THE WITCHES ARE BACK TO CAST THEIR SPELL AGAIN
THE Witches Of Eastwick has had a longer afterlife than many books. It was made into a film in 1987, starring Jack Nicholson, Michelle Pfeiffer, Cher and Susan Sarandon, and more recently into a West End musical.
However, it is not among John Updike’s most distinguished novels so it might seem odd that he has written a sequel in which the three witches, predatory divorcées in the first book, have given up magic and are growing old ungracefully and alone. But the result is engaging and even moving, if a little thin. At the end of the last book, Lexa, Sukie and Jane have completed their dealings with Darryl van Horne, the “perfect man” they conjured up together, and have left Eastwick, the seaside town in Rhode Island where they have caused so much mischief.
The new book starts with Lexa, the oldest, the most damaged by time and the first to be widowed, on a trip to Alaska. She finds her travelling companions irritating and decides that she will not travel alone again. When she receives a letter from her old friend Jane Tinker the pair go to Egypt together. The coven is finally reconstituted when Lexa and Jane reconnect with Sukie, and choose Eastwick as their holiday destination. In Eastwick, they reacquaint themselves with old enemies and make a disastrous
attempt to revive their “half-baked suburban variety of witchcraft”.
The book continually refers to its predecessor. Then they were young, insatiable and fearless. Now, in the 21st century, they feel out of touch, sexually moribund and frightened of death.
Updike once described his approach to writing female characters: “I think of a man and I take away reason and accountability.” The women in this book are not portrayed convincingly or sympathetically, and Updike takes a gloating interest in their physical decay.
Together with Updike’s failure to subtly corporate his research into everything from quantum theory to Egyptian religion, this is the book’s central weakness.
Novelist Joseph Heller, author of Catch-22, once wrote that there comes a time when writers realise they have nothing new to say but still wish to continue writing. This is the case with Updike. He is no longer writing essential novels but is still taking pleasure in playing with language and in this unambitious book, that is enough.
MOVIE COVEN: Cher, Sarandon and Pfeiffer with Jack Nicholson