Monday, February 02, 2009

John Updike RIP

I was never a fan of his novels but I loved his writing, particularly his non-fiction essays and his criticism. He was a supreme stylist and I can't think of another living writer, apart from our own John Banville, who made me stop and relish a sentence like Updike did. Unlike the rather austere, and even prissy Banville, Updike liked to dwell on the carnal. His love of women and his wonder at their bodies is found everywhere in his writing. He wore his learning lightly and his range of knowledge was astonishing. He could move from Kirkegaard to cunnilingus without a slip of the tongue. I remember an essay collected in Best American Essays a few years ago where the entire piece was devoted to a loving description of an asshole - and I don't mean Michael Winner. He was also an accessible and original art critic and many of his more recent pieces in the NYRB were models of what art criticism should be.

He was a generous critic and only occasionally caustic. He didn't, for example, join the chorus of praise for Colm Tobin's book on Henry James (The Master). He felt that Tobin had assigned a homosexual orientation to someone who was merely asexual.