Friday, April 22, 2016

Bech at Bay [1998]

The amorous, episodic and gleefully self-referential journey of Henry Bech, Updike’s brilliantly conceived Jewish alter-ego, which had begun with the memorably zeitgeist and gently humorous Bech: A Book and was followed up with the deadpan and more introspective Bech is Back, received a triumphant conclusion with the scathingly satirical and mordantly funny Bech at Bay, the final chapter of ‘Bech Trilogy’. It started with the ageing Bech’s dryly humorous and quietly somber Prague trip (this worked better as the kick-starter to this volume as opposed to a finale in the previous) where he visits Kafka’s grave and meets a group of dissident writers. The narrative moved a gear up when, during the Festschrift of a pompous author of more “serious” works, as opposed to his books which are considered frivolous by self-conscious critics, he meets a junior editor who’d become his final wife and the mother to his only child which he’s slyly arm-twisted into, and is coaxed into chairing an elite club of antiquarian American artists. After a hysterical detour, where Bech is heavily reminded of his father by a Hollywood agent who’s sued him, the book was taken to a pulpy and disturbingly farcical fever-pitch when Bech, after a lifetime of enduring unsavoury reviews, decides to take bloody revenge on the critics who’ve been most obnoxious of ‘em all. The tale fittingly culminated with yet another European sojourn – this time to the droll Scandinavian winters of Stockholm – upon being named as the winner for the year’s Nobel Prize for Literature. Bech’s uproarious process of composing a meaningful and relevant speech was marvelously juxtaposed with the sharp reactions that his victory has elicited and his deeply personal attempts at placing his love for writing amidst the complex socio-political history of the Jewish race. The fabulous curve that this quasi-biography followed, with a mix of amusing episodes and baffled reflections of a less alienating version of the protagonist in Roth’s Sabbath’s Theatre, made the trilogy a dazzling expression of artistic and political audacity.

Author: John Updike
Genre: Black Comedy/Social Satire/Political Satire/Bildungsroman
Language: English
Country: US

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