T hanks to the movie, people tend to assume that they know about John Updike's The Witches of Eastwick: it's the one where a hammy devil sexes up some frustrated divorcees. This isn't totally accurate. Set in the early 70s, the book is as much a satire on baby-boomer liberationism as an amused updating of witchcraft lore. Alexandra, Sukie and Jane, the witches, have supernatural powers deriving from their status as divorced women in their sexual prime. All three are involved with married men before Darryl Van Horne appears on the scene. Alexandra is a good deal less skinny than Cher, Jane is nastier than Susan Sarandon's character, and Van Horne is a shambling, bisexual impresario with a mask-like face and, we're told, ice-cold semen.
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I have also meant to read Updike again ever since I read Couples which was a choice at my old book club back in So I admit that I entered into the spirit of reading this one in high hopes. I have to tell you whilst The Witches of Eastwick has some similarities to Couples it has very little similarity to the film other than the characters names, it was quite unexpected.
Penguin Modern Classics, paperback, edition , fiction, pages, bought by me. There is something in the air in the town of Eastwick that turns women into witches, generally when they leave or are left by their husbands. Alexandra, Sukie and Jane are three such witches and as they have become friends, with their Thursday nights of cocktails and gossip, they have formed rather a powerful bond and indeed a rather powerful coven.
What initially, and I should add pleasantly, surprised me about the novel was the fact that these three witches were just that, witches. Alexandra counted the seconds until the thunder: five.
By rough rule this made the storm she had conjured up two miles in diameter, if these strokes were at the heart. Blundering thunder rumbled and cursed. Tiny speckled sand crabs were emerging now from their holes by the dozen and scurrying sideways towards the frothing sea. The colour of their shells was so sandy they appeared transparent.
Alexandra steeled herself and crunched one beneath the sole of her bare foot. There must always be sacrifice. Yet these are not the sort of witches I would want in my neighbourhood because, rather surprisingly to me because of the film, these women are not that nice, more often than not they are actually quite nasty witches and quite nasty bitches.
At the same time though I found this confusing. What was Updike trying to say about women? You see initially Alexandra in particular , Sukie and Jane seem like thriving independent women who are getting the most out of life.
That I found a really positive and feminist stand. Then as Darryl turns up they turn on each other and become calculating and manipulative man eaters especially Jane who I despised who will trample on each other to get the man before realising they are going to have to share and so start having group sex regularly, to please their man — classy.
Oh and heaven help any woman who then tries to get in on the act. Where is the sisterhood then? The book soon becomes the polar opposite of feministic as it twists and turns.
Like most good school teachers he was a tyrant, unctuous and insistent; in his dank way he wanted to sleep with everybody. Jane was sleeping with him these days. Alexandra had succumbed a few times in the past but the episode had moved her so little Sukie was perhaps unaware of its vibrations, its afterimage.
Being a divorcee in a small town is a little like playing monopoly; eventually you land on all the properties. The two friends wanted to rescue Jane, who in a kind of indignant hurry was always selling herself short. It was the hideous wife, with her strawy dull hair cut short as if with grass clippers and her carefully pronounced malapropisms and her goggle-eyed intent way of listening to every word, whom they disapproved of.
When you sleep with a married man you in a sense sleep with the wife as well, so she should not be an utter embarrassment. The descriptions of Eastwick and its inhabitants are marvellously created and you feel you have walked the streets, chatted to the locals and headed out to the wetlands once you have finished. He also really looks at the society of certain times and how the world was changing far faster than people wanted it to.
Again, magical goings on are fine, but building a tennis court the scene in the book is even better than the film or changing the name of a street is an utterly heinous idea. Change is not good. I am torn with The Witches of Eastwick as a novel. Unusually I much preferred the film. I guess on the level of a tale of three witches in a small town who are pulled apart and against each other over a new man on the scene it is a darkly entertaining read.
I also loved all the magic in such a suburban setting. Puzzling indeed. Who else has read The Witches of Eastwick and what did you make of it? Did you dislike the witches as much as I did? Which films have you seen that are better than the books, or give the characters and situations of a book a better context, do many of them exist?
Tagged as Hear I have mixed feelings about the movie. Interesting question about a movie providing better context than a book. I found that essay so blatantly full of boastful male stereotypes that I just wanted to puke. Anywho, I have a feeling this one would get my hackles up. But I've always secretly wanted to give it a go. He does write beautiful prose, but Rabbit was just such a bore that I found the book a real slog.
I thought the movie versions of Jean de Florette and Manon Des Sources were wonderful renderings of slightly dull books.
Hmmm yes, one of the very rare examples of film being better than the book IMHO. However I still count the Rabbit quartet as some of the best books ever written and his short stories are just incredible pieces of art. I have to say that I much preferred the novel to the movie — though I think this is largely down to my own personal taste.
However, I can also see the other side of the argument. I found the continuous linkage between women, witches and nature especially interesting; these connections have been around for centuries and have been used by feminists throughout history to empower women Cixous, de Beauvoir, Irigaray. In the novel I think women are empowered by these connections not forced into them by patriarchy. But all interpretations are subjective and overall I actually really enjoyed this novel — much to my surprise!
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Old Black Magic Is Old, and So Are These Witches
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The Witches of Eastwick
I find his writing about American suburban life in the s and s a bit peculiar. So I was indifferent to his main subject, it seems, of the relations between men and women in suburban America. I loved it. Not only is it exuberantly written, so cleverly plotted, strong and decisive in its narrative, and with unforgettable characters and events, John Updike really knows his stuff about witches. They became witches when they divorced their husbands or, when they got bored of their husbands and killed them. They all have children, they all have lovers, serially, and they are all struggling to make ends meet. Sukie is a reporter, on the local paper.
WONDERING WHAT IT'S LIKE TO BE A WOMAN
The Witches of Eastwick was my first Updike and a wonderful introduction at that. The prose is exquisite, the evocations magnificent and the themes complex and defy analysis. Just avoid the movie. In the small town of Eastwick, Rhode Island, three women have come to possess magical abilities. Dispatched of their husbands while still in their prime; the air and maternal beauty of Eastwick has empowered them. A cellist, Jane subsists on giving piano lessons to school children.