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Rushdie vs. Updike, 10 rounds for the heavyweight title

Posted by Jim Concannon  October 4, 2006 01:26 PM

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Some writers say they don't read reviews of their books, and some do but can't get them out of their heads. Take novelist Salman Rushdie, for instance. During an interview with Britain's The Guardian newspaper, Rushdie takes North Shore legend John Updike to task for a critical review in the New Yorker of Rushdie's "Shalimar the Clown." In that review, Updike chides Rushdie for naming a central character after a historical figure, but not developing any parallel track to justify the choice.

Rushdie, having had a year to stew over the slight, remains annoyed, and suggests Updike was critical because he had his own novel in the wings. But let Rushdie explain:

"A name is just a name. 'Why, oh why ... ?' Well, why not? Somewhere in Las Vegas there's probably a male prostitute called 'John Updike.' The thing that disappointed me most about Updike is that he did not say in that review that he had just completed a novel about terrorism. He had to sweep me out of the way in order to make room for himself. I don't subscribe to the very predominantly English admiration of Updike. If you take away 'Rabbit is Rich' and 'Rabbit at Rest,' and some of the short stories, there's a lot of ... garbage ... The new one [the novel 'Terrorist'] is beyond awful. He should stay in his parochial neighborhood and write about wife-swapping, because it's what he can do."

And, remember, Rushdie had a year to ponder his response. Talk about the long view. Of course, Updike doesn't mind a tussle himself. One part of the review that likely caused Rushdie's blood pressure to soar was this:

"His novels pour by in a sparkling, voracious onrush, each wave topped with foam, each paragraph luxurious and delicious, but the net effect perilously close to stultification. His prose hops with dropped names, compulsive puns, learned allusions, winks at the reader, and repeated bows to popular culture. His plots proceed by verbal connection and elaboration as much as by character interaction."

Well, both fighters -- I mean writers -- are throwing roundhouse rights now, but they do get points for not clinching on the ropes.


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