Thursday, August 03, 2006

John Updike

There has been a remarkable - and remarkably favourable - response to my Sunday Times article defending John Updike from the critics of Terrorist, his latest novel (See Selected Articles). Some of these responses are added as comments to this post. What is striking is the strength of the feelings. Happily, Updike does not seem to need the critics, he has the audience he deserves.


  1. Just read your peice on Updike in the Sunday Times, and I couldn't agree more. I haven't read Terrorist yet, but of course I will. In the same way that I will certainly read a new Philip Roth, Bellow (until there were no more of course), and certain others.
    I wanted to say 'amen' to your judgement of those three as the greats of American writing - as much as I adore Vidal, even I know that he is not in the running for Greatest Living American novelist (I'd plump for Roth, but it's a fine line): and also I am delighted with your robst rejection of the objections to Updike.Your are absolutely right about his brilliance with detail and exactness, and also about his range and scale.

  2. enjoyed immensely your article on Updike this weekend but for one omission ? Mailer didn?t make it into your top 3. He seems to be out of favour generally (?) - what do you think is denying him serious consideration when it comes to the greatest writers of English over the last 100 years?

  3. You're right, you must calm down. John Updike would be the first to
    tell you that any insult should be judged by the quality of its source.
    Remember that a critic, in any of the arts, is someone who would like to
    think he can - sitting in judgement of some one who does.
    Bless you, Sue Rodger, fan...of both of you

  4. i don't actually like Updike that much (as a renegade & thug, i'm more a Cormac McCarthy man), but your essay was fantastic! i love the paragraph about Proust, Nabokov & beauty. Good, old school literary criticism. Brightened my morning, sir.

  5. Thank you so much for your robust and muscular defense of John Updike in last Sunday?s Culture. He is a very great writer in my humble opinion, my favourite anyway, his Rabbit tetralogy being one of the great works of modern fiction.

    I?ve read a number of the novels of your friend Ian McEwan and am currently reading ?Saturday?. I think ?Atonement?, which I read about two years ago, is a masterpiece. In 100 years time people will still be rhapsodizing about it. At the end of that novel I felt shattered and stayed shattered for weeks.

  6. An excellent article. This is by far the best Updike novel I have read, the psycological insight of "Terrorist" is extraordinary and so rare in current literature. Your article provides an insight into how pretentious and full of themselves US literary critics have become.

  7. Wow, that is an astounding article, and very true.

    We really need someone of authority to describe the world around us.....

    ...sort of someone to hold up a mirror, and perhaps the critics don't always like what they see in that mirror.

    Terrorist has been on the Top-Ten LA Times bestseller list for over 4 weeks now.

    Peace, Maxine

  8. I just happened upon this blog reviewing the critical folderol aimed at John Updike's Terrorist. Having read absolutely everything of Mr. Updike's and had the great fortune to meet the man in person twice, it's fair to say I'm something of a fan. Obviously, then, I detest such paltry efforts of criticism and couldn't agree with your defence more. Often it seems critical reviews take little account to the body of work representative of a great author. Some would argue that it is their job to dissect that soul particular piece of work under review and that is all. I'd disagree. If, as a reviewer/critic, your intention is to critically assault the author on one piece of work then you're bound to come a cropper somewhere along the line. This isn't to suggest that plaudits should be rained down regardless upon those with heavy reputation either; it's simply understanding a piece of work in the context of everything else that has been written by that author. Would that be possible with someone like Updike, Roth, Mailer, Bellow? - no, basically. Impossible. What I think happens in this instance with certain authors entering their final phase, so to speak - and what leads critics to have a snipe and stab - is they're measuring a 'fall off' that may suggest dulling of the shine that brilliance and ability has long held true to. Bellow's Ravelstein would be indicative of this 'slowing' if that's the right way to put it, that in comparison to other work, well, it's not even worth comparing. He did say at the age of 80 he was still going flat out, but doing 20 mile per hour. David Foster Wallace's attack on what he called the 'Great Male Narcissists' of Roth, Mailer, and Updike is further evidence of what happens, I believe, when older writers find themselves judged in contemporary terms both by critics and other writers. Wallace's attack sums up what he believes to be the problem: 'There are, of course, some obvious explanations, for part of this dislike - jealousy, iconoclasm, PC backlash, and the fact that many of our parents revere Updike and its easy to revile what your parents revere. But I think the deep reason so many of my generation dislike the GMNs has to do with these writers radical self-absorption, and with their uncritical celebration of this self-absorption both in themselves and their characters. He goes on and on with the occasional doff of the hat to Updike 'beautiful prose'. What Wallace, and some critics fail to appreciate, is the absolute impact this so-called self-absorption amounts to and what accounts for such a large readership. It is self-absorption that comes very close to each of us in the way that tells how who we really are in a particular point of history.

  9. John Updike é o Balzac da classe média americana