Wednesday, January 28, 2009

John Updike

Martin Amis has written an interesting piece on John Updike in the Guardian today. I love this first paragraph particularly because it gets across the energy of the man, but also how he must have been impossible ever to really pin down:

He said he had four studies in his house so we can imagine him writing a poem in one of his studies before breakfast, then in the next study writing a hundred pages of a novel, then in the afternoon he writes a long and brilliant essay for the New Yorker, and then in the fourth study he blurts out a couple of poems. John Updike must have been possessed of a purer energy than any writer since DH Lawrence.

I often talk about the conversations we can have with other writers - friends or strangers, dead or alive. Amis does it too later in his article:

With great stylists an innovators, you learn after a while not to be influenced - what such a writer is is an inspiration. Several times a day you turn to him, as you will now to his ghost, and say to yourself, 'How would Updike have done it?'.

And Larry Dark of the Story Prize has a great piece too. He quotes another dialogue, but this time in an extract by John Updike he published which was a conversation between Updike's Oppositional Other (O.O.) and Self. As Dark says, 'The gist of it was that O.O. felt Self was being, well, self-indulgent.'

I am weary of Self-Consciousness. What I have written here discomfits me; it is indiscreet and yet inaccurate, a greedy squandering of life's minute-by-minute savings, a careless provisional raid upon the abyss of being. Fiction, which does not pretend to be true, is much truer. This stuff is embarrassing. The reviewers will jump all over it. I think I'll save myself a peck of trouble and not publish.
Self: Oh, go ahead. It was written, after all, only by Updike; it has nothing to do with me.

And, in my opinion, one of the best meetings with Updike is that written by Nicholson Baker in his book, U & I. Except it's not really Baker talking to Updike, it's more one side of Baker getting out of the way so U and I can have the conversation, and I'm not sure they ever met. Hmmm.... read it and see.


Megan said...

It's very sad.
I'm currently reading the fascinating journal of Joyce Carol Oates, and last night before hearing the news, happened to read her impressions of Updike from 1976 - 'Gentle, sly, clever, witty, charming, immensely attractive'
Sorely missed.

Sarah Salway said...

Ooo, I will have to look that up, Megan. Am also a fan of Joyce Carol Oates.

Megan said...

'The Journal of Joyce Carol Oates 1973-1982' ecco books
I'm finding it completely intriguing, very inspiring and a bit intimidating too, but in a good way.

Very best to you Sarah, and your fabulous writing,
m x

Sarah Salway said...

I've just ordered it - phew, this blog gets expensive! Thank you.

coffee said...

Interestingly, i just recently discovered John Updike... I haven't fallen in love with all of his work yet, though i'm starting to enjoy his candid writing style;

his passing is a sad loss indeed