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Scenes in the Sack

Michael Wood, 11 March 1993

Memories of the Ford Administration 
by John Updike.
Hamish Hamilton, 371 pp., £15.99, March 1993, 0 241 13386 6
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... Everyone remembers what they were doing when John Kennedy was killed, but no one even asks what you were doing when Gerald Ford was President. The wonderfully comic, deviously historical premise of John Updike’s new novel is that someone asks. The someone is the plausible-sounding Northern New England Association of American Historians, and the person asked is one Alfred L ...

Dis-Grace

Frank Kermode, 21 March 1996

In the Beauty of the Lilies 
by John Updike.
Hamish Hamilton, 512 pp., £16, April 1996, 0 241 13653 9
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... It seems safe to infer from his now majestically large oeuvre that John Updike’s ultimate ambition is to get the whole of America, its geography as well as its history, the fluctuations of its spiritual as well as of its material wellbeing, into his books. The contribution of the four Rabbit volumes to the realisation of this plan (one volume per decade since 1960) is easily recognised, but many other novels, though less clearly devoted to the annotation of historical change, have a similar purpose ...

Here comes Amy

Christopher Reid, 17 April 1986

What the light was like 
by Amy Clampitt.
Faber, 110 pp., £4, February 1986, 0 571 13814 4
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Facing Nature 
by John Updike.
Deutsch, 110 pp., £9.95, January 1986, 0 233 97798 8
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Nero 
by Jeremy Reed.
Cape, 128 pp., £4.95, November 1985, 0 224 02346 2
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V. 
by Tony Harrison.
Bloodaxe, 36 pp., £8.95, December 1985, 0 906427 98 3
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Dramatic Verse: 1973-1985 
by Tony Harrison.
Bloodaxe, 448 pp., £20, December 1985, 0 906427 81 9
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Sky Ray Lolly 
by Fiona Pitt-Kethley.
Chatto, 64 pp., £3.95, April 1986, 0 7011 3046 6
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The Tower of Glass 
by Fiona Pitt-Kethley.
Mariscat, £3, September 1985, 0 946588 07 4
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Making cocoa for Kingsley Amis 
by Wendy Cope.
Faber, 65 pp., £7.95, March 1986, 0 571 13977 9
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... the sequence of eight poems that appear under the collective title of ‘Voyages: A Homage to John Keats’. The ambition here, to anatomise the development of Keats’s imagination at a crucial period of his life, is admirable in itself, but for all Clampitt’s brisk command of her source material, the project never comes to life in such a way as to ...

Short Cuts

Thomas Jones: Blurbs and puffs, 20 July 2006

... of Jonathan Franzen and Ian McEwan. Wow. McEwan’s name has become something of a hallmark: even John Updike can’t have a novel published in London without its being stamped on the cover (‘“The finest novelist writing in English today” Ian McEwan’ it says at the top of the British edition of Terrorist, due in August from Hamish ...

Mr Down-by-the-Levee

Thomas Jones: Updike’s Terrorist, 7 September 2006

Terrorist 
by John Updike.
Hamish Hamilton, 310 pp., £17.99, August 2006, 0 241 14351 9
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... two men, or rather this boy and this man, Ahmad Ashmawy Mulloy and Jack Levy, are at the centre of John Updike’s new novel. There can’t be many readers who will begin Terrorist without wondering what Updike – white, Protestant, 74 – thinks he is doing, presuming to be able to inhabit the consciousness of a ...

Ever so comfy

James Wood, 24 March 1994

Collected Poems 1953-1993 
by John Updike.
Hamish Hamilton, 387 pp., £20, October 1993, 0 241 00167 6
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Dante’s Drum-Kit 
by Douglas Dunn.
Faber, 145 pp., £6.99, November 1993, 0 571 17055 2
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Old Men and Comets 
by D.J. Enright.
Oxford, 64 pp., £6.99, November 1994, 0 19 283176 3
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Plato’s Ladder 
by Stephen Romer.
Oxford, 79 pp., £6.99, November 1992, 0 19 282986 6
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The Country at My Shoulder 
by Moniza Alvi.
Oxford, 56 pp., £6.99, September 1993, 0 19 283125 9
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British Subjects 
by Fred D’Aguiar.
Bloodaxe, 64 pp., £5.95, July 1993, 1 85224 248 5
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Night Photograph 
by Lavinia Greenlaw.
Faber, 54 pp., £5.99, October 1993, 0 571 16894 9
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Nil Nil 
by Don Paterson.
Faber, 53 pp., £5.99, April 1993, 0 571 16808 6
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Out of Danger 
by James Fenton.
Penguin, 103 pp., £7.50, December 1993, 0 14 058719 5
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... Every handful of John Updike’s silver has its square coin, its bad penny, its fake. This exquisitely careful writer tends to relax into flamboyance: it is the verbal equivalent of ostentatious tipping. Floating in his air of serene bestowal, the generous author throws his words at anyone who will have them ...

Lincoln, Illinois

William Fiennes, 6 March 1997

All the Days and Nights: The Collected Stories 
by William Maxwell.
Harvill, 415 pp., £10.99, January 1997, 1 86046 308 8
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So Long, See You Tomorrow 
by William Maxwell.
Harvill, 135 pp., £8.99, January 1997, 9781860463075
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... forty years, as a fiction editor on the New Yorker, he advised and goaded Nabokov, Eudora Welty, John Cheever and John Updike. Now, at nearly ninety, Maxwell’s face has a prairie gauntness, as if hollowed out by exposure to those bracing talents. But in Britain his name is almost unknown. He was born in 1908 in ...

Plummeting Deep into Cold Pop

Zachary Leader: Colson Whitehead, 13 December 2001

John Henry Days 
by Colson Whitehead.
Fourth Estate, 389 pp., £12, June 2001, 1 84115 569 1
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... Whitehead is black and comparisons were made to Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison and Ishmael Reed. John Updike has called him ‘blithely gifted’, ‘the young African-American writer to watch’. Whitehead’s new novel, John Henry Days, is longer and more ambitious than The Intuitionist, and the suggestion in its ...

Short is sharp

John Sutherland, 3 February 1983

Firebird 2 
edited by T.J. Binding.
Penguin, 284 pp., £2.95, January 1983, 0 14 006337 4
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Bech is Back 
by John Updike.
Deutsch, 195 pp., £6.95, January 1983, 0 233 97512 8
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The Pangs of Love 
by Jane Gardam.
Hamish Hamilton, 156 pp., £7.50, February 1983, 0 241 10942 6
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The Man Who Sold Prayers 
by Margaret Creal.
Dent, 198 pp., £7.95, January 1983, 9780460045926
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Happy as a Dead Cat 
by Jill Miller.
Women’s Press, 120 pp., £2.50, January 1983, 9780704338982
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... is no page-turner, as Bech would say. But the various episodes are, in themselves, very funny. Updike provides a hilariously sour account of the travails of middling, and superlative, American literary success. In his partial eclipse, Bech ‘supported himself by appearing at colleges. There, he was hauled from the creative writing class to the faculty ...

Dying Cultures

Graham Hough, 3 July 1980

Problems 
by John Updike.
Deutsch, 260 pp., £5.95, May 1980, 0 233 97227 7
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The City Builder 
by George Konrad.
Sidgwick, 184 pp., £5.95, June 1980, 0 15 118009 1
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The Peach Groves 
by Barbara Hanrahan.
Chatto, 228 pp., £4.95, May 1980, 0 7011 2490 3
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Other People’s Worlds 
by William Trevor.
Bodley Head, 243 pp., £5.95, June 1980, 0 370 30312 1
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... This is John Updike’s first collection of stories for seven years. There must have been problems, he says, to account for such a long delay. His preface glances ruefully at some of them – social and political disquiets between 1971 and 1978; but, in fact, the stories hardly move into the public domain. One of them is actually called ‘Problems’, and is cast in the form of exam questions ...
John Cheever: The Journals 
Cape, 399 pp., £16.99, November 1991, 0 224 03244 5Show More
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... on lavatory walls. This seems to be the message of ‘Mene, Mene, Tekel, Up-harsin’, one of John Cheever’s loopy, luminescent, triumphant later stories. The narrator, returning to America after a long absence, enters a stall in the men’s room at Grand Central Station, and there, etched into the marble partition (‘it might have been a giallo ...

Cucurbits

John Sturrock, 3 July 1980

Nature and Language 
by Ralf Norrman and Jon Haarberg.
Routledge, 232 pp., £10, May 1980, 0 7100 0453 2
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... space. The sources are astonishingly various, but some authorities recur: Browning, Tennyson and John Updike would probably rank highest here on any cucurbit-count. I shall not question the charm or the exhaustiveness of Norrman and Haarberg’s research – though some at least of their quotations have been wrongly transcribed. What I do now turn to ...
Twenty Thousand Streets under the Sky 
by Patrick Hamilton.
Hogarth, 528 pp., £4.95, June 1987, 0 7012 0751 5
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Trust Me 
by John Updike.
Deutsch, 249 pp., £9.95, September 1987, 0 394 55833 2
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Her Story: A Novel 
by Dan Jacobson.
Deutsch, 142 pp., £8.95, August 1987, 0 233 98116 0
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... she ends up in her old job as barmaid at the Midnight Bell. It is instructive to compare John Updike’s literary persona with that of Hamilton, for in many ways they have almost exactly the same kind of talents. Both are experts in the area where social comedy abuts on the most precise instinct for what a society is like, and what details and ...

Mid-Century Male

Christopher Glazek: Edmund White, 19 July 2012

Jack Holmes and His Friend 
by Edmund White.
Bloomsbury, 390 pp., £18.99, January 2012, 978 1 4088 0579 4
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... and Chekhov’. By this point, White was trying to get a deal to write a book of criticism on John Barth, Robert Coover, Rudolph Wurlitzer and Donald Barthelme. The proposal was rejected. Though ‘crushed at the time’, White was later glad, because metafiction ‘no longer intrigues’ him ‘or anyone else’. It’s ‘the sort of storytelling,’ he ...

Updike’s Innocence

Craig Raine, 25 January 1990

Just Looking: Essays on Art 
by John Updike.
Deutsch, 210 pp., £19.95, November 1989, 0 233 98501 8
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... intelligent writer’s long career. They are not the innocent reports they seem to be. Witness Updike’s comment that Sargent derives from ‘the darting, flippant brushwork of Frans Hals’. On the other hand, neither are they as knowledgeable as, as in their casual way, they half take for granted. Sometimes, too, they are not even the accurate reports ...

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