Friday, February 20, 2009

"Roger's Version" - John Updike

Roger's Version had been sitting unloved on our shelves for the better part of a year before it finally got read. I think I saw an extract in Hitchen's Portable Atheist and was immediately moved to buy the book. But it took Updike to die before I finally picked up the book. What a heartless bastard I am. Anyway, Roger's Version concerns a theology professor (and we get to hear a lot about theology) and his tussles with a student of computer animation (and we get to hear a lot about computer animation) concerning the younger man's belief that God is on the verge of being revealed by advances in astrophysics (and we get to hear a lot about etc). Less cerebrally, the student is sleeping with Roger's wife (although 'sleeping with' is precisely the kind of periphrasis Updike avoids: their couplings are described in unflinching detail).

While this is going on, Roger has made contact with his niece, some white trash living in the projects of this (as far as I can tell) unnamed city. And, while he tries and fails to persuade her to get schooling, he is also seduced by her to the extant he feels that he must protect her when she hits her child, risking his good name and that of the school of divinity to which he belongs in the process.

So, not a great deal of all that much happens. But there are some fabulous set pieces. Roger's inventorising the city in which he lives and the way it changes as he moves downtown; his first theological tête-à-tête with Dale (the conceit being that Roger has all but given up believing in God: "there are so few things which, contemplated, do not like flimsy trapdoors open under the weight of our attention into the bottomless pit below"); Dale's breakdown in front his computer's infinite fractals; and a marvelous scene at dinner-party where Roger's colleague casually dismantles Dale's argument from design.

There are brilliances on every page: Updike really does, in his phrase, "get it all in". I had earlier abandoned In The Beauty of the Lillies halfway through. That's going to have to go back on my to-read list; and then, it's time for Rabbit.

1 comment:

MisterBarrington said...

Likewise, have never got round to Updike - and am generally bad with the Great American Novelists.

Let us know when you've got through 3 or 4 Updikes and can give a "start here; avoid this" recommendation...