Book review: Bech, a Book by John Updike

July 7, 2008

Title: Bech, a  Book
Author: John Updike
Pages: 187

The author

John Hoyer Updike was born in 1932 in Pennsylvania, USA. He is an American novelist, poet and short-story writer. He is best known for his Rabbit series for which he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize

He studied English at Harvard and graduated summa cum laude. He then studied fine arts in Oxford, England before returning to the USA to work at a magazine called The New Yorker.

He is known for his prolific output (22 novels!).

The plot

Bech, a Book is a biography of an (fictional) author called Henry Bech. Bech is an author whose first book enjoyed a success that all his subsequent books cannot match.

The biography is told through a series of seven short stories. The first few have Bech visiting Communist countries as part of a government sponsored  cultural exchange. The next few cover Bech’s bland middle-class lifestyle back home in America.

In the final story Bech wins a prize whose name is not revealed. Wikipedia says that it is the Nobel Prize but it sounds like a smaller prize.

The verdict

Updike has gone through a lot of trouble to make Henry Bech seem like a real person. The book contains a foreword by Bech and the appendix contains his travel diary (which Updike takes the trouble to specify is a faded red Expenses diary, measuring 7 1/4 by 4 1/4″).

The story is meant to be comic but I did not crack a smile throughout. However Updike is a talented writer. His prose is good enough for me to look out for his Rabbit series.


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