Iris Murdoch project update

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As I’ve just been sending out some questionnaires, I thought it must be time for a quick update on my Iris Murdoch And Book Groups project.

I’ve just finished sending out the questionnaires to the remaining groups who are reading “The Bell” in June.  Some group leaders had already requested their questionnaires and have already been sent them.  If you’re reading the book in June, and you haven’t had a questionnaire from me, please check your spam folder and then contact me if you still can’t see it.

I’ve had five sets of questionnaires back now, which is wonderful – and they’re making very interesting reading.  I’m not going to be able to pull out the final themes until I’ve had them all back in, of course, but there are some very interesting themes starting to emerge already, particularly in terms of what my participants thought about / knew of Iris Murdoch before undertaking the project.

My Iris Murdoch A Month project is finishing; we’re all reading “Jackson’s Dilemma” and some of us have posted about that, so the members of that group will find themselves confronted with the second lot of questions for my case study, asking them what they thought about reading all the books in chronological order, how they’ve found the process, whether they will ever read another Iris Murdoch novel again … The first part of this was fascinating reading, so I’m really looking forward to the answers coming back to me for the second part!

It’s not too late to join in the main part of the project: if you run or are part of a book group, anywhere in the world, and would like to help me find out whether a mid-century novelist is as good a book group read as the latest Richard and Judy recommendation, do get in touch and join up – all you have to do is read “The Bell” and answer a few questions for me!

Information on the background to the project can be found here.

HELEN SIMONSON – Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand

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Acquired via BookCrossing 19 May 2011 – BookRing

Major Pettigrew gains the rather cloying sympathy of his village when his brother dies suddenly, but finds that he draws most comfort from the friendship of the lady from the village shop. As he’s drawn into her life, the relationships in his own family are thrown into stark relief, and by the end we’ve learnt a lot about the choice between family and duty, which pull people in all sorts of directions.

This is a quietly charming book that creeps up on you and ambushes your heart, so that by the exciting events near the end you’re really rooting for, well, almost all of the characters. Village life and family relationships are beautifully and subtly drawn, and all of the characters are three-dimensional; you cheer inwardly when they achieve their fates. Simonson refuses to tie everything up neatly at the end, which makes for a more satisfying and realistic read. My favourite quotation: “Passion is all very well, but it wouldn’t do to spill the tea.”

ROBERT RHODES JAMES – Anthony Eden

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17 Mar 2010 (this was my At The Table read, which is why it took me a while)

A pretty flawless biography of the politician and Prime Minister, Anthony Eden, of whom I’ve always been rather fond (I helped to look after his archives in my first Library job, and had to phone his rather formidable widow, Clarissa, Lady Avon, whenever someone came in to consult them). Some events are rather dry, but they’re told with a balanced hand and a concern for accuracy that makes them more interesting. There are asides from the biographer and he even comes into the story at times, as a young MP in the latter years of Eden’s House of Commons career, but he always strives to be fair and his comments are appropriate. A good, old-fashioned biography, that shies away from the prurient moment and is stern where it needs to be, but also firmly on Eden’s side, and even tender at times.

DON TAPSCOTT & ANTHONY D. WILLIAMS – Macrowikinomics: Rebooting Business and the World

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Bought at Waterstones, 4 Jan 2011

This seemed like it would be interesting, but it’s a follow-up to their Wikinomics book, which I probably should have read first. The idea is interesting, about how crowd-sourcing, open-ness and collaboration makes for good practice, but it does seem to be a bit selective, bending events in the world to the theory (e.g. they claim that peer-lending systems are brand new and a great example of this, handily forgetting the Credit Union). In the end, this was proving an effort to read or even get down to reading, so I’m letting it go.

IDA PFEIFFER – Visit to Iceland (1853)

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e-book from Manybooks.net, read on Kindle

A German lady, this time, visiting some of the places in Iceland that the writer of my previous Iceland book went to, but a bit less keen on the locals, even though happy enough to sleep in their churches, and she also spent a fair portion of the book visiting and describing Scandinavia and Germany. Interesting, but not as good as the other one.

Still enjoying using my Kindle on the bus, though!

Round-up of people talking about the Iris Murdoch Project

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I just thought it might be fun to pull together a few of the mentions the Iris Murdoch project has had online – this of course is apart from the emails going out all over the place, including from the Iris Murdoch Society themselves, and the mentions and shares on Facebook and Twitter. Thanks again, all who forwarded emails out there for me, or mentioned or shared in various ways.

Paul Magrs was kind enough to let me do a guest post on his blog (link to follow)

The author Eve Makis put a note on her website.

Urban Coffee Company did a piece on their blog about being the test group for the project and the questionnaire.

And the latest reference to the project comes from West Ealing Neighbours.

If you post about the project, do let me know as well as linking back to this blog or the web page about it.

More news to come in early June, when I round up how many responses I’ve had back so far and confirm I’ve sent out the June questionnaires.

MIRIAM TOEWS – Irma Voth

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10 May 2011 – LibraryThing Early Reviewers Program

Irma’s living in a Mennonite colony in Mexico (something I didn’t know existed – I learnt a lot from this book), but she’s already got involved with the forbidden locals, so once she gets mixed up with a film crew making a drama the community doesn’t want, it’s only a matter of time before she has to go on the run, trying to rescue her younger sister as well as herself. Before she goes, there are some delicious scenes around the film: as a translator, she’s meant to smooth out any misunderstandings, but she subverts her instructions, and bosses, beautifully and hilariously. They meet a lot of transient characters along the way (in a road trip which is reminiscent of her previous novel, "The Flying Troutmans"), as well as more stable people who may be able to hep them more usefully, and gradually adapt to a life of "freedom".  The ending, though, leaves a lot of questions to be answered, although not so many as to be unsatisfying.  A fast-paced and exciting, but engaging and intriguing, read, with another of Toews’ captivating heroines.

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