Editorial: In praise of ... John Updike

Editorial: In short stories as well as novels he made familiar the melancholy, sometimes the terror, of ordinary lives

Oddly, many British readers will think of the death of John Updike as a loss to English Literature. In part it was his unabashed literariness, his connoisseur's taste for style, evidenced by his easy brilliance as a reviewer. His sentences seemed old world. American contemporaries sought to break the bounds of the Novel, he was content with beautifully-made suburban realism.

In short stories as well as novels he made familiar the melancholy, sometimes the terror, of ordinary lives. He was a chronicler of specifically American discontents too. His four Rabbit novels, narrating the misdeeds and the good fortune of a suburban American male over three decades, constitute a small national epic.

His novels featuring the moderately successful writer Henry Bech turn an American author's life into a living illustration of human vanities. He was admirable for being prolific, willing to risk a failed experiment or two, without worrying unduly what that might do to his literary reputation. His formal conservatism, his attachment to psychological observation and stylistic grace, allowed him a special audacity.

In one respect Updike was unlike most British novelists: he wrote well and vividly about sex. Notoriously, his novel Couples, published in 1968, introduced readers to an ordinary bourgeois world where infidelity and sexual obsession seemed the norm. The content made it a succès de scandale, but what has made it last is something more unusual, which characterises his writing: the elegance of his sentences.

Editorial

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Jeet Heer: John Updike was a great writer who ranks alongside Melville, Hemingway and Fitzgerald

Jeet Heer: The best of Updike's fiction was autobiographical, so it's hard for his readers not to take his death personally

Jeet Heer

28, Jan, 2009 @4:00 AM

Article image
Updike remembered

Xan Brooks: John Updike leaves behind novels, short stories, criticism and drama – and, in Harry 'Rabbit' Angstrom, one of the richest, fullest creations in American 20th-century fiction

Xan Brooks

27, Jan, 2009 @8:18 PM

In praise of ... John Berger | Editorial

Editorial: Berger still holds to the humane, generous values set down in Ways of Seeing

Editorial

19, Jun, 2009 @11:01 PM

Article image
Author John Updike dies
Pulitzer prize-winning novelist dies from lung cancer aged 76

Helen Pidd

27, Jan, 2009 @7:13 PM

Article image
Obituary: American author John Updike

Obituary: Acclaimed writer with an unerring feel for the poetry of ordinary American life

Eric Homberger

27, Jan, 2009 @7:55 PM

In praise of ... Joseph O'Neill's Netherland | Editorial

Editorial: Mr Obama's selection of Joseph O'Neill's latest book is politically astute for a number of reasons

Editorial

07, Jun, 2009 @11:01 PM

Article image
A brief survey of the short story: John Updike
The longevity and prodigal output of this ‘conspicuously autobiographical writer’ give his complete works the shape of an entire life

Chris Power

19, Feb, 2015 @3:03 PM

John Updike: extract from Rabbit, Run

Boys are playing basketball around a telephone pole with a backboard bolted to it. Legs, shouts. The scrape and snap of Keds on loose alley pebbles seems to catapult their voices high into the moist March air blue above the wires

27, Jan, 2009 @7:19 PM

In praise of … Self-consciousness | Editorial
Editorial: The judges were never going to garland some high modernist yarn about madness and the first world war

Editorial

17, Oct, 2012 @10:12 PM

More Matter by John Updike

Another year, another John Updike. The man is indefatigable, inescapable. A new novel, Gertrude and Claudius, is due shortly, and his 50th book, More Matter, appeared in time for Christmas. Although, as Peter Walker pointed out in the Financial Times, Santa would have needed quite a large sack.

05, Jan, 2000 @4:15 PM