Monday, 7 February 2011
Couples by John Updike
Set in the early sixties, Couples is about a promiscuous circle of ten couples in the small Massachusetts town of Tarbox. For well over 500 pages the reader follow the couples as they holiday and party together while at the same time they discreetly (mostly) sleep with each others partners.
In a voyeuristic way I enjoyed it and was entertained by it. Aside from a few places where Updike suddenly gives long flowery descriptions, the prose is relatively easy to read and there is a wonderful sense of place. The small town, the houses and the time period are well described, as is the kind of social standing that the couples belong to.
The characters are pretty vile all round as are the attitudes the male characters have towards the female ones. All the female characters are home-makers and are only seen as such. Aside from one exception, none of them have jobs and nor are they expected to have one. They spend most of their time doing chores, hosting parties and having affairs out of either sheer boredom or because they feel they ought to. They are at the age where they are still part of the ‘50s housewife’ life but at the same time they are also young enough to participate in the sexual revolution of the 60s within the confines of their marriages.
While there is a lot to think about and enjoy, it has its faults. The novel is too long and ten couples is perhaps too many, one lady in my book group had to write down a list of all the characters along with all their affairs as it got so confusing. In parts the endless sleeping around became monotonous, the male characters comparing the body of their wives to that of their mistress might have been fine at first but after what seemed like the 6th or 7th time of reading about how saggy a characters wife's belly is compared to a mistress (or vis versa) it got boring.
Couples is a book that I enjoyed more than I thought I would, it was a mixed bag for me in many ways but I’m glad I read it. It's not a book I would recommend but I found it an interesting novel of its time, it not have been written either ten years before or ten years after.
Posted by Jess