.F.A., Iowa Writers' Workshop, 1967

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One — The Boy Who Belonged to St. Cloud’s

In the hospital of the orphanage-the boys’ division at St. Cloud’s, Maine-two nurses were in charge of naming the new babies and checking that their little penises were healing from the obligatory circumcision. In those days (in 192_), all boys born at St. Cloud’s were circumcised because the orphanage physician had experienced some difficulty in treating uncircumcised soldiers, for this and for that, in World War I. The doctor, who was also the doctor of the boys’ division, was not a religious man; circumcision was not a rite with him-it was a strictly medical act, performed for hygienic reasons. His name was Wilbur Larch, which, except for the scent of ether that always accompanied him, reminded one of the nurses of the tough, durable wood of the coniferous tree of that name. She hated, however, the ridiculous name of Wilbur, and took offense at the silliness of combining a word like Wilbur with something as substantial as a tree.

The other nurse imagined herself to be in love with Dr. Larch, and when it was her turn to name a baby, she frequently named him John Larch, or John Wilbur (her father’s name was John), or Wilbur Walsh (her mother’s maiden name had been Walsh). Despite her love for Dr. Larch, she could not imagine Larch as anything but a last name-and when she thought of him, she did not think of trees at all. For its flexibility as a first or as a last name, she loved the name of Wilbur-and when she tired of her use of John, or was criticized by her colleague for overusing it, she could rarely come up with anything more original than a Robert Larch or aJack Wilbur (she seemed not to know that Jack was often a nickname for John).

If he had been named by this dull, love-struck nurse, he probably would have been a Larch or a Wilbur of one kind or another; and a John, a Jack, or a Robert-to make matters even duller. Because it was the other nurse’s turn, he was named Homer Wells.

The other nurse’s father was in the business of drilling wells, which was hard, harrowing, honest, precise work-to her thinking her father was composed of these qualities, which lent the word “wells” a certain deep, down-to-earth aura. “Homer” had been the name of one of her family’s umpteen cats.

This other nurse-Nurse Angela, to almost everyone-rarely repeated the names of her babies, whereas poor Nurse Edna had named three John Wilbur Juniors, and two John Larch the Thirds. Nurse Angela knew an inexhaustible number of no-nonsense nouns, which she diligently employed as last names-Maple, Fields, Stone, Hill, Knot, Day, Waters (to list a few)-and a slightly less impressive list of first names borrowed from a family history of many dead but cherished pets (Felix, Fuzzy, Smoky, Sam, Snowy, Joe, Curly, Ed and so forth).

For most of the orphans, of course, these nurse-given names were temporary. The boys’ division had a better record than the girls’ division at placing the orphans in homes when they were babies; too young ever to know the names their good nurses had given them; most of the orphans wouldn’t even remember Nurse Angela or Nurse Edna, the first women in the world to fuss over them. Dr. Larch made it a firm policy that the orphans’ adoptive families not be informed of the names the nurses gave with such zeal. The feeling at St. Cloud’s was that a child, upon leaving the orphanage, should know the thrill of a fresh start-but (especially the boys who were difficult to place and lived at St. Cloud’s the longest) it was hard for Nurse Angela and Nurse Edna, and even for Dr. Larch, not to think of their John Wilburs and John Larches (their Felix Hills, Curly Maples, Joe Knots, Smoky Waterses) as possessing their nurse-given names forever.

The reason Homer Wells kept his name was that he came back to St. Cloud’s so many times, after so many failed foster home, that the orphanage was forced to acknowledge Homer’s intention to make St. Cloud’s his home. It was not easy for anyone to accept, but Nurse Angela and Nurse Edna-and, finally, Dr. Wilbur Larch-were forced to admit that Homer Wells belonged to St. Cloud’s. The determined boy was not put up for adoption anymore.

Nurse Angela, with her love of cats and orphans, once remarked of Homer Wells that the boy must adore the name she gave him because he fought so hard not to lose it.

From the Paperback edition.

Copyright 1997 by John Irving
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Reading Group Guide

1. The rules posted on the cider house wall aren't read or understood by anyone living there except Mr. Rose, who makes -- and breaks -- his own set of rules. What point is John Irving making with the unread rules?

2. What rules, both written and unwritten, do other characters follow in the novel? Did most characters violate their own rules? Who stays the most true to his or her rules?

3. Dr. Larch makes the interesting statement that because women don't legally have the right to choose, Homer Wells does not have a moral claim in choosing not to perform abortions. Do you find Larch's argument compelling? Do you think Homer was ultimately convinced or that he needed an escape from Ocean View?

4. In order to set future events on what he believes to be the correct path, Larch alters the history of the orphanage to create a false heart murmur for Homer and changes various school transcripts to create Dr. Fuzzy Stone. What other doctoring of history does Larch do? Do you think Homer, as Dr. Fuzzy Stone, will continue the tradition?

5. St. Cloud's setting is grim, unadorned, and unhealthy, while Ocean View is healthy, wide open, and full of opportunities. In what ways do the settings of the orphanage and the orchards belie their effect on their residents? What did you make of Homer bringing the apple trees to St. Cloud's?

6. As you were reading, what did you expect Melony to do to Homer when she finally found him? Though Homer forgets about Melony for many years, do you think she had more of an impact on his future than Candy did?

7. Larch's introduction to sex comes through a prostitute and her daughter, and his introduction to abortion is given by thesame women. Sex with Melony, the picture of the pony, and abortions performed by Larch introduces Homer to the same issues, yet Homer doesn't maintain sexual abstinence as Larch does. Why do you think this is? Do you think Larch substitutes ether for sex?

8. Violence against women forms a thread throughout the novel; Melony fights off apple pickers, Grace receives constant beatings from her husband, and Rose Rose suffers incest. Does the author seem to be making a connection between violence and sex? How do the women's individual responses to violence reflect their personalities?

9. The issues of fatherhood are complex--as seen in Larch's relation-ship with Homer, and Homer's relationship with Angel -- but being a good father or good parent is stressed throughout. According to the novel, what are some of the ingredients that make a good father? Is truthfulness one of them?

10. Candy's "wait and see" philosophy contrasts with Larch's constant tinkering with the future to suit his desires. Based on his personality, is Homer better suited to waiting or to working?

11. Herb Fowler's sabotaged condoms are one example of how people and rules in Ocean View are actually the opposite of what they seem. What other examples can you recall?

12. 12. Near the end, Homer's meeting with Melony is a turning point, spurring him to reveal the truth about Angel's parentage and to return to St. Cloud's, where he can be "of use." While reading, did you want to learn more about Melony's adventures during the intervening years or less? Which character do you think drove the novel's momentum?

13. If you saw the film adaptation of The Cider House Rules, discuss the aspects of the story that you think were stronger in the novel, and the portions of the film that were especially potent. What are your feelings about film adaptations of novels in general, and about the adaptation of this novel in particular? 14. What did you find to be particularly effective or well done in Irving's writing? If you've read other Irving novels, name some of the themes that he carries over from novel to novel.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 151 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 151 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 25, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    The Cider House Rules...

    This is a heavy-hearted novel. The dreams and wishes go unfulfilled for most of the characters. The Cider House Rules takes place mostly between the 1930's and 1950's. It's about rules. It's about how society has rules for people but those rules aren't always the right rules. This is a story about Dr. Wilbur Larch, the "saint" of St. Cloud's, the head of an orphanage and an abortionist in a time when abortions are illegal. But it's even more about Homer Wells, an orphan who is never adopted and becomes a sort of son to Dr. Larch. This novel touches on some delicate issues besides abortion: incest, interracial relationships, lesbianism, child and spousal abuse and ether addiction. I really like the writing style which makes The Cider House Rules a good read. The content of the book is deep. The characters are believable and Irving provides a lot of background. I will absolutely be looking forward to reading other John Irving books in the near future!

    28 out of 33 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 18, 2009

    The Cider House Rules - A Must Read

    I loved this book, and its seemingly complex webs of human interaction and simple cause and effect.
    Cider House Rules is not for those who lazily skip lines to get to the finish quicker, or those that cringe at frank exploration of taboo subjects, for in the moments one least expects it, Irving exposes some of the most important themes in his novels.
    What I might possibly love most about Irving's writing is the manner in which he develops his story and the characters along with it. The books starts off with some knowledge about the protagonists that seems a bit insignificant, though shocking, as the middle section of the novel rolls around (there is admittedly a rather long exposition which very carefully evolves into rising action).
    Throughout the novel readers learn about different characters' complicated backgrounds, which force us to sympathize with them. It's virtually impossible to choose sides in this novel - which is one of the major facts of life the characters have to learn to live with; that there really is no black and white, right or wrong, lord or devil's work (in reference to Larch's secondary, though no less important, job at the orphanage).
    Another major theme in the novel is that no matter how much you may love someone, that's "all you can do" - you can't force them to love you back, you can't protect them - you can only love them. When I realized that this is in fact true of the world I further embraced Irving's genius at the most unsubtle and blunt manner in which he explores such a paradox.
    The third major theme, which is executed brilliantly through the use of an orphanage as the central setting, is one to do with belonging and destiny. Larch belongs at the orphanage, though he is not an orphan, and he doesn't mind. He believes that nobody should belong to an orphanage, but eventually comes to the conclusion that Homer does. Homer believes he belongs at the orphanage, until he decides he likes his life at the orchard. However, it seems that Larch (as a sort of 'god' figure) has decided on the course of history, and Larch's 'history' ends up becoming the only history.
    As I have shown, this novel explores (rather psychologically and twistedly) the roles of all sorts of people and how each character's history twines with another's.
    An exceptionally profound read, this novel is sure to knock just about anyone's socks off.

    11 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 15, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    The Cider House Rules

    The Cider House Rules satisfies those who look for a unique plot as well as those seeking intriguing characters. Since the storyline follows the fascinating lives of Dr. Larch and Homer Wells from the very beginning, the reader comes to feel as though he has known these figures his entire life. The book essentially covers three generations, accentuating the differences and similarities between fathers and sons, and providing intimate detail as to why the characters act and feel the way that they do. The book is extremely sociological in that it dissects each individual character's thoughts and feelings, relating them to the people around the character and the things the character has witnessed. Anyone who enjoys the complex interactions between people and their surroundings will appreciate The Cider House Rules. John Irving delves deeper into each character's mind than most other authors, giving the reader a special sense of sympathy and understanding for each.

    The plot of The Cider House Rules also presents several thought provoking issues. Firstly, since Homer Wells grows up in an orphanage, he is constantly searching for a place where he belongs. Many readers can relate to this plight. Also, Irving thoroughly discusses the place of sex in society. Dr. Larch is completely abstinent, and Homer must figure out the role of sex in his own life. This issue, along with those such as the morality and legality of abortion, and the effects of racism, makes The Cider House Rules an excellent piece to discuss in a group.

    The Cider House Rules provides insight into controversial issues and addresses universal topics, making it an outstanding book for mature readers. Anyone younger than 16 should probably wait to read The Cider House Rules since the content may not be appropriate for young readers. However, Irving's style of writing is not difficult to comprehend, making the book easy to read, but full of profound ideas. At the end of The Cider House Rules, readers will be eager to get their hands on another of John Irving's books.

    9 out of 15 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 27, 2004

    One of the best stories I've ever read!

    I saw the movie before I read the book. Then, when I read the book, I felt even more connected with Homer Wells. I never read anything by John Irving before, but it's definately something I could not put down! If you've seen the movie, read the book. You won't regret it!

    8 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 19, 2006

    a classic for the 20th century

    I read this novel in high school at the time when I was trying to discover 'adult books'. This book changed the way I viewed the world of adults. As a sheltered 14 yr old, I never knew such complexities existed. I was immediately drawn into the world of Homer. Irving described such rich characters that their 'voices' have stayed with me through my college years. It is a book that you never want to forget.

    5 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 12, 2006

    This the the book of a lifetime...everyone should read it

    This is both my favorite John Irving novel, and one of my favorite novels overall. This is a beautifully constructed story about relationships and love. The love in this book occurs between parents and children, lovers, colleagues, children and adults, and friends. Each element of love and each relationships's flaws and tribulations are essential elements of this story. Some people may be offended by the abortion-related themes in the book, but I found them essential to explaining the rules of society and how those rules can be stretched to accomodate choice and individual circumstances. Please read this book with an open mind and heart.

    5 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2005

    Great book i hope you have time to read it

    The Cider House Rules is a must read for any aspiring author. I have never read an author who has such a brilliant gift for exposition. By the time the exposition is over you love the characters and it hooks you for the rest of the book. I have never read a 600 page book this fast. I object to the notion many people say that this is a coming of age novel. Coming of age means 16-25 not 1-50 this is a life novel. This is a human novel and very realistic. The Characters are a mix of good and bad, all of them. This is the first book I read of Irving and I have already bought another one of his books yesterday. My only objection of the book is that it deals with abortion way to much. It did clarify however, why some people are pro-choice. Your position on that subject will be entrenched after you read it though. Overall, an excellent novel and I would recommend it to anyone. It takes you away to another time and place which is slower and more interesting which is always a good thing. If you don¿t have the time to read it don¿t pick it up or you will be hooked and totally neglect anyone around you.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 11, 2012

    BN please filter reviews no more sick stuff

    Someone needs some help with pedophilia problems

    3 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 26, 2004

    One of the greatest American novels.

    I revisited 'The Cider House Rules' recently, just before picking up another of John Irving's earlier novels, and I again recalled before I reached page 25 what it was about Irving and this novel that made me fall in love with his writing. 'The Cider House Rules' is an epic, Dickensian story, a didactic old-fashioned tale of love and loss that speaks to both the most basic human dilemmas and contentious contemporary subjects. Irving writes with an absurdist aplomb that causes me to find myself laughing when I would never expect to, and cry soon thereafter; his character Homer Wells is a delight, winsome and true. 'The Cider House Rules' is an exquisite novel, and one of the greatest achievements in American letters. I can recommend no book any higher.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 19, 2003

    Book is overated...see the movie!

    THe plot of Cider House Rules was quite random, but pulled together nicely by the author John Irving. The story takes place in a Maine orpanhage founded by Dr. Larch. Larch has to deal with the controversial issue of abortion, but after seeing women die, some of whom he could have saved, he decided the women has the right to choose. Whether they want an orphan or an abortion it is up to them. Homer, an orphan raised at ST. CLouds, leaves when he is ld enough to explore the world. He chooses a life of apple and cider making, and enjoys the simplicity of life...only having to follow the simple cider house rules nailed on the door. He soon finds out why Dr. Larch had tried to keep him at St. CLouds for so long. After problems with the girl he loves, his bestfriend, and also witnessing first hand the cruelties of life. He returns to St. Clouds no longer innocent and accepting they woman's right to choose. THe story is interesting, althought John Irving's writing style is very cluttered and he seems to talk way to much. My words of advice are, see the movie instead.

    3 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 21, 2013

    Engaging Plot Masterfully Crafted

    John Irving writes like no one else. His characters' voices have a cadence that gets in your head and you'll find yourself hearing them even after you've set the book aside. Irving is such a talented writer that he can put more into a sentence than most authors can in two paragraphs. "The coastal winds gave the brittle orchard such a shaking that the clashing trees resembled frozen soldiers in all the postures of saber-rattling, but Olive had heard so many years of this season that she never knew a war was coming." Your only regret about reading this book is that when it's over you'll know that the next book you read will never be as good. Unless, of course, you read another Irving.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 13, 2009

    Good Book!

    I give this book as a graduation gift almost every year. I got it as a gift when I graduated and have been passing it to others ever since.

    2 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 12, 2005

    Cider House Rules doesn't rule

    I read the whole book only because I wanted to give it a chance and maybe the ending would have saved everything else. There were some very good parts, but I recommand you don't read this book if: you are pregnant// you had a miscarriage or an abortion //you are eating, as many descriptions are very graphic, however accurate they may be.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 17, 2004

    Best book I have read so far

    Although I have not read too many books in my life, I thoroughly enjoyed this book by far. Irving has a wonderful imagination that he details so great. The Cider House Rules had me constantly thinking and questioning what would happen to each character. The way you are left hanging at each interval made me not want to put the book down. I will definately read another book by him if not more than that.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 15, 2002

    Boring, boring, boring.......

    John Irving has written some good books, but this wasn't one of them. Boring, no surprises, could hardly wait until it ended, so I could go on to a good book.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 16, 2012

    Be prepared for vulgarity

    This book seemed to take a long time to read. It was quite graphic in certain places and overall much too vulgur for my tastes. In my opinion, the movie was much better than the book. Even when critical points in the book were changed the movie was better because of it. Good thing this book was only two bucks or I would have been mad.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 1, 2005

    A delight!

    This book seemed never-ending, but when it was finally over I found myself wanting more after connecting with the characters and the surroundings. The only disappointing part was watching the movie after reading the book. The movie was nothing compared to the wonderful, descriptive, and heartfelt novel. It just left so much out that is imperative for a great story. If I had watched the movie beforehand I might not have even picked up the book. It was a good storyline (the film) but compared to the book it was nothing. I definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for a great story that you can really enjoy. This is the first John Irving novel I¿ve read and I¿ve heard that it is not one of his best but it definitely has me wanting more. I loved this story and I¿m excited to know that there are better works by Irving that I absolutely plan to read.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 20, 2004

    Great Book to Inspire Anyone

    The Cider House rules is an awesome book to read. It's an exciting journey that Homer Wills took. The story is a never ending journey of who one is meant to do in this world. The story can inspire those who are lost in this world, and need a guidance in their lives. I surely recommend this book to everywhere. A true blessing to have such a wonderful author with such joy to write stories!

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 3, 2004

    Maybe it's just because i've read so many of Irving's books

    The Cider House Rules was the fourth Irving book I've read, and I've realized that all of his books are very, very similar! They're all set in NH (which isn't really a surprise since Irving himself is from there), they are all coming-of-age novels about a young kid from New England who departs on a journey of self-discovery, etc, etc. I'm sure that if this was my first Irving book I would have given it 5 stars, but I'm sorry to say that John Irving's books have lost their novelty. The story was also pretty unrealistic (keeping a secret for 15 years? Homer retaining all that medical information after everything he had been through?). So far, it was the least enjoyable Irving novel I've encountered.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 12, 2004

    awesome book read it

    I loved the book the whole time I was reading it. Like some books I read I get bored in reading them when it is in the middle of the book, but this book The Cider House Rules I did not get bored at all. This was the most interesting and funniest book I have ever read in my life! With that I would tell you that The Cider House Rules is a great book to read if you wanted to read a book it keeps you in the book the whole time you read it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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