Thursday, January 29, 2009

John Updike is dead

And literature is the poorer. The English novelist William Boyd writes:
I can vividly remember my first encounter with Updike's work. When I was 17 I bought a paperback at Heathrow airport of his fifth novel, Couples, in 1969 - no doubt for prurient late-adolescent reasons - thinking it would while away an hour or two of a long overnight flight to Nigeria. I had almost finished it when we touched down in Lagos at dawn the next day. It was one of those rapt, never-to-be-forgotten encounters with literature. I was amazed and enthralled, thinking that this man, this novelist, understood human nature and its nuances and complexities like no other. A window had been opened on the adult world that I was about to enter and I decided there could be no better chronicler.
So the love affair began, and I started reading Updike: I went back to the early novels and the collections of short stories, I bought his poetry collections and read my way through the oeuvre until I reached Couples again.
No doubt during that passage of time Updike had published another two or three novels and if there is one aspect of the era of my ardent fandom that I remember it was that sensation of never quite catching up. I read everything that he published until I finally ran out of breath at his 1986 novel Roger's Version. Updike had won - forever after I trailed in his hyperproductive wake, picking and choosing.
Everyone has their favourite Updike. For me, there are two: the short-story sequence about the disintegration of a marriage, published under various titles but which I had as Your Lover Just Called, and the novel Boyd cites, Roger’s Version. It has a brilliant three-page explication of (I forget which) science theory, but what was striking was that it was not only accurate, it was dramatic – that is, it drew you in to the characters. I have never read anything like it.


Anonymous said...

I haven't fallen in love with all of Updike's work, though i do enjoy his candid writing style; his passing is a sad loss indeed

Chris Bell said...

I loved Selfconsciousness Memoirs because it is both painfully honest - notably the sequences about his adolescence and ailments - and unputdownable, but I found only sentence-length nuggets of brilliance in both Rabbit Run and Couples, which I've only read recently. Perhaps, like me, they have not aged well.