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Diary

John Bayley: On V.S. Pritchett, the Man of Letters, 30 January 1992

... of assuming an audience ‘both universal and homogeneous’. The pamphlet was quoted recently by John Gross in an afterword to a new edition of his book The Rise and Fall of the Man of Letters.* Gross assumed a combative stance, calling his piece ‘the man of letters in a closed shop’, and speaking of the ‘cold horror’ that filled him when he ...

Tropical Storms

Blake Morrison, 6 September 1984

Poems of Science 
edited by John Heath-Stubbs and Phillips Salman.
Penguin, 328 pp., £4.95, June 1984, 0 14 042317 6
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The Kingfisher 
by Amy Clampitt.
Faber, 92 pp., £4, April 1984, 0 571 13269 3
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The Ice Factory 
by Philip Gross.
Faber, 62 pp., £3.95, June 1984, 0 571 13217 0
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Venus and the Rain 
by Medbh McGuckian.
Oxford, 57 pp., £4.50, June 1984, 0 19 211962 1
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Saying hello at the station 
by Selima Hill.
Chatto, 48 pp., £2.95, June 1984, 0 7011 2788 0
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Dreaming Frankenstein and Collected Poems 
by Liz Lochhead.
Polygon, 159 pp., £2.95, May 1984, 0 904919 80 3
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News for Babylon: The Chatto Book of West Indian-British Poetry 
edited by James Berry.
Chatto, 212 pp., £4.95, June 1984, 9780701127978
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Human Rites: Selected Poems 1970-1982 
by E.A. Markham.
Anvil, 127 pp., £7.95, May 1984, 0 85646 112 1
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Midsummer 
by Derek Walcott.
Faber, 79 pp., £3.95, July 1984, 0 571 13180 8
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... verse (from Anon on the structure of the cosmos – ‘as appel the eorthe is round’ – to John Updike on cosmic gall), is therefore fighting a lost battle. The editors make out a brave case for the similarity of poet and scientist (‘the starting-point for both of their activities is the imagination’), dispute old distinctions between ...

Short Cuts

Rosemary Hill: What Writers Wear, 27 July 2017

... what she is.’ Sartre, wearing a suit on the beach at Copacabana, looks dreary beside her. John Updike in his dull dad jumper feels like a token inclusion, Hunter S. Thompson naturally stands out. His Hawaiian shirts and safari suits became so recognisable that Gary Trudeau turned him into the demonic Uncle Duke of Doonsbury, much to Thompson’s ...

Keep talking

Julian Loose, 26 March 1992

Vox 
by Nicholson Baker.
Granta, 172 pp., £14.99, March 1992, 0 14 014232 0
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... up in Rochester, Upstate New York (coincidentally the birthplace of another sui generis writer, John Ashbery). Abandoning an early ambition to become a composer, he graduated from Haverford College, and then worked for a year on Wall Street. Attracted by ‘the prosperous-seeming world of books’, he had short stories and ‘quasi-philosophical ...

Bad Character

Andrew O’Hagan: Saul Bellow, 21 May 2015

The Life of Saul Bellow: To Fame and Fortune, 1915-64 
by Zachary Leader.
Cape, 812 pp., £35, May 2015, 978 0 224 08467 3
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... application, always tied, seldom happily, to a university department, and agonising over a book. John Updike, who had a modest two wives and wrote 63 books, was, in a way, worldlier and more comfortable, finding nests at the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books that he never left. These writers are dead now, and the only thing that can be said ...

Larceny

Adam Mars-Jones, 24 March 1994

The Fermata 
by Nicholson Baker.
Chatto, 305 pp., £14.99, January 1994, 0 7011 5999 5
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... this sickly interlude U and I was a return to form. The book explored Baker’s relationship with John Updike, as writerly model, father figure to be challenged, and occasional sharer of the same physical space (the two men’s passing encounters couldn’t be said to constitute even acquaintance). U and I reduced ...

Water Music

Allon White, 2 September 1982

Oh what a paradise it seems 
by John Cheever.
Cape, 99 pp., £5.50, July 1982, 0 224 02930 4
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Collected Short Stories 
by John Cheever.
Penguin, 704 pp., £4.95, March 1982, 0 14 005575 4
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So long a Letter 
by Mariama Bâ, translated by Modupé Bodé-Thomas.
Virago, £5.50, August 1982, 0 86068 295 1
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A joke goes a long way in the country 
by Alannah Hopkin.
Hamish Hamilton, 157 pp., £7.95, July 1982, 0 241 10798 9
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... One time in four, and usually to everyone’s surprise, John Cheever’s heroes spring a wry and furtive victory over disappointment. Cheever is irresistible in describing those delicious moments of triumph when a dogged loser suddenly strikes a home run – like Farragut’s escape from the penitentiary at the end of Falconer ...

Porno Swagger

Edmund Gordon: ‘Cleanness’, 16 April 2020

Cleanness 
by Garth Greenwell.
Picador, 223 pp., £14.99, April, 978 0 374 12458 8
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... In​ U&I (1991), his book about John Updike, Nicholson Baker imagines explaining the appeal of Alan Hollinghurst’s The Swimming-Pool Library to his literary hero. ‘You know, once you get used to the initially kind of disgusting level of homosexual sex, which quickly becomes really interesting as a kind of ethnography, you realise that this is really one of the best first novels to come along in years and years!’ But Updike couldn’t get used to the sex ...

Underparts

Nicholas Spice, 6 November 1986

Roger’s Version 
by John Updike.
Deutsch, 316 pp., £9.95, October 1986, 0 233 97988 3
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The Voyeur 
by Alberto Moravia, translated by Tim Parks.
Secker, 186 pp., £9.95, October 1986, 0 436 28721 8
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Dvorak in Love 
by Josef Skvorecky, translated by Paul Wilson.
Chatto, 322 pp., £10.95, September 1986, 0 7011 2994 8
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Moments of Reprieve 
by Primo Levi, translated by Ruth Feldman.
Joseph, 172 pp., £9.95, October 1986, 0 7181 2726 9
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... Readers of John Updike’s previous novel, The Witches of Eastwick, will not have forgotten Darryl Van Horne’s bottom: how, at the end of a game of tennis, Darryl dropped his shorts and thrust his hairy rump into his partner’s face, demanding that she kiss it, which she did. In Roger’s Version the roles are reversed ...

Thinking about Death

Michael Wood: Why does the world exist?, 21 March 2013

Why Does the World Exist? An Existential Detective Story 
by Jim Holt.
Profile, 307 pp., £12.99, June 2012, 978 1 84668 244 5
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... Adolf Grünbaum in Pittsburgh, to Richard Swinburne in Oxford, to David Deutsch in Headington, to John Leslie in Canada, to Derek Parfit, again in Oxford. He meets Roger Penrose in New York, has phone conversations with Steven Weinberg and John Updike. These conversations become a way of evoking possibilities as much ...

Nutmegged

Frank Kermode: The War against Cliché: Essays and Reviews 1971-2000 by Martin Amis., 10 May 2001

The War against Cliché: Essays and Reviews 1971-2000 
by Martin Amis.
Cape, 506 pp., £20, April 2001, 0 224 05059 1
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... its texture, its clichés. Over the years Amis has done a lot of virtuous wincing over clichés. John Fowles is a prominent target: ‘He managed a wan smile’; ‘God, you’re so naive.’ No expensive talk about Descartes, Marivaux, Lemprière and Aristophanes can procure a pardon for that sort of thing. Other reviewers may commend Thomas Harris for ...

Insiderish

Colm Tóibín, 26 May 1994

Profane Friendship 
by Harold Brodkey.
Cape, 387 pp., £15.99, April 1994, 0 224 03775 7
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... the grain of what became fashionable in American fiction, he shares with Raymond Carver and John Updike and others the feeling that homo erectus americanus, the life of any American male, its slow detail, is of intrinsic interest. His novel, when it appeared in 1991, was both praised and sneered at. His florid style and his long sentences and his ...

The Snowman cometh

Elaine Showalter: Margaret Atwood, 24 July 2003

Oryx and Crake 
by Margaret Atwood.
Bloomsbury, 378 pp., £16.99, May 2003, 0 7475 6259 8
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... and an action-movie plot. Atwood has never written a novel from a male point of view before, and John Updike was among the reviewers who complained that the men in The Blind Assassin* were mysterious and unlovable. Rather, she is known for her chronicles of women’s victimisation and resistance, and her use of first-person narrative to explore female ...

A Turn for the Woowoo

Theo Tait: David Mitchell, 4 December 2014

The Bone Clocks 
by David Mitchell.
Sceptre, 595 pp., £20, September 2014, 978 0 340 92160 9
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... is harder to create, and more easily destroyed, than Mitchell seems to realise. The result is what John Updike called a ‘million dollar penny dreadful’, a work that is admirable only if you think that ambition and vitality trump every other literary ...
Leaving a Doll’s House: A Memoir 
by Claire Bloom.
Virago, 288 pp., £16.99, October 1996, 1 86049 146 4
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... attempts to mollify Bloom for having cruelly depicted her in his novel Deception; the review by John Updike of Operation Shylock that drives Roth to commit himself to a psychiatric hospital, suffering from a nervous breakdown; the arsenal of psychotropics (Lithium, Halcion, Xanax, Valium, Prozac) used to calm the couple’s respective nervous systems ...

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