It will be clear to anyone reading this novel that in writing it Updike set about finding solutions to two key problems. Firstly, what would the inside of the mind of a young, American-born shahid (martyr/suicide terrorist) be like and secondly, would it be possible to generate and maintain sufficient reader sympthy with such a character even as he prepares to participate in a major atrocity.
Whilst the resulting story is un uncertain compromise between the imperatives of plot and character, Updike has provided credible answers to his self-proposed conundra and with a stylistic verve that no novelist on this side of the pond seems capable of.
But it was not this that made me almost gasp in admiration only thirty or so pages into the novel. Instead it was my sudden appreciation of the way that the writer who had dismissed the most recent work of Michel Houellebecq as "an interminable blog from nowhere" was able here to repeatedly adjust his narrative voice to fit the perspective of the particular disillusioned character in the foregound of the action (be it Ahmad the young Islamist or Jack Levy the weary old Jewish unbeliever) and thereby deliver one of the most stunning critiques of contemporary American society, of the kind that would surely have fallen foul of the PC police had it been realised in any other way. This, for me at least, is therefore a work of masterful cunning.