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Obituary: John Updike

Obituary by Jack Foley

PULITZER prize-winning novelist John Updike has died at the age of 76, following a battle with lung cancer.

Updike won many top literary prizes during his distinguished career, including Pulitzers for two volumes of his best-known Rabbit series.

But he was known for his diversity, tackling everything from sex, divorce and all apsects of life in post-war America over the course of 50 books.

Updike passed away in a hospice near his home in Beverly Farms, Massachussetts, on Tuesday, January 27 (2009), according to his publisher.

Born in Pennsylvania on March 18, 1932, Updike was the son of a schoolmaster who developed a fascination of, and apprecation for, the written word from an early age.

He attended Harvard University in America, before travelling to the UK to spend a year as an art student at Oxford.

Upon returning to America, he joined the staff of the New Yorker magazine and regularly contributed poems, essays and short stories.

Updike published his first novel, The Poorhouse Fair, in 1959 and never looked back.

The book won widespread acclaim and paved the way for a successful career, which he immediately established the following year with the publication of a novel that has since become regarded as one of the greats – namely Rabbit, Run.

Not only did it mark the debut of one of Updike’s most enduring characters, Harold “Rabbit” Angstrom, but it also heralded the arrival of a major new talent who would remain at the forefront of American literature for the remainder of his career.

Over the following decades Rabbit, Run sparked numerous sequels, including Rabbit Redux and Rabbit at Rest, which charted the course of a man’s life through his work, marriage, affairs, minor triumphs and, ultimately, death.

In between these novels, however, Updike wrote other novels. During the mid-‘60s, for instance, works such as The Centaur and Of The Farm furthered the critical acclaim surrounding his work, while the sexually provocative Couples, about adultery, in 1968, brought him popular success and was infamously described as “the best-written dirty book since the Decameron”.

Further popular success came when one of his novels, The Witches Of Eastwick, was first turned into a film starring Jack Nicholson, and then adapted into a West End Musical and performed at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, in London.

More recently, he attracted more acclaim for his book, Terrorist, in which he imagined the life of a radicalised American Muslim… a story he was moved to write after witnessing the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001 while visiting relatives in New York.

Updike is survived by his wife, Martha Bernhard, and four children from a previous marriage.

Upon announcing his death, Nicholas Latimer, publicity director of publisher Alfred A Knopf, said: “He was one of our greatest writers and he will be sorely missed.”

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