John Updike - The Widows of Eastwick (3 stars)

John Updike

For almost half a century, novelist, poet and New Yorker writer John Updike has chronicled the concerns, thoughts and sexual foibles of the American middle class. Not always successfully though, as can be forgiven amidst a career which embraces almost two dozen novels and in the region of 30 books of poetry, short prose and essays, but certainly the five-part Rabbit series (two of which gathered the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction) and The Witches of Eastwick lie amongst a selection of greats he has delivered. This, the three-decades on sequel doesn't quite match The Witches' glory.

Alexandra, Jane and Sukie, the coven who magically rustled up three perfect husbands and went off to live happily ever after at the end of the first book, have now grown old and widowed. On the very first page, consideration of 'the faint but undeniable risk of flight in a time of rising fuel costs, airline bankruptcy, suicidal terrorists, and accumulating metal fatigue' hint that these characters will now re-evaluate the new world around them with the wisdom of experience.

Yet what follows is a nostalgia trip, a yearning for days when the devilish Darryl Van Horne erotically awakened these one-time divorcees in the Rhode Island town of Eastwick. In the hope of recapturing a sense of past glories, the trio return there, and more over-enthusiastically written sexual endeavours follow. Updike's writing is crisp, his musings on regret, friendship and mortality coherent, yet this is still a book - even in its most erotic sections - which merely meanders with a sense of retirement home urgency.

The Widows of Eastwick is published by Hamish Hamilton.

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