November 11, 2013
The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike (Review)
Author: John Updike
First published: 1984
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This is one of those books you don't know how to start writing about. Not only has it layers upon layers of meaning, it is also so enchanting that you are afraid that the charm will be broken from your amateur jabber. But in spite of being intimidated and feeling totally unequal to the task, I'll try, because to pass over this book in silence would be very unfair.
The story takes place in a small rural town of Eastwick, where everybody know each other (and some of them has even slept with almost everybody they know) and where in the sleepy atmosphere of quiet contempt a coven of three witches is formed. They are all middle-aged women, divorced and not caring much for their children. What they care about is their womanliness, their self-actualization and their powers. Now this is tricky, because their powers are very subtle, like when they wish somebody to break their leg, sometime later they do. A "reasonable" person can find millions of plausible explanations why it's just an accident, but when these incidents repeat, nobody doubts that this is witchcraft. Sometimes they become very nasty, but they try to think they are only tools of some Nature's purpose.
All goes relatively well in the town and in their coven before a new menacing resident Darryl Van Horne appears in an old mansion on the shore. He lures all three of them to his house, joins in their Sabbaths and tries to challenge them to do something new and bigger with their lives. He manipulates them to think that each of them is special to him, and this diabolic influence destroys their fragile idyll. Horrible things start to happen in the town, and the witches' powers change.
Now I'm not sure I can judge the plausibility of the described feelings and thoughts of middle-aged women, because I'm too young for that, but I find them very believable, and I was wondering how a man could have written such a book. The other wonderful thing is the structure of the narrative, where everything has its meaning and fits in its place: the seasons, the holidays, the coming and leaving of characters - all is perfectly adjusted. And the writing is just mesmerizing.
In my book:
Not an easy book to read, but totally worth it. It is disturbing and scary at times, but not in the supernatural way. It's the horror of a woman's nature, so nothing to be done with this :)