We’re on to Book Three in the Great Iris Murdoch Readalong and it’s time for “The Sandcastle”. I had these three copies to begin with and added a lovely hardback to the collection, but if you have yet a different cover, I’d love to see it. Tweet them to me, pop them on Facebook for my attention or use the email address you can find on my Contact Form.

Again I’ve found a real change in my attitudes to the characters in these ones – although it turns out my earlier reviews are less than deep and instructive, and even my notes in my old Yahoo Group from my last readalong are not that helpful! Lucky I can remember how I’ve felt about all of the novels over the years!

Iris Murdoch – “The Sandcastle”

(14 October 2017)

On this multiple re-read, I felt like this was more like a traditional novel than the first two, with a traditional setting, although schools and other institutions have come up. But I have changed my opinions on many of the characters.

I had a weird change in my reading preferences when I got married (long-term readers of this blog will have heard this before). Even though I’d been with my husband for years (over a decade) before we got married, even though we have never had this issue in our relationship, suddenly, upon having that ring on my finger, I was unable to bear to read about marriages being threatened by affairs. I did manage to cope with this theme in this book (we’ve been married almost 4 years now so the upset of reading of such things has worn off a bit!), however it seemed clearer to me this time how much the book is a portrait of the tiny relationship shifts, power battles and feelings that any long marriage or relationship is made up of: consider this, once Nan feels she has to confront Bill, “In ordinary life all her talk with Bill was planed down into simple familiar regularly recurring units. Any conversation which she might have with him was of so familiar a type that they might have talked it in their sleep” (p. 199). Murdoch skewers Nan and Bill’s marriage, highlighting every tiny fault line. I’d actually forgotten how much of Nan’s point of view we got, and how much of her vulnerability, and I found myself much more on her side this time.

Rain I recall originally finding very cool and attractive. I’d forgotten how defenceless she does seem at times, and how insecure. I do wonder how people will read her and Mor’s relationship through the lens of current discussions of abuses of power etc – if you have read this book more than once, did you find your attitude changing with the times? I could see how people’s could, without necessarily seeing Mor as predatory – they seem to encounter and fall for each other – or use each other – equally, to me. Mor is pretty pathetic, though, now, to me: !he talked and talked … He was able to explain how and why it was that he no longer loved his wife” (p. 207).

The good old themes are here – weird siblings and our first magic, maybe? Dogs, of course, with the lost / ghost Liffey, and we can note that Rain is shorn of her plaits between a painting at the exhibition and now. The sea comes in, and that powerful image of magic and the sea down in Dorset. Men with large heads and old men, and of course art. The theme of chasing a woman through the night came up again with Mor and Rain’s rose-picking exploits near the start of the novel. We have detailed descriptions of complicated arrangements, whether that’s the access to the school grounds, Felicity’s spell or the climb and rescue near the end (reminiscent of “The Nice and the Good, maybe?). I thought Bledyard had more sermons and speeches than he ended up having, which is interesting. And I ended up much fonder of him this time.

It’s funny, again, of course, from Mor leaving his bicycle “in a place where bicycles were forbidden ever to be” (p. 154), Everard becoming more chubby and conciliatory as Demoyte becomes grimmer and more sarcastic (p. 169), or Felicity being very good at interpreting Tarot cards to her wishes.

I’m not sure there’s an enchanter here, unless it’s Rain or even her father. But surely, and I don’t recall thinking this before, Revvy Evvy is actually a Murdochian saint. He’s benign and always in a muddle – a classic thing that reminded me of Tallis in “A Fairly Honourable Defeat”. He’s described as “so gentle and unselfish” but Mor can “hardly summon up any affection at all for poor Evvy” (shades of Tallis, again).  He doesn’t care for matters of precedence and gets everyone in a muddle even when moving from room to room at the banquet. Is he thus a saint? Notions of good and freedom do come up, with Mor struggling to define freedom, not wanting it to be the absence of external restraint but more self-discipline to dominate our selfish desires, settling for it meaning absence of tyranny, trying to make it all political. When Bledyard talks about freedom, however, he says “Real freedom is an absence of concern about yourself” (p. 217). Is he being the saint here, or is he merely describing sainthood? He certainly stands in judgement and tries to interfere with matters, as does Demoyte, and unlike Everard. But he does “[accept] the storms that so often broke over him without surprise but also without interest” (p. 252) during his lectures.

There are some beautiful descriptions of the human condition. I particularly liked “The real pain after all was not that the world had fallen into little pieces. That was a relief from pain. It was rather that the world remained, whole, ordinary and relentlessly to be lived in” (p. 194-195)

I feel like this book gets a little forgotten in the oeuvre, but it’s a complex and minute study, the first of Murdoch’s novels to be very tied to one place, with only a few forays out, maybe. I very much enjoyed my re-read.

OK, over to you! Please either place your review in the comments, discuss mine or others’, or post a link to your review if you’ve posted it on your own blog, Goodreads, etc. I’d love to know how you’ve got on with this book and if you read it having read others of Murdoch’s novels or this was a reread, I’d love to hear your specific thoughts on those aspects, as well as if it’s your first one!

If you’re catching up or looking at the project as a whole, do take a look at the project page, where I list all the blog posts so far.