Hamish Hamilton in The Guardian on Still Looking by John Updike.
I’ve always liked John Updike’s description, from an essay written 40 years ago, of what he most enjoyed reading. ‘I find my greatest luxury is a small book,’ he suggested, ‘between one and two hundred pages, which treats, in moderately technical language, a subject of which I was previously ignorant. I remember with great pleasure the Penguin books by Sir Leonard Woolley on his Sumerian excavations, and a treatise, in the same series, on the English badger. Lately, I read a fine study of suicide in Scandinavia.’
Updike has always been a painterly writer, or at least seeing things clearly and rendering them with precision is the beginning and the end of his formidable ambition as a novelist. No one looks quite as keenly as he has done at the surfaces of Waspish America or has as much skill in reproducing them. He brings this habit of mind to the art gallery, too, displaying a craftsman’s sense of work well done and an infectious desire to discriminate. He is, in other words, the most helpful kind of critic: he lets you know exactly what he thinks is good and bad about a painting and why.