on 6 April 2006
John Updike's 'Villages' savages US suburban life with its depiction of computer programmer Owen Mackenzie, the neighbourhood cuckold whose entire life seems to drift by in a succession of extra-marital affairs. As you would expect from Updike, this book is brimming with insights about middle-class America, told with the knowing wink and tongue-in-cheek of an author of extraordinary powers. Like Updike's protagonist Owen Wilson, this book is something of a cold fish. Rarely are we afforded the opportunity to glimpse beyond the author's enormous appetite for cynicism, his sharply-drawn characters as they are so harshly debased to cultural mores. Owen makes for a tangible but depressingly shallow protagonist, with little sense of loyalty or compassion. It is not immediately obvious why women are so attracted to him or often what attracts him to them, but it is a credible portrayal of someone that is ultimately unfulfilled by his suburban existence but is only able to articulate it through pursuit of his extra-marital affairs. It all makes for a rather damning portrait of 1960s and 70s America that sits quite comfortably with Updike's more compassionate Rabbit series. The world of 'Middle Falls' (i.e., Anytown, USA) - like Owen's aloof wife Phyllis, and the arcane world of computer programming - is depicted as emotionally impenetratable. This seems a deliberate attempt by the author to evoke a sense of detachment and superficiality - but it doesn't make for the most enjoyable read. Nevertheless, Updike still has the power to startle with the wit and veracity of his language, like the analogy he makes for Owen returning guiltily to his family home after a secret tryst, feeling 'the gaze of its windows as reproachful, like that of a forsaken pet'.
on 6 April 2005
Villages is the first John Updike book I have read so I can't compare it to his other titles. However, I loved it. John Updike is a great storyteller I shall start taking seriously. The story was a well constructed . I especially liked the Character development and like Owen, the main character the most. Like all stories set in a society in transition, innocence, ignorance, enlightenment, courage, evil, sex and goodness are all interwoven to make situations so exciting,. John Updike captured all of those in this novel. A highly recommended read.
Also recommended: DISCIPLES OF FORTUNE, GILEAD, THE USURPER AND OTHER STORIES
on 29 June 2015
Villages was one of Updike's later novels, released in 2005. Like many of his earlier novels, it's based around a story of middle class adultery in average-town America, with the main character looking back in his old age at the sex and love which has been indelibly weaved throughout his life's story.
With the historical narrative set mainly in the 1950s - 1970s, the protagonist, Owen Mackenzie - an MIT graduate and early pioneer of computer technology - lives comfortably in various 'villages' around the east coast of the States. He is the kind of man who has always been enthralled by the smallest details of the women who have crossed his path, seeing beauty in all the differences of their physique and character. Not surprisingly, this appreciation leads to him being easily persuaded to loosen the moral tethers that bind his marriage, from which point there is no going back.
Selfish, self-centred, amoral, most of the characters echo the stereotypes from the Rabbit Angstrom novels, with the familiar theme of middle-age boredom setting in amongst the weekend cocktail party set. That being said, this novel is much more focused on Mackenzie's emotional connections (or lack of) to his sexual affairs, and as such is probably most similar to his earlier Couples novel.
The sexual reminiscing is fairly unerotic, but as usual Updike manages to make the lives of weak, morally bankrupt characters totally engaging.
on 20 September 2009
More than thirty years after first reading John Updike, I have come back to his work and can now see why he is 'rated' although I don't believe this novel is particularly literary. Not sure which came first of these but I felt there were similarities in background with Vonnegut's Bluebeard and Irving's Widow for a Year but then that could be my imagination.