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The Complete Henry Bech (Penguin Modern Classics) Paperback – 1 Jun 2006

3.8 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (1 Jun. 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141188561
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141188560
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,084,947 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"A deft poke at what it means to be a writer in America. " (New York Times)

"In his extraordinarily productive career, John Updike has given us a multitude of memorable characters, but none more lovable than the high-minded, mild-mannered, rather hapless writer Henry Bech." (Chicago Tribune)

"As imaginative territory, literary Manhattan has proved irresistible to Updike the satirist, and he has done it full justice and then some in his volumes of stories concerning the doings of New York novelist Henry Bech." (The New Criterion)

"A mordantly comic look at literary life." (Time) --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Book Description

The Bech stories-collected in one volume for the first time, and featuring a final, series-capping story, "His Oeuvre"-cast an affectionate eye on the famously unproductive Jewish-American writer, offering up a stream of wit, whimsy, and lyric pungency unmatched in American letters.
"One of Updike's best creations." -Life
--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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First Sentence
Students (not unlike yourselves) compelled to buy paperback copies of his novels - notably the first, Travel Light, though there has lately been some academic interest in his more surreal and 'existential' and perhaps even 'anarchist' second novel, Brother Pig - or encountering some essay from When the Saints in a shiny heavy anthology of mid-century literature costing $12.50, imagine that Henry Bech, like thousands less famous than he, is rich. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Henry Bech, a Jewish writer who has been unproductive for well over a decade, finds himself continually offered free trips to obscure Eastern European countries. Academics from minor American universities call to offer him accommodation in return for a trip around the lecture circuit. Magazines and newspapers publish, every now and again, short articles entitled 'Whatever happened to Henry Bech?'. Once an up and coming novelist and now just an author who doesn't write, Bech lives the meaningless jet-set life of the author who has attained distinguished writer status simply by virtue of not having written a word in years. For John Updike, protestant where Bech is Jewish, productive where Bech is silent, this 'alter-ego' allows him to explore, with satire, wit and often, tedium, the celebrity life an author sometimes finds himself living, without ever really knowing how it all happened.

'The Complete Henry Bech' published by Penguin - and more on that later - contains two novellas and a short story. Bech: A Book is primarily concerned with Bech's adventures around the world, which essentially gives Updike an excuse to mention that countries major writers and to make allusions to them throughout the text. Bech is Back is the most entertaining of the trio and deals, in part, with Bech finally publishing after fifteen years silence, his often-referred to but never really worked out novel, Think Big. In between, he is married, divorces, and has plenty of literary discussions with young female editors, typists, fans, reviewers - all of whom seem remarkably enamoured with the author. Finally, there is Bech in Czech, a very short story which returns to the main conceit of Bech: A Book which, by now, has become somewhat unnecessary to the needs of the character.
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Format: Paperback
The Henry Bech stories are great - among Updike's funniest pieces.

However, this is not the Bech collection to buy because IT IS NOT COMPLETE! It only contains the stories in 'Bech: A Book' (1970) and 'Bech Is Back' (1981) with an extra story from 1986, 'Bech in Czech'. Although published as a Penguin Modern Classic in 2006 and trumpeting itself as 'complete' it eschews all but one of the stories contained in the third Bech collection 'Bech At Bay' (1998) as well as the last Bech story to date, 'His Oeuvre'.

I think Penguin has simply been lazy and put a new cover on an old paperback collection published in the early 1990s before Updike had rounded out the Bech saga.

Buy the beautiful (and actually complete) Everyman's Library hardcover for a quid extra. Don't let Penguin get away with this rip-off.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A lovely book at a very decent price, and a lot better than the incomplete Penguin edition. This is Updike at his comic and stylistic best.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Wonderful writing...the kind you have to read slowly,clearly written with care and needs to be read in the same way.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x8f8631bc) out of 5 stars 7 reviews
11 of 16 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8f71ecfc) out of 5 stars "Must" reading for all John Updike fans 22 May 2001
By Midwest Book Review - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Henry Bech is John Updike's playfully irreverent alter ego and has charmed readers with aesthetic dithering and a seemingly inexhaustible libido. Now all of Updike's Henry Bech stories have been compiled in one volume, including the final, series-capping story "His Oeuvre". This outstanding Everyman's Library edition of The Complete Henry Bech is "must" reading for all John Updike fans and a very highly recommended addition to school and community library literary collections.
HASH(0x8f71ed2c) out of 5 stars Brilliant satire and friendly anti-semitism 23 Aug. 2015
By N. Ravitch - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Complete Henry Bech is a wonderful put-down of Jewish-American writers and literature. All too much has been made of Jewish-American fiction in the last half century, with exaggerated praise for the likes of Philip Roth, Saul Bellow, and all the rest of the tribe. Here a pre-eminent WASP American writer of brilliance puts them all together in the hilarious non-entity Henry Bech and dismisses them with the riotous disdain they deserve.

The Jews have done well in American and deservedly. But they don't own America, not in its literature and not in its foreign policy, at least I hope not in its foreign policy! We need more non-Jews of culture like Mr. Updike.
5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8f721024) out of 5 stars The type is a bit small 17 Aug. 2008
By David Barrett - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Plenty of much better writers than me have written about the literary merits of John Updike's fiction, so I'm not going to even attempt that here, nor do I think it necessary to offer a synopsis. Many years ago I read "Bech: A Book," and "Bech is Back" and found them quite amusing , and I wanted to read the last couple of works in this series. I find with all anthologies that the type is a bit small, but it quite crisp, and seems to pretty newly composited, (unlike say their version of "Bleak House" which is clearly old,) and the pages, although thin, are not of parchment-like thinness of the valuable yet punishing "American Library."
2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8f71ef00) out of 5 stars The Complete Henry Bech 19 Oct. 2007
By Damian Kelleher - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Henry Bech, a Jewish writer who has been unproductive for well over a decade, finds himself continually offered free trips to obscure Eastern European countries. Academics from minor American universities call to offer him accommodation in return for a trip around the lecture circuit. Magazines and newspapers publish, every now and again, short articles entitled 'Whatever happened to Henry Bech?'. Once an up and coming novelist and now just an author who doesn't write, Bech lives the meaningless jet-set life of the author who has attained distinguished writer status simply by virtue of not having written a word in years. For John Updike, protestant where Bech is Jewish, productive where Bech is silent, this 'alter-ego' allows him to explore, with satire, wit and often, tedium, the celebrity life an author sometimes finds himself living, without ever really knowing how it all happened.

'The Complete Henry Bech' published by Penguin - and more on that later - contains two novellas and a short story. Bech: A Book is primarily concerned with Bech's adventures around the world, which essentially gives Updike an excuse to mention that countries major writers and to make allusions to them throughout the text. Bech is Back is the most entertaining of the trio and deals, in part, with Bech finally publishing after fifteen years silence, his often-referred to but never really worked out novel, Think Big. In between, he is married, divorces, and has plenty of literary discussions with young female editors, typists, fans, reviewers - all of whom seem remarkably enamoured with the author. Finally, there is Bech in Czech, a very short story which returns to the main conceit of Bech: A Book which, by now, has become somewhat unnecessary to the needs of the character. Rather than continuing to reveal the comic adventures of the novelist, Updike trots Bech around Czech, then ends the story. Certainly the weakest of the three.

What this collection does have going for it is the character of Bech. Like Harry Angstrom from Updike's remarkable Rabbit series, Bech has an active internal life, and is capable of describing the world around him in a way that, when it works, speaks of poetry, and when it does not, devolves into yet another comparison to sex, or sex organs - female, usually. Bech is much more literary than Harry, and refers either by name and title to other author's works - Roth, Mailer, Bellow, Salinger, Lewis, Dreiser, Vidal. These references work because Bech is an author, because he is supposed to know about writers, but a lot of the drug and women scenes ring with a hollow tone, because we have seen them elsewhere by Updike, and they were better. Bech, when he sticks to his strengths - parodying awards ceremonies, the reputation of an author, declining literary stardom, rising literary stardom, reviewers, editors, star-struck fans, greedy fans, nonchalant socialites, publishing conglomerates - works remarkably well, because the reader can't help but be aware that Updike, who himself has won many awards and has been a writer for his entire adult life, knows enough about the process and the fakery to be able to satirise with the honesty of information and sharpness of intent to really take a bite.

Some scenes are very funny indeed. For his entire career, Bech has had an admirer, Federbusch, who has tirelessly stayed by his author, collecting every edition that comes out in every language, and posting, with reply paid envelopes, to Henry Bech to sign. Bech is touched by this, so touched that when he is in the neighborhood - Cedar Meadow, Pennsylvania - he decides to pay his fan a visit. To his horror, he finds that his books are not in fact proudly displayed on Federbusch's bookshelf but instead, 'The books were not erect in rows but stacked on their sides like lumber, like dubious ingots, in this lightless closet along with - oh, the treachery! - similarly exhaustive, tightly packed, and beautifully unread collections of Roth, Mailer, Barth, Capote...' Poor Bech learns the hard way that fans cannot always be trusted, that the right reader may never be found. Later Bech is informed that a new edition of his books are to be printed by 'Superbooks', which is owned by a vast conglomerate. He is to be paid $1.50 for every piece of paper he signs for the company, for a total of twenty-eight thousand five hundred pieces of high-rag-content paper. He is flown to the Caribbean along with his wife - the company recommends a puller for maximum efficiency signing - and they spend two weeks signing and signing and signing. Bech's obsession with his own signature provides a lot of laughs, and shows again the strength of a writer parodying writers.

But a lot of the work comes tumbling down. When Updike sticks to writers, he is untouchable with Bech's touchy, arrogant, sensitive, misunderstood, concerned, literary, anxious, aged character packing all the punches and pulling none. But that other great theme of Updike's oeuvre: adultery, sex, the female body, is used far too often in a series that really doesn't need it, and can only be harmed by its addition. This creates a spotty effect for the novel, because the character of Bech can't quite succeed in the sometimes fragile, sometimes blunt ruminations on carnality for which Harry was so admired.

The Penguin edition of The Complete Henry Bech is, unfortunately, not complete. It is missing a few other Bech titles, which leaves the appreciation and criticism of the entirety of Bech an impossible feat. For all the misgivings I felt while reading about Bech, I also felt much affection for his wry speech, his witty thoughts, his complete disregard for his fans and friends. There was a lot to love, but also a lot to dismay the Updike faithful among us. I shall leave with one last question - Why make Bech a Jew? It seems to add nothing except a perfunctory trip to Israel and a few fairly standard Jewish jokes at Bellow and Roth's expense. And, given that most of Bech was written in the '70s and '80s, and set in Europe, it would be assumed that the Jewish situation there would be handled with more delicacy than it is. A confusing aspect to Bech's character, but it adds to the overall unevenness of the work - why couldn't Updike stick to his strengths for the whole work? This collection works in patches.
15 of 25 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8f71924c) out of 5 stars Updike's best fiction, with one large caveat 1 Jan. 2002
By Eric Krupin - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I've always considered Updike much more valuable for his superlative book reviews than for his, to my mind, more-sizzle-than-steak fiction. (If you dig past the nostalgic plethora of period detail in the Rabbit books, there really isn't a great deal there.) But 20 years after accidentally discovering Henry Bech on the shelves of the public library (just as Updike has said he likes to imagine people encountering his books), his hapless exploits with women and the Muse continue to provide me with unfailing pleasure. It's a fine service to American literature to have them all - including the previously uncollected story "His Oeuvre", one of the best - gathered together between one set of hardcovers.
There is however, I'm sad to say, a big ugly boil on the butt of this otherwise handsome volume: the semi-infamous "Bech Noir", in which Updike, seemingly grown disgusted with the continuing durability of his character, jerks him through a sour ludicrous pantomime - the sheer awfulness of which makes it almost impossible to look at him the same way again. .... It's as if Frank L. Baum, around the fourth or fifth Oz book, had Dorothy move to Los Angeles where she became a crack whore. After that, the valedictory tale in which Bech most implausibly receives the Nobel Prize comes across as simply another gesture of contempt - whether towards the Swedish Academy, for honoring the even-less-qualified Toni Morrison rather than himself, or towards the reader, I can't say. All I can tell you - strange advice, I know - is to skip those two stories if you haven't been contaminated by them already.
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