“The Good Apprentice” round-up and “The Book and the Brotherhood” preview #IMReadalong @IrisMurdoch

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I really enjoyed re-reading “The Good Apprentice” and it’s stayed near the top of my list, even though I have switched allegiance on a few characters. Here’s my review with the usual comments and discussion (I will admit to have not replied to the lovely long comments yet – sorry!). Jo has contributed a very interesting review on Goodreads which pulls out some very good points.

If you have any juicy paperbacks or alternative covers, do send me covers to include as I love seeing all the different ways the books are interpreted. I always welcome reviews after the month I happen to have read the book, so do comment away if you’re coming to this at some other time! It’s always good to talk about Iris Murdoch! I just added one from someone who’d read and reviewed “Henry and Cato”, for example

“The Book and the Brotherhood”

This has always been one of my top favourites, and includes my all-time favourite character, so no pressure for this one to live up to, then. It also has the best parrot, though brace yourselves …

I have the usual three copies although I fear this is almost the last time I’ll be posting three as the final two books didn’t get republished by Vintage. Can you believe I was pulling a book off the bottom shelf of my IM first editions? I will be very sad when this readalong is over.

The first edition is very special to me, because it was the first IM first edition I bought! I went to a shop in Cecil Court in central London and bought it for £16 in January 2004, a birthday present to myself. I had a vague plan of buying them all, birthday by birthday, but the prices were still a bit high – I’ve amassed most of the rest of them over the last two years. I have the slightly more modern (and very 1990s somehow) Penguin, which I bought on 30 December 1994, presumably using Christmas book tokens. And I have to say I do love the cover of the Vintage edition.

The blurbs are quite similar … here’s the first:

Here’s the Penguin:

and here’s the Vintage:

which is less derivative than some of them and concentrates on the opening – which is marvellous. I can’t wait to get stuck into this one!

Oh, and I finally got round to buying this lovely:

It is available from the Second Shelf Bookshop in particular, and other real-life bookshops of course, in person, or the usual online booksellers, and has new photos and lovely-looking pieces by people who knew Iris Murdoch. I’ve decided to save it to read after I’ve finished “Jackson’s Dilemma” in December, to give a nice treat to the end of the year. Who else has it?

Are you going to be reading or re-reading “The Book and the Brotherhood” along with me? Are you catching up with the others or have you given up? What’s your favourite so far? Your least favourite? Do you have a photo to share of you reading one of the books, or where you read it?


You will find a page listing all of these blog posts here, updated as I go along.

Book reviews – two easy escapist reads #am reading

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Two nice easy reads that allow you to escape into a nice world of seaside and friendship when the world outside is looking a little grim. And yes, sometimes I do allow myself to read a book I’ve just brought home or pluck one from the middle of the front shelf! Shocking!

BTW, about to photograph my TBR shelves for Sunday’s post, I note they are still absolutely full, but with slightly different books. So that’s OK (right?)

Debbie Macomber – “Cottage by the Sea”

(20 August 2019)

One of the books I picked up on my way home from a dental check-up, this had to be grabbed and read immediately. Annie has lost all of her family in a mudslide tragedy (that really happened, in 2014, assuring us that this is not one of DM’s recycled novels but a proper new one), and we follow her grieving and renewal process as she moves to a small community where her family used to spend the summer. She meets Keaton, a painter and man of few words, and tries to win the friendship of her unfriendly landlady, all the while worrying about a family abuse issue in the town. So it’s not short of issues, plus Keaton and his friend Preston do animal rescue, which worried me – there is in fact only one animal loss and that’s not dwelt on and is not an animal we meet more than slightly and once. A good restorative and positive read.

Clara Christiensen – “Hygge and Kisses”

(07 August 2018)

Bought almost exactly a year ago, of course the hygge trend of latter years had to come up in a novel at some point, and here it is. Bo (not actually Danish) discovers the concept of hygge through a trip to her half-Danish friend’s summer house. The usual job loss / manky boyfriend takes a while to get going, the Danish middle section is nicely paced and subtly done, then the ending seems a bit rushed (and amusingly overlaps with another 2018 easy-read trend which I won’t spoil). But a nice escapist read with some good positive moments.


I’ve bought some more comfort reads and one intellectual one, which you’ll hear about on Sunday, and I’m about to start “Humankind”, my last Shiny review book (for now) which is fascinatingly all about inventions that help society and are inspired by actual need.

How are you doing?

Book review – Josephine Kamm – “Peace, Perfect Peace” @DeanStPress #FurrowedMiddlebrow

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I’m glad to  have been able to fit in another review of an interesting mid-century novel, kindly sent to me by Dean Street Press from their Furrowed Middlebrow imprint for review. Scott reviewed it on the Furrowed Middlebrow blog back in 2016 and it’s part of the summer offering from Dean Street Press – you can read about them all here.

I actually received Barbara Noble’s “The House Opposite” along with Verily Anderson’s “Spam Tomorrow” (reviewed by me earlier in the month) and asked to swap it as I was worried that one might be too horribly detailed about the Blitz – if anyone has read it, can you let me know (dead or injured pets or massive horror detail are not for me usually or even more so right now). Anyway, this is a novel of peacetime, just post-war, and very interesting indeed.

Josephine Kamm – “Peace, Perfect Peace”

(17 June 2019)

A book with a slightly odd structure: it starts off being about Clare, middle-aged at 35 and suffering an unhappy affair with a married man while she tries to write a second novel, but when she goes to visit hr friend and ex-landlady Joanna by the sea, the author seems to get more interested in Joanna’s battle with her daughter-in-law, Frances, over the soul of Frances’ son, Giles. Although we return with Clare to depressing London and her gas ring and dusty room, and also witness her betrayal of Joanna (it’s on a small canvas but has some gasp-out-loud moments), it’s this relationship that’s explored in huge detail, as resentment builds in Frances, all the while trying to make a home out of a slightly bomb-damaged and pretty manky flat. Poor old Clare is given a rather hastily sketched-in plot resolution, although she’s used for the author’s main theme.

Frances’ daughter June is a caution, and brings levity and hilarity to the proceedings, and post-war winding-down office life is well-portrayed, too, and the gathering of itself of a seaside town, but the main value and I think the author’s real main interest lies in its minute detailing of the privations, annoyances and humiliations of post-war life, from visiting an empty road house for not much fun to forgetting there’s no blackout any more or going into a lottery for a Christmas turkey. Published in 1947, it’s a fresh record which serves as an invaluable documentation of that time in British history, as well as being a perfectly readable and enjoyable novel.

Well done, Furrowed Middlebrow and Dean Street Press: another triumph!

Book review – Iris Murdoch – “The Good Apprentice” #IMReadalong @IrisMurdoch

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It’s funny what you remember and don’t remember about books you re-read, isn’t it? I’d remembered very clearly Stuart being described as a white grub, and scenes at Seegard, and I recall finding Middge an attractive character (something of which I’m less sure this time round) but I had no memory of most of the actual plot as such! Anyway, a bit of a late review and I hope my regulars are poised to share their thoughts, and anyone else happening along feels moved to share theirs, too.

If you’re doing the readalong or even selected books along with me, or of course some time afterwards, do share how you’re getting on and which have been your favourites so far.

Iris Murdoch – “The Good Apprentice”

(28 December 2018)

Edward and Stuart are brothers-but-not-brothers. Edward has just been instrumental in the death of a friend and wants to blot out all experience and stop living in hell  “How does one live after total wickedness, total failure, total disgrace?” (p. 10). Stuart is inexperienced but wants to do good in the world. Their father/step-father is one of a group of super-Murdochian middle-class characters (the analyst, the doctor, the academic, the “women’s lib” writer) and their offspring who circle the boys, trying to help. Meanwhile, near the sea but seemingly distanced from the sea, Seegard sits with its colony of weird women, waiting for whoever ends up visiting.

This is one of the books where you definitely have to draw a diagram of the relationships, pretty well as soon as you discover that Stuart and Edward are brothers only in vague name, having different mothers AND fathers. Add in a few aunts and cousins and you can easily get very lost. And then everyone’s mothers seem to know everyone else’s mothers! I found my diagram from last time and added to it – dotted lines are links not by marriage or birth and I imagine it’s incomplete!

There are little feminist bits again which I’ve never (how?) noticed before. Sarah Plowmain’s mother is into “Women’s Lib Journalism. She’s a fire-eater” (p. 6) and later writes a piece decrying Mother May’s position as a little woman serving a great man and being spiteful about his conquests. We don’t have the horrible ageing women we’ve had in other books, Mother May’s network of fine lines being attractive and Midge, for all of her weight gain, being very attractive and well-dressed. Thomas has been doing a lot of thinking about the menopause in a rather startling passage, with a very modern conclusion: “In fact, he thought, there is no typical menopause, there are as many menopauses as women” (p. 387) so although he’s been complaining about women pinning their neuroses onto this time of life, he is humane about it. Harry is seen grabbing and shaking Midge until her head cracks against a chair (but he doesn’t get to keep his relationship with her).

In our usual themes Willy is trying to write a book on Proust but has been unable to finish it. Harry HAS finished a book but it’s a novel (“a terrible shameful secret”) and it’s being rejected by publishers. Red curly hair is a theme at Seegard (and Midge has a many-coloured mop that is also familiar) and not only Ilona but Bettina chops her hair off. There are stones throughout: the “lingam stone” of which Edward knows the meaning and Ilona claims not to, the stones around the country cottage and the paperweight stone Thomas has from Scotland. Spiders appear as Bettina teases one at Seegard, and Edward claims his head is full of poisonous ones. There are not many people seen out of windows or through them, but Harry enters Midge and Thomas’ house via a “tree-shaded back alley through a gate into the walled garden” (p. 181). Stuart chases Meredith in London but there’s no one flitting in a white dress. Water is there in the form of the sea by Seegard, not accessible by Edward until he trusts his own sense of direction, and mists.

There’s lots of doubling – Stuart and Edward / Mark and Brownie, with Edward and Mark the favoured children. Two locations, London and Seegard. Two families for almost everyone. Two hot air balloon appearances. Two fingers on lips expressions for Midge and Meredith. Two sightings of Jesse drowned, one real, one a vision. Two encounters with the Tree Men. Willy’s father is killed camel riding, Harry’s sailing. Jesse and then his old friend Max die, probably on the same day, and the two deaths are seen in the papers. Ilona can dance in the glade and then can’t dance in the strip club (is this Seegard as enchanter again? see below).

Of course the theme of religion hangs over the whole book – or precisely what to do when religion has faded from the world, Edward can’t take absolution from a priest and Stuart can’t become a monk, so what are they to do to make their way through the world? The introduction by David E. Cooper makes much of this, and is right to.

There is humour in this big and very sad book. The “Willy and the camel” thing is pretty weird, his father having been killed by one – Harry mentions someone “drinks like a camel” and Willy leaves suddenly and later when Midge wants to get rid of him, she comments “What a fine coat … it’s camel-hair, isn’t it?” (p 432). This is such an odd one it does feel like something – a dare? – that has worked its way in from real life. Some of the descriptions of discomfort – Edward in his wet clothes at Mrs Quaid’s (“His trousers were wet and seemed to have shrunk, he felt cold, a smell of damp wool arose from the collar of his jacket” (p. 64)

Who is the saint and who the enchanter? I’m not sure we have a saint. Stuart, though, is striving like mad to be one, suppressing all urges, absorbing people’s emotions and trying to find his place to do good in the world. However, Meredith says he’s not messy, so he can’t be a saint yet. Maybe a saint in waiting. Interestingly at very least Midge tries to turn him into an enchanter, making out he’s sat there in the back of the car with a monolithic disapproval of her and Harry’s affair and has made her fall in love with him, while he says, “I don’t think I did that” (p. 353). Edward is trying to find his own redemption, although he does manage to “take a pain away from her into himself” when Brownie tells him what people have been saying about Mark’s death (p. 334). Thomas has been moving behind the scenes, as we discover he was behind Edward’s invitation to Seegard and also sends Brownie to find him in his old room by letter, and has been busy reading letters between Harry and Midge. He knows Edward is going to run and that he will know where to (but that’s because he’s instigated it!). But he’s more like N from “The Philosopher’s Pupil”, moving things around to help, and he’s not set up as an enchanter by anyone. He also thinks he should give up “this ingenious skill, this power, bending and contorting people’s lives like a Japanese flower arranger” (p. 390). He does, however, avoid “inflicting my suffering on [Midge] in the form of rage” (p. 437). Jesse is a sex god and attracted many women, but doesn’t really seem to have used his powers much, and Mother May is more like the controlling nun in “The Bell” and a wardress.

However, there is a source of enchantment in Seegard, appearing and disappearing in the landscape, acting as a place out of time where no one ages, and described as starting to fall apart as Edward leaves it for the last time. Nature also has some kind of guiding or enchanting role, from the murmuration of starlings Edward sees on the way to Seegard to the robin that interrupts Harry and Thomas.

In links to other books, Stuart is described early as “a plump white grub with a big head emerging from an apple” (p. 28) and we remember that I noted in my review of “The Philosopher’s Pupil” the description of George post-stones as “weak and pale like a grub in an apple” (p. 547). The Post Office Tower pops up, for Edward when he’s walking out of Mrs Quaid’s and everything is glittering and lovely. When Edward is in counsel with Thomas, a demon looks through his eyes reminding Thomas of flayed Marsyas, who crops up a lot. Thomas himself is another psychoanalyst who believes he’s a fraud, like Blaise from “The Sacred and Profane Love Machine”. Midge describes Harry as living in a “net” and she is in one of lies (p. 99). Thomas says he likes to see Midge sewing and someone else in a book a few ago said that – anyone remember? The idea of ordeal, which came up in “Philosopher’s Pupil”  and “Nuns and Soldiers” and will be more prominent in “The Green Knight”, is mentioned here – “[Edward] has gone upon a pilgrimage to face an ordeal, his very own. He will be alright” (p. 225).

And in a link to quite another book, we have a little Lord of the Rings mention, when Edward, very near the end of the book, considers wearing Jesse’s ring on Ilona’s chain “round his neck, like Frodo” (p. 554). This greatly cheered me!

Thoughts on re-reading – I don’t remember Stuart and Thomas being my favourite characters last time but they are this time. Poor old Thomas, trying to be logical and being accused of being cold, and poor lost Stuart, not his father’s favourite and patiently running around trying to help!


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.

Sedate lady running 12-25 August 2019 #amrunning #running

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I had a week off the round-up last week as I ended up just doing one run, on the Saturday. But I’ve got back into it this last week, even though the summer seems to have come back.

Saturday (17 August) – I was supporting running club beginners, and dashed up to the meetup point starting off a little late. Had no beginners (this often happens at this time of year) but lovely Ruth joined me to keep me company, we Jeffed round the park a bit then I ran the long way home. We had a man in repointing our front wall so I was glad to escape him!

0.5 miles, 10:47 mins per mile / 4 miles 13 mins per mile

Weekly total 4.5 miles

Tuesday – I ran up to running club’s evening club run and had a lovely time running round with the party pack at the back. At one point I was trying to chase down Trudie and Mary Ellen in the other park, with not enough breath to call them if I was sprinting, and too far away for them to hear if I wasn’t sprinting. It was warm but a lovely run – ran home with Trudie after getting a pic of the four of us. It was so good to be with the girls and feel myself again. Strava saved itself while I had my watch paused for warm up so it split into running there and running round and home.

Look at Mary Ellen’s super new haircut, too!

0.6 miles, 10:55 mins per mile / 4.8 miles, 12:37 mins per mile

Thursday – A very nice canal run with Mary Ellen, who is on school holidays at the moment. We did the shortest possible canal route just to get those lovely boats in and were rewarded with a classic shot.

Narrow boat coming through bridge

I was feeling a bit tired etc so there was some walking and that was fine. Mary Ellen was in the middle of a 10-miler, having dropped her boys off at a summer school and run home from town, and we managed to work our way from the canal up to the rugby club without getting lost!

4 miles, 13:27 mins per mile

Friday – Managed to get back to yoga for the first time in a while. Man did I ache the next day. We did sloooooowwww yoga which is just as hard as going fast!

Saturday – Volunteered at parkrun for the first time in an age – too much club volunteering or officiating on Saturdays! I was barcode scanning (scanning the runner’s barcode and their finish token) and it all went pretty well. Like a greatest hits of parkrun friends, I saw loads of my lovely friends I’ve made through the event, and had a great long cuppa and chat with two of them afterwards. Good times.

Cannon Hill Park was looking very pretty

Sunday – Back to a lovely longer canal run with Trudie, Sonya and Caroline. Caroline was very nifty and walked some of the canal while we somehow did longer loops running, so we came upon her twice after having said goodbye (or au revoir, maybe!) which was fun. It was a blazing hot day so a good one to get some cool shady canal running in.

Kings Norton Junction with Sonya, Trudie and geese

Trudie, Sonya and Liz, taken by Caroline …

Caroline reclining like a supermodel on the guillotine lock – she’d climbed up here to get the previous picture! Photo by Trudie.

Four ladies in the sun, taken by Trudie (on timer). Caroline (my name’s on the back of her tshirt from a race we both did before I knew her!), Sonya, Trudie and me doing a weird pose.

Sonya and Caroline left Trudie and me to carry on past the boatyard and up through the common again, with another perfect way-finding meaning I think I know how to do that route now. How lovely! There was a lot of walking and standing and photographing and you know what, as I said to Trudie, if all my runs are like this forever I won’t be unhappy.

7.6 miles, 14:04 mins per mile

Weekly total 17 miles. Total this year 671 (I needed 666.67 at the end of this month to be on track for my 1,000 miles in a year total)

weekly-run-down-final-300x300The Weekly Run Down is run by two wonderful running women and joined by lots of other inspirational women. Kim’s weekly wrap is here and Deborah’s is here.

Book review – Sayaka Murata – “Convenience Store Woman” #WITMonth

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I’ve finally managed to read a book for Women In Translation Month – hooray! I’ve always been really bad at doing this, as I do try to do challenges from my TBR shelf and never seem to have one. But I got hold of this from my friend Meg back in June and here I am managing to have read and now review it. I can’t say I’m able to say an awful lot about it, but I have at least had a go.

Sayaka Murata – “Convenience Store Woman” (trans. Ginny Tapley Takemori)

(09 June 2019, Bookcrossing)

Keiko has worked in the convenience store since she was 18, and she’s now in her mid-30s; she knows its every way and lives and breathes it, sharing in her narrative how she works out the minute fluctuations in what she can expect to sell and to whom. She’s clearly different in some way, and her family and friends pressurise her to be more conforming, but she doesn’t know how to do that. She feels she has to adopt her colleagues’ mannerisms and ways of speaking in order to construct her own personality (while noting that her friends tend towards matching each other over time and with new trends, too, so maybe she’s just a more extreme or self-aware example).

Keiko adopts a colleague and immediately sees she has more of a place in the world – but she does think/speak of him and treat him a bit like a stray dog. I can’t work out whether their relationship is funny or depressing, to be honest.

With a deadpan first-person narrative which is reminiscent of other Japanese writers I’ve read (e.g. Banana Yashimoto), you find yourself rooting for this strange girl who is just trying to live her life and not make too much of a mark on the world, while trying to serve the convenience store world the best she can. I have a horrible feeling there’s some massive message or metaphor that I’ve missed, but anyway, I did enjoy it, and would read more by this author/translation pair.

Book review – Mary Webb – “Seven for a Secret” and some Book Confessions @ViragoBooks #amreading #20BooksOfSummer

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Another great Virago read which covers both All Virago/All August and my 20BooksOfSummer project. Ali from the Heavenali blog kindly loaned me this one as she knows I like a Mary Webb and she read it almost a year ago: you can read her review here. After my review, read on for some juicy book confessions – I went to the dentist today for a check up, and we all know by now that the dentist is opposite The Works and, important today, is two doors away from the Oxfam Books …

Mary Webb – “Seven for a Secret”

(borrowed from Ali)

That rare thing, a not completely doomy Webb (this is made clear on the back and in the introduction) although things aren’t great for everyone and there’s an uncanny place full of portents waiting for something to inevitably happen. I loved, as usual, the great nature descriptions, especially finding lots of bird behaviour and also some good horses and cats (nothing bad happens to either). There’s rural worker comedy worthy of Hardy, to whom, in fact, Webb dedicates this book, “happily” which was lovely to find.

Our heroine, Gillian Lovekin, has ideas above her station, which is never a good thing to have in early 20th century rural fiction, and she’s drawn to an attractive incomer with a strange household (of course) rather than the dependable local who loves her (to be fair, her father isn’t keen on him, either. He’s a great amusing character with his outburst of “HA!” which make most people doubt themselves and get into a state). She craves even small town life, but when she gets to live with her aunt for a while, uses her powers the wrong way, and she basically has to learn patience and to help others (there is some bobbins about women’s role being to love and men’s to do which we have to skim over as a product of the time and place).

The main plot resolves by using a device that is perhaps a little convenient – but then again both “The Secret Garden” and “Jane Eyre” use the same device, so I can’t really complain. The book is saved from po-faced melodrama and “Cold Comfort Farm” style something in the woodshed doom (and I do rate Webb for herself and love her books, but reading a few bits out they do come out a little over-the-top) by the author’s wry self-knowledge, especially in the last chapter:

Things did happen almost as they should in a well-regulated novel. (p. 284)

A good read I was glad to have got to.

This was Book 10 in my 20 Books of Summer project, and as I have a Women In Translation month book to review next, am only part way through a very substantial Iris Murdoch and have two review books and countless NetGalley books on the Kindle, I’m going to call it a day here with both #20books and All Virago/All August. It’s been great fun, though!


Book confession time!

So as I mentioned, I had the dentist today and came back via Oxfam books. And these lovelies kind of fell into my arms. Well, OK, I searched through the whole shop, as you can see from the variety of books and topics, from fiction to “literature” via travel and social history.

Clara Parkes – “Knitlandia” – she travels the world meeting knitters in Iceland and the like. I am no knitter (I am the anti-knitter: I just cannot learn to do it however hard people try) but I like a travel book and I know who I will be giving this to.

Debbie Macomber – “Cottage by the Sea” – a Macomber I don’t recall reading before about a woman taking refuge in a … well, yes, you get the idea.

Stephen Moss – “A Bird in the Bush” is sub-titled “A Social History of Birdwatching” and seems to have a historical aspect as well as a current-day one. I must check where the cover photo was taken as it reminds me of a scene I saw myself on the Isles of Scilly.

Mark Cocker – “Birders: Tales of a Tribe” so what’s the chances of two books on birdwatching popping up – presumably a birdwatcher doing some deaccessioning. This one is about the author’s life among birdwatchers, so more of an ethnography, perhaps. I’m hoping Matthew will enjoy these, too (we already have another two books on birdwatching on my TBR so I’m going to have to space them out a  bit!).

Catherine Carswell – “The Camomile” is a Virago I hadn’t come across before. Seems to be about a New Woman in Edinburgh. KaggysBookishRamblings Middle Child reviewed this here a few years ago and I’ll have to pop back to read that when I’ve read this. Looks great, though.

Edward Platt – “Leadville” – this is a history of the Westway road in London, from the White City to the Hangar Lane Gyratory – I have a much-loved copy and have read it at least twice, and love the mix of social history, architecture and town planning. I’ve not read it that recently as it’s not on here but I couldn’t resist picking up a second copy to press onto someone and Best Friend Emma fancied it when I waved an image of it in her direction – hooray!

Read any of these? Think I’m terrible for giving up on 20 Books of Summer with 14 days to go??

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