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Couples [Paperback]

John Updike
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)

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Book Description

26 Jun 1975
They are sociable, articulate and unhappy; they enjoy sailing, basketball and skiing; they play word games in the evenings and adultery all the year round. Slipping in and out of affairs, they and their rituals are observed by the baleful eye of their self-appointed ringmaster, Freddy Thorne.


Product details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd; New edition edition (26 Jun 1975)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140029443
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140029444
  • Product Dimensions: 19.4 x 12.8 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 888,448 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John Updike was born in 1932 in Shillington, Pennsylvania. He attended Shillington High School, Harvard College and the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art at Oxford, where he spent a year on a Knox Fellowship. From 1955 to 1957 he was a member of the staff of the New Yorker, to which he contributed numerous poems, short stories, essays and book reviews. After 1957 he lived in Massachusetts until his death.

John Updike's first novel, The Poorhouse Fair, was published in 1959. It was followed by Rabbit, Run, the first volume of what have become known as the Rabbit books, which John Banville described as 'one of the finest literary achievements to have come out of the US since the war'. Rabbit is Rich (1981) and Rabbit at Rest (1990) were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Other novels by John Updike include Marry Me, The Witches of Eastwick, which was made into a major feature film, Memories of the Ford Administration, Brazil, In the Beauty of the Lilies, Toward the End of Time and Villages. He has written a number of volumes of short stories, and a selection entitled Forty Stories, taken from The Same Door, Pigeon Feathers, The Music School and Museums and Women, is published in Penguin, as is the highly acclaimed The Afterlife and Other Stories. His criticism and his essays, which first appeared in magazines such as The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books, have been collected in five volumes. Golf Dreams, a collection of his writings on golf, has also been published. His Collected Poems 1953-1993 brings together almost all the poems from five previous volumes, including 'Hoping for a Hoopoe', 'Telephone Poles' and 'Tossing and Turning', as well as seventy poems previously unpublished in book form. The last books of his to be published by Hamish Hamilton were My Father's Tears and Other Stories, and Endpoint and Other Poems. He died in January 2009.


Product Description

Review

"I can think of no other novel, even in these years of our sexual freedom, as sexually explicit in its language...as direct in its sexual reporting, as abundant in its sexual activities." -- The Atlantic Monthly


"Trapped in their cozy catacombs, the couples have made sex by turns their toy, their glue, their trauma, their therapy, their hope, their frustration, their revenge, their narcotics, their main line of communication and their sole and pitiable shield against the awareness of death. Adultery, says Updike, has become a kind of 'imaginative quest' for successful hedonism that would enable man to enjoy an otherwise meaningless life....The couples of Tarbox live in a place and time that together seem to have been ordained for this quest." -- Time --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

Born in Pennsylvania, John Updike has lived in Massachusetts since 1957 as a freelance writer.

A highly successful novelist and poet, he has received the Pulitzer prize for two of his novels in the Rabbit series, Rabbit is Rich and Rabbit at Rest.

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars welcome to the post-pill paradise 9 Aug 2008
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The novel is set in a promiscuous, heavy drinking and well-off circle of young married friends in the fictional sea-side Boston suburb of Tarbox. The novel takes place in 1963 around the time of the assassination of JFK.

'Welcome to the post-pill paradise....'

These intentionally ironical words occur many times in Couples and give a clue to the central theme of the book. How do these young, mostly highly educated and well-to-do thirty something couples, deal with the opportunities that a new world of risk-free contraception and a more open attitude to sex offer for the first time, here in 1960's America. They have wealth, time, opportunity and the desire to experiment. Do they, the novel asks, find themselves in paradise or a kind of hell in which all previous moral absolutes have gone ?

The 8 or 9 couples live close-knit lives, sharing holidays, parties, school runs and frequently, sexual partners. Their master of ceremonies, the odious dentist Freddie, encourages this sexual freedom in which he takes virtually no part. Piet Hanema, the central male character, is an inveterate womaniser and interestingly, the only non-academic in the group, he is a carpenter. He also remains friends with all his previous partners as he is attractive and undemanding. His transgressive relationship with the heavily pregnant Foxy Whitworth causes deep rifts and disquiet in the group. Hedonistic freedom comes, Updike makes it clear, with a heavy price and Piet and Foxy pay.

The writing is wonderful. Updike at his clear, passionate and insightful best leads us deep into the lives of his characters through his way of writing from the inside out. We feel, see and experience life as lived by those characters in that time and place.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not his best 13 Oct 2008
By Sizebel
Format:Paperback
I've given this 4 stars which is a bit harsh and I should explain that I'm comparing it with Updike's other works which are mostly 6 out of 5. But Updike at cruise-control is still fantastic compared to most other authors at full throttle. Couples reprises the familiar themes of adultery, sex addiction (before there was a condition for it) and marital boredom. However, the conversations of the characters seemed unbelievable: all you could hear was Updike talking, or one of his alter egos. Some of the other characters, especially the women, just wouldn't talk like that. Unlike other Updike novels, this one took me a while to finish because I couldn't take that much of it in one sitting. If you've never experienced Updike, you'll still be pretty impressed at his writing. But I recommend you start with the Rabbit trilogy to get pure literary pleasure from this genius.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
It is difficult to imagine a less appealing subject than adultery, but within a dozen pages the reader is drawn into the closely intermeshed world of the Tarbox couples. This is a deeply insightful book, if on occasion over-descriptive, as though the writer has got bored by the unpleasant characters he has brought to life so vividly and has decided to spend the day writing lyrical descriptions of the town instead. Nonetheless, this book is unputdownable and will cause you to at least examine your own views on, and experiences of, marriage, adultery, adult friendship and social groupings. Read it.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I Wish I Had Read It When It Was Released 3 Aug 2010
By Simon Savidge Reads TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
I have always wanted to read Updike he has been one of those authors you have on your own personal hit list so I was rather looking forward to `Couples'. I also liked the salacious sounding premise `Couples in love. Couples at play. Couples who talk, who cheat, who lie...' this book does exactly what it promises in the blurb as we meet ten (yes, ten) couples who live in Tarbox, New England during the Kennedy and post-pill era of the swinging sixties, emphasis on the swinging. These couples, who dine with each other, discuss politics and religion with each other and then sleep with each other behind each others back are really the soulless heart and soul of the book, or so I thought initially.

I call them soulless because they are all so vile, few of them have any redeeming features about them even when we do get to know some of their backgrounds, not because they aren't well drawn which they are. When I say some I sort of mean two of the couples actually as the story in the main focuses on the arrival of Elizabeth Whitman aka Foxy to Tarbox and an affair that follows with Piet Hanemas. It's therefore this duo, their predicament and their spouses, circumstances and backgrounds we get to know the rest of the couples seemed to fill two objectives a) give insights to how Foxy and Piet are perceived and b) take part in the endless drunken dinner parties where the couples try and one up each other and talk about the state of the nation to give Updike a chance to vent his thoughts. They could have not been there and the book could have been a good few hundred pages shorter were my initial thoughts after closing the last page.

Yet maybe as a reader in this decade I am missing something that others at the time got, very like I did with Amis and `Dead Babies', which is the shock factor.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Sixties Somethings 6 Feb 2013
Format:Paperback
The early nineteen sixties beckoned on a decade of change. Not only did the world shake off most of the remnants of its most recent global war, not only did Europe's defeated former colonial powers almost complete their American-dictated divestment of their assets, not only did capitalism institutionalise the shape of globalised future, but also, apparently, married people discovered sex. But not, for the purposes of Couples by John Updike, with their legal partners...

John Updike published Couples in 1968, so as the decade went, the novel was already something of a retrospective, a conscious revisiting of years of change. John F Kennedy was shot. Cuban missiles suffered their crises. There was probably the occasional sporting event. Wars turned cold. Vietnam was still just a country. Much of contemporary life, however, seemed to by-pass Tarbox, a New England residential area in the academic commuter belt. Methods of contraception in many ways dominated life in the chessboard of this community, where moves made in private produced their perhaps inevitable physical responses alongside personal and social consequences, both intended and not.

Couples looks at the lives of several Tarbox types. Each relationship has its own foibles. Each one has its man who is doing his best to be a man, and each has its woman who aspires to her own brand of perfection. Eventually the story focuses on one particular relationship, that of Piet and Foxy, pursued despite their mutual marital partners.

As ever with John Updike, the sex is both voluminous and throbbing. Each encounter seems to rediscover that thrill of first touch, the transport of discovery. But also guilt begins to build its walls of deception as the habit sets.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars somewhat dated and not that compelling
John Updike stands as one of the doyenne of writers of the last fifty years and his reputation is big. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Mr. Robert Marsland
4.0 out of 5 stars A glimpse of a bygone age?
I read somewhere that Updike modelled the fictitious town of Tarbox on Ipswich. Well, I can't see any similarities in the stunning scenery he describes for us, but perhaps I can... Read more
Published 18 months ago by R G Palmer
4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful to see it again
I was inspired to read this again after 20 + years due to it's mention in "The Marriage Plot". Fantastic writing and a fabulous product of it's time. Read more
Published 23 months ago by Charmian
4.0 out of 5 stars A novel of its time
Set in the early sixties, Couples is about a promiscuous circle of ten couples in the small Massachusetts town of Tarbox. Read more
Published on 29 Nov 2011 by J. Willis
4.0 out of 5 stars Dispatches from the front line of the sexual revolution
An earlier reviewer said that he found it difficult to imagine a less appealing subject than adultery, but in fact there have been a good many authors who have found it a highly... Read more
Published on 20 Nov 2009 by J C E Hitchcock
2.0 out of 5 stars Uncoupled
I've never been a John Updike fan & one should'nt speak ill of a recent dead,but the huge tributes made me feel I had missed out. Read more
Published on 5 Mar 2009 by Mr. K. D. Perry
4.0 out of 5 stars This book will get under your skin
John Updike's Couples is an enjoyable and demanding read. I would liken the experience of reading this novel to watching a soap opera. Read more
Published on 12 Feb 2009 by Ms. Hj Dowlen
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