More Matter

John Updike (Hamish Hamilton £25)

Blame the market, blame fin de siecle frustration, blame Irvine Welsh, but this mammoth tome has a whiff of the antique shop about it already. As today's young readers and writers pursue ever shorter, sharper shocks, stylistic experiments and brutal subject matter, they're more likely to revere the clipped prose of Bret Easton Ellis or the imaginative excesses of William Burroughs than the ornate, ruminative style of John Updike.

Updike knows he's out of vogue. The early part of this collection of essays and articles consists of bemused bumbles around a dreadfully confusing modern world, in which he casts himself as a disapproving granddaddy. At times he comes off as a charming curmudgeon (‘Now that I am 60, I see why the idea of elder wisdom has passed from currency. My thoughts have become not only fewer and smaller but more spiteful. The impression has been growing upon me that I am surrounded by hostile haircuts'). Elsewhere, he's more a whiskery conservative (’In an age of weakening Christian orthodoxy, the vigorous dogmas of political correctness and ethnic diversity are enforced everywhere’).

The sense lingers of someone hoodwinked by nostalgia into believing that the world around him, once innocent, is steadily degenerating. Updike observes politics and society from the outside, noting everything he can but admitting no involvement.

Grey matter: John Updike

His humorous pieces on dancing, suntans, J. Edgar Hoover's wardrobe, golf, Christmas - are elaborate too, unfashionably embroidered and suggestive of the self- indulgent chatter of a rarefied New York dinner party. Nonetheless, there’s so much 'matter' here that dipping reveals unexpected treasures from a restless, magpie imagination.

Literary criticism makes up the bqu of the work, and covers a vast spectrum of authors; but Updike also turns his attention to cartoons, photography, furniture, cosmology, politics and Hollywood. He also writes at length about his own work (even going so far as to interview himself in the guise of his fictional alter-ego Henry Bech), making this an invaluable resource for Updike fans and scholars.

Whether his style alienates and whether his opinions grate or not, More Matter remains a staggering testament to the writer's boundless intellectual curiosity and range. It’s also strangely soothing in its retrogressive stance; Updike seeks to gently enlighten rather than challenge, and his prose flows rather than stumbles over self-imposed stylistic obstacles. As a whole this collection is oddly reminiscent of the scrapbook of some Victorian gentleman good-natured, urbane, a few steps back from the puzzling fray of existence. In one imaginary debate, Updike has Johannes Guttenberg tell Bill Gates that ’Perhaps the book, like God, is an idea man will cling to.’ This, Updike's 50th published book, is compiled with that hope in mind. (Hannah McGill)


The problem, of c0urse, is Bridget

Pariah scary: Bridget Jones

102 THE lIST 16 Dec 1999—6 Jan 2000

Bridget Jones: The Edge Of Reason Helen Fielding (Picador £12.99) it it

Like Tory voters, Rangers fans and porn watchers, there are millions of them out there, but feW seem Willing to confess Alongside those social pariahs, y0u can place the hordes who have bought (and bought into) the cult of Bridget Jones.

The first collection of her dismal thoughts certainly had its heavyweight fans -— Salman Rushdie (Surprisinglyl and Nick Hornby (perhaps less sol were mad for the non-It girl, It seems unlikely that anyone With a reputation to maintain or cultivate Will be looking to get their name on the paperback of The Edge Of Reason.

herself, No one is saying that Ms Jones is Helen Fielding in any shape or form (after all, the creator has been revealed as a teetotal Virgin), but yOu have to wonder Just where she has come across the composite qualities which make up her bestselling character

There is the odd moment Within the book's 400 plus pages when a modiCum of sympathy or feeling Will rise in your chest, but you know she Will let you down - whether it’s taking off down a snowy slope without her skis, or setting fire to the wastebin With a lit fag-end, or the fact that a phone addict's regular hang-out would be called 192. You almost want to laugh out loud When she gets herself thrown into a Bangkok prison cell (Brian Donaldson)

First writes

Putting debut novelists under the microscope. This issue: Bill Broady Who he? Bi Broad. is a \o'xs"

based at.°."c>" .‘.'7o s Ass stant to to' t Recihec-c Press H s a: te'a‘. e ,t‘re- i‘itit‘g career has seen orx

pi‘eviousiy as a c"o;.pie', ca'togranhe' cll‘Cl care ‘.'.O"r\(?'

His debut lt's ca ieo 5.: told by a ltd"'<lIOl' to ai‘ .iiiiiai~‘c‘-ci f'eihale protagonst '.'.lt() (10‘. eiops a deep love for nuath sports and butterflies as an infant while on a ‘cllT"liy holiday an \x“./oi‘thznc,i Groping up in the 80s, the story tei s of he' use to prominence as an athlete and the struggle to survive once her career goes into ‘reefall mode T’n-s :s all mirrored in her unsettled life and relationships with her parents and her two 'coaches'

Basically Basica'iy, it's a simple, sensitive tale of one girl's growth :nto .‘xomanhood and her becoming cll‘. internationally acclaimed athlete The matter of fact delivery of such personal detail gives the book an oddly ll‘llll‘rllO feel

First paragraph test ‘Your first and last memories were of butterflies

Of watching the Red Admiral as it tracked patches of watery sunsh ne across the garden It was i'-<e an illustration from one o‘ Dad's nooks, animated —- too beautiful to be aiive Recommendations corner British author Julie Myerson believes it is ‘a totally stunning piece of writing, uniquely unaffected and origina It's the sort of piece that makes yOu think anything shOuid be possible in fiction ' lvleanwhile, former soap star and New Zealand novelist Emily Perkins plumps for this analySIs 'lh these intense, shimmering descriptions of an extraordinary life, Broady has created as VIVId and compelling a narrative of madness as The Ye/low ‘/I/a//paper This is a beautiful and potent first boox I can't wait to read what he does next ' (Mark Robertsoni

Swrmmer is published by F/amihgo on Mon 4 Jan pr/c ed [9 99

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SWIMN‘W’ 4 3.110591 i' BILL BROALr