“The Book and the Brotherhood” round-up and “The Message to the Planet” preview #IMReadalong @IrisMurdoch


It’s the last day of the month, so time to round up our reading of “The Book and the Brotherhood” and turn our attention to “The Message to the Planet”.

Our usual lovely suspects have posted comments on my review, but I’ve also received notes from another reader on “Henry and Cato” and “The Sea, The Sea” recently, and I hope to collect more and more over the coming months and years. Comments on any of the posts gladly welcomed! Jo has also done her usual perceptive review on Goodreads and Brona has a great review up on her blog.

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!

“The Message to the Planet”

Now on to this one. Hm. This is the one I’m a bit nervous of reading, as it’s traditionally been the one I liked least. I hope to change my mind on it a bit this time, though!

I have three copies and this is the last one I can say that about, as Vintage didn’t re-issue “The Green Knight” or “Jackson’s Dilemma”. I picked up a first edition quite cheaply and I have the same edition in paperback from when it came out, plus my new Vintage one.

Blurb wise, we have a mottled inside flap from the First …

Not too different on the Penguin paperback …

… and we get more of the A.N. Wilson quote before the same stuff again on the Vintage.

Are you going to be reading or re-reading “The Message to the Planet” 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.

Sedate lady running 23-29 Sept 2019 #amrunning #running


A pleasant week including a lovely Run and Talk activity and even a return to yoga.

Tuesday – I got my own run out of the way in the daytime, literally running some errands and getting in 4.1 miles more quickly than I usually do. Then in the evening, when it was time for running club run, I met up with my fellow Mental Health Champion, Maria, and we ran a low-key and non-threatening but fun Run and Talk activity to coincide with National Mental Health Awareness week.

2019_09_24 MHC

I would have popped my coat off too but I had flouro armbands on for walking home in the dark and got all caught up.

The theme of Run and Talk runs is that it’s sometimes easier to talk when you’re side by side with someone, rather than with eye contact. We were encouraged to base this around men, who are more at risk of losing their lives through suicide and who might traditionally not feel they can talk about depression, anxiety, etc., but we kept it general, although I did mention in my introduction that people might consider using telling a male identifying person at home about the activity to encourage them to open up or talk about talking.

I’d prepared these conversation starters and handed them out as the runners left the school playground where we meet. Maria and I then sheltered from the wet and wild weather in her car and had a chat until the first runners came back in. We then collected the conversation starters and asked how people had found them.

I also gave out the lipsalves the Samaritans had given me at parkrun the other week. We had a happy and enthusiastic response, people enjoyed them and thanked us and had had all sorts of conversations.

Thank you to Kings Heath Running Club for letting us run this session on the “big” club night and for supporting us in our Mental Health Champion work (it’s very much an encouraging and signposting role rather than crisis management and i think club members appreciate us being around).

4.1 miles, 11:37 mins per mile

Wednesday – I made it to Dave Yoga after two weeks off, felt a bit weedy but also noticed that a lack of 14+ mile runs has left me a little less stiff than I’d have expected. I missed yoga on Friday as had a massive work project and prioritised finishing on time over yoga and working after tea.

Thursday – A lovely catch up and run with Sara, who I haven’t seen for a while. She dropped her kids at school and ran to the park; we did a modified summer club route and then made up the miles round the back of the high street – we both got the distance we needed and destressed.

5.6 miles, 12:39 mins per mile

Sunday – A seaside getaway meant I got to run in my happy place – the coast. The weather was wild and woolly and I got damp and salt-scrubbed and a bit muddy, but it was great. Will add some pics next week as I wanted to get an update in this week and haven’t sorted them out yet.

10.3 miles, 13:30 mins per mile

Weekly total a nice tidy 20 miles. Total this year 759.2 (I need 750 at the end of this month to be on track for my 1,000 miles in a year total, and I’m now down 30 miles on this time last year).

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 – Joanne M. Harris – “The Testament of Loki”


I’ve got a little scattershot in my reading recently, abandoning my “one from the beginning, one from the end” policy. Not sure why completely, and I will get back to it, but I picked some quick wins between potentially harder reads and then just fancied catching up with this sequel, which you might spot half way along the front shelf in the TBR pic (you might be shocked by the pile I’ve pulled off to read next, which you’ll get to read about on Tuesday!)

Joanne M. Harris – “The Testament of Loki”

(June 2018 – from Annabel)

Annabel from Annabookbel sent me this one after I expressed interest on reading her blog post about DNF’ing it, and it’s fair to say I enjoyed it more than she did. The sequel to “The Gospel of Loki“, this one starts out with our narrator, Loki just after Ragnarok, chained in a terrible prison with the World Serpent and trying to work out how to escape. Using humans’ ‘dream’, which now includes the Internet, he makes it into a multiplayer online game called Asgard! and thence into the body of Jumps, a 17 year old woman who has various issues that might or might not be made worse by sharing her body with an ancient Norse god. It’s a nice, inclusive book with same sex relationships and different ethnicities plus a wheelchair user all treated as completely normal and not existing as plot points, just being there (the love interest being used as a human shield is a plot point but it doesn’t matter who that love interest is, if you see what I mean).

Harris has her plot worked out carefully and it seems to work, hinging on working out just who has come through the portal into which bodies, and although I did get a bit confused when the plot got hectic, I enjoyed the worlds-collide theme involved in Loki learning about modern human culture and the infiltration of kindness and empathy into his mind.

I’m not sure I’ll worry about any further sequels, but did enjoy this quick read. Thanks, Annabel!




Shiny Linkiness and incomings @shinynewbooks @thamesandhudson #amreading


The lovely folk at Thames & Hudson have been keeping me topped up with super books to review for Shiny New Books magazine, and I’m sharing one from their Spring 2019 catalogue and one from their autumn one, plus I did some online ordering and have some lovely – and very worthwhile but not po-faced and worthy – buys to share, too.

I sprang at “Futurekind: Design by and of the People” by Robert Phillips because in my previous London incarnation, I worked in a New Deal for Communities project in South London, and one of our remits was doing community-led initiatives, which included designing a new medical centre with the community. There was talk of all sorts like WiFi in the tower blocks which was a bit ahead of its time, but it would have greatly profited from some of the great projects here, like the Community Fridge. Design ideas from around the world are shared, with information on their beginnings, design and implementation stages and lessons learned. Some are just so simple – like a pack supporting recovery from diarrhoea which was originally shipped in Coke boxes or the one-piece water filter that screws onto a plastic bottle, and there are local UK ones as well as international projects. Great pictures in a lovely book; really inspiring.

Read my full review here.

The Pursuit of Art” by Martin Gayford (which is the most beautiful object, mouth-watering to look at with cheeky little details on the dust jacket and end-papers) is international, too: we follow the well-travelled art critic around the world, learning what goes on behind those glossy images from press jaunts to artists’ studios. He goes from Japan to the American South-West, seeing art installed where it was made or where it’s been brought, from cave paintings to the most modern pieces (and yes, for the sharp-eyed among you, including one of Yayoi Kusama’s amazing pumpkins. He doesn’t spare us the horrors and frustrations of travel, including describing the horror of chasing down a set of wonderful pieces in situ, only to find they’ve been loaned elsewhere … He’s a friendly and avuncular companion, not fancy or pretentious at all and a great companion as we find out just how going to where an object or painting just IS and standing in front of it can have a profound effect.

Read my full review here.

Thank you to Thames & Hudson for these great books for review, the ones that have come and been reviewed and the ones I have still to finish reading!

And some more treats, just because I don’t have QUITE enough books already … I’ve not had the best month or so and watching Queer Eye has been a lovely escape: who that watches the show wouldn’t want to grab Karamo’s book, especially on special offer? “Karamo: My Story of Embracing Purpose, Healing and Hope” (and crediting his ghost writer on the title page: well done!) looks just lovely. I’ll be buying Jonathan Van Ness’s book when that comes out, too, as he’s made the brave step of disclosing his HIV+ status.

“I Will not Be Erased” edited by the redoubtable gal-dem collective (they did a takeover of the Guardian Weekend magazine a few months ago) shares stories women and non-binary people of colour tell of their past lives, giving advice to their younger selves from a position of knowledge and strength. “The Good Immigrant” edited by Nikesh Shukla also shares stories of growing up Black Asian or of another minority ethnicity in Britain. Both promise to be powerful: I’ve been resting on my privileged laurels for long enough, claiming to be a socialist feminist anti-racist, but not actually doing enough to embrace intersectionality and learning about my brothers’ and sisters’ different experiences growing up, and my record of my reading this year has been way too white-orientated, so it’s time to branch out and do some learning.

Have you read any of these? I know a few of the bloggers I follow have read “The Good Immigrant” and I’ll be picking up the US one when it’s in paperback. What are you reading RIGHT NOW? Me? Oh, a very light novel about a Cornish beach cafe. We can’t be doing design, art, intersectionality and powerful stuff all the time now, can we?!

Book review – Iris Murdoch – “The Book and the Brotherhood” #IMReadalong @IrisMurdoch


I’ve finally finished this one – the longest of her novels, surely, with my Vintage edition coming in at a round 600 pages. Yes, it’s baggy, and that’s about all the introduction really says, but I do so love this one and thank goodness it didn’t disappoint this time around. This book is notable for including the best animal in the whole of Murdoch’s oeuvre, and my favourite character in Murdoch. One of these is Grey the parrot, one of them isn’t.

There are spoilers in this review because there can’t not be, so don’t proceed unless you’ve read the book (please save it and come back to it, though!).

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 Book and the Brotherhood”

(31 December 2018)

The premise is such an excellent and strong one, isn’t it. A circle of friends, all Left-leaning, decide to pay into a fund to keep one of them, Crimond, while he writes The Big Book of … well, of what? As the years wear on, everyone moves to the right, as it’s claimed that people do (maybe not Jenkin) and as Murdoch herself is recorded as doing, Crimond has messed with Duncan and Jean’s marriage twice now, most recently at the start of the book, when he claims her in a wild dance, an enchanter indeed, and the original circle wonders if they should keep supporting him. Meanwhile, several incidental cousins and aunts and hangers on are in orbit around the gilded circle, who are themselves linked by ties of sex, love and death. Yes, everyone seems to have a couple of houses and they don’t really have jobs as such, but their emotions are real and the book has a lot to say about friendship as well as love and lust.

Our themes are all here. We have an ancient scholar with a large head and wrinkly face in Levquist, and Duncan also provides us with a bear-like man with hunched shoulders. There is various mop-like women’s hair and of course the horrible dust bunny of Crimond’s red hair. Shockingly, we have a finished book with Crimond’s great work (which we never see except in the form of notebooks). This is only the second finished book in the oeuvre, I think, after Harry Cuno’s novel. Of course Gerard comes up with ideas but no book, and Levquist doesn’t appear to complete his “interminable book on Sophocles” (p. 20). There are stones scattered through the book, including Sinclair’s collection at Boyars, but individual ones, too, one of which is a present from Rose to Jenkin. Gerard has a soapstone seal and there’s a standing stone near Boyars.

Doubling is all over the place: two fathers die (Gerard’s and Crimond’s), Crimond runs off with Jean twice, the snails of course. Gerard makes two proposals, both of which are laughed at. Crimond puts people through two trials or duels, and causes Duncan to fall twice. Jenkin and Father McAlister both do a weird and non-standard blessing over Tamar. Echoings in Violet and Tamar’s access to abortion. We don’t have anyone staring in a window, but we have Gerard, “who disliked being looked in at by hypothetical entities in the garden” (p. 152). The only night time chase is when Rose tries to go over Crimond and nearly falls over on the frosty pavement. Water in all its forms is of course there, from ice to rain, and the pool in France where Duncan disposes of the bullet blanks.

Contingency looms large here – if Tamar hadn’t come round to see Jean … in fact about four characters have reasons to blame themselves for Jenkin’s death through long strings of causality and Rose says, “How accidental everything was” (p. 533). Being good is more shown than told, but I do love Rose’s simple statement when she at last displays actual emotion to Gerard:

Our lives are quite long enough to have some fun, do some work, love a few people and try to be good. (p. 562)

Crimond is fairly obviously the enchanter, having a weird effect on women other than Jean, with Lily drawn to prostrate herself embarrassingly in front of him and Rose so disturbed by his announcement that she has to hold herself firmly in check. Gerard thinks of him as a demon who comes around like Halley’s Comet. Who is the saint? Jenkin is the prime candidate here, isn’t he, absorbing everyone’s stories and emotions and not passing them on unless absolutely necessary, and even effectively giving his life for the group. It’s interesting that he’s looking into new branches of spirituality, and is also aware of a big change or challenge coming – these forebodings and portents were distressing, reading the book knowing what was coming. When crises hit, he doesn’t get involved but sends off postcards and is there to run to. His passivity reminds me of Tallis:

I think we shouldn’t wonder so much … sometimes we try to think in too much detail about other people’s lives. Other people’s consciousness can be so unlike our own. One learns that. (p.127)

Crimond says he’s the only person worth anything, “and he’s a fool” (p. 338) and Gerard’s view of him is so touching: “Gerard, seeing his back, the set of his shoulders, the particular way that the tail of his jacket was always so hopelessly crumpled, felt a wave of emotion which almost made him exclaim” (p. 357). And a vitally important point about him, remembered by Gerard, is that he was always giving people his attention, so key in Murdoch:

Jenkin always walked the path, with others, wholly engaged in wherever he happened to be, fully existing, fully reael at every point, looking about him with friendly curiosity. (p. 579)

Gerard’s father is yet another (portrait of IM’s father?) kind, saintly and self-effacing person, like Charles Arrowby’s, so another upper-generation saint.

Gerard in fact respected and approved of his father, saw the simplicity and truthfulness of his nature, but was used to finding these qualities invisible to others. His father was not brilliant or erudite or witty or particularly successful, he could seem mediocre and boring, yet Levquist, who despised mediocrity and ruthlessly refused to allow himself to be bored, had at once met Gerard’s father upon the ground of the latter’s best qualities. (p. 21)

… he began to think about his father, and what a gentle, kind, patient, good man he had been, and how he had given way, out of love, to his wife, sacrificing not only his wishes but sometimes even his principles. (p. 583)

Gerard himself has Japanese pictures which is usually a sign of saintliness, but he’s unfortunately become egocentric with the passing of the years (he’s very cross with himself when he assumes Tamar has run to find him, not Jenkin), and can’t be an enchanter really, more someone who connects people. Tamar has made a decision between being a saint and being a demon (p. 108) but in the end she’s an ordinary confused student, isn’t she, and she very much does not absorb people’s problems, however much they think she can and project their need onto her. Maybe she’s an enchanter in that aspect.

There isn’t much humour in this, apart from Gulliver’s social embarrassments (“Skating is a ruthless sport …” (p. 252), although I like the wryness of the little recaps, “As x was doing y, and a was doing b …” There’s also a wry bit about who knows what about whom out of Duncan and Jean. But it’s more a deeply ironic than a funny novel, I think.

The feminist notes I’ve been noticing this time round are there again. Lives are changed by legal access to abortion (even though Tamar has a private one, it’s legal now) and the right to choose, mentioned specifically. LIly gives an impassioned speech on the still-bad position of unmarried women in society (p. 329). Jean is said to have wasted her considerable power with Duncan (she doesn’t do much when she’s with Crimond, in fact being reduced to sewing in a corner):

She would go away and work and think, take counsel with her powerful father in America, discover some world to conquer, go to India or Africa, run some large enterprise, use up elsewhere all that restless clever power which, as his wife, she had wasted on happiness. (p. 76)

Tamar seems to experience sexual innuendo at her publisher’s office. And Duncan’s night with her seems very unpleasant this time round, especially as he indulges in a bit of victim blaming when going over his guilt: “Of course she started it … what a minx, what a temptress” (p. 232)Interestingly she doesn’t concentrate so much on women ageing now as men, with Gerard getting haggard and Duncan fat like a gross baby.

Reminders of other novels come in the influence of Levquist on his pupils, reminiscent of Rozanov in “The Philosopher’s Pupil”. Duncan goes through the ordeal of almost losing his eyesight, and physical ordeals have been prominent since “Nuns and Soldiers”. Gerard’s soapstone seal resembles Hattie’s in “The Philosopher’s Pupil” and Crimond likes to see Jean sewing in a corner, like Thomas and Midge in “A Good Apprentice” and someone else, I’m sure. There’s a stone in the wood near Boyars, like in “A Good Apprentice”, though no one goes to visit it. There are more birds, this time redwings with “little demonic faces and sharp probing beaks” (p. 277) and I feel I’ve missed a big bird theme (one for the next read!). There are foxes mentioned, too. Father McAlister joins a small coterie of priests without God. Rose is one of the several women who have had a servant in a big house since the servant was a girl. And finally, Gulliver, in the tradition of wanderers in London in IM, finds himself by the Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens when he’s trying to put the snail down somewhere kind.

Pleasingly, there are lovely actual overlaps with other novels, coming in very early on. Robin Topglass, an original member of the circle at Oxford, is stated to be “son of the birdman”, who must be Peter Topglass from “The Bell”. And the band playing at the opening party is The Waterbirds, which is the band formed in “A Word Child”. It would be hard to love these little mentions more! Marcus Field isn’t of course Marcus Vallar from “The Message to the Planet” but he has a “shocking conversion” and you do wonder if that’s the seed for the next book.

On re-reading this one, I didn’t as usual have so much sympathy with the younger generation as with the older one, although I felt more compassion for Tamar than I recall previously and certainly the detail of her disordered eating is presented very accurately and affectingly. Gulliver seems a really annoying fop this time round, with his over-described outfits (the introduction writer seems to think the outfit descriptions are a failing of the book, but I think they, as usual, show facets of characters). I really loved Rose this time round and very much cheered when things worked out as they did for her, a tiny detail I hadn’t recalled. Good for her, steadfast and keeping herself controlled.

A happy re-read, just as good as I remembered, baggy, yes, but satisfying as anything.

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.

Book review – Cy. A. Adler – “Walking the Hudson” plus lovely incomings for @ShinyNewBooks review from @ThamesandHudson


When I met up with my lovely friend Carianne last August, it was inevitable that we would swap some books – although we’re book-and-running-and-running-book friends now, we started off as BookCrossing friends wayyyyyy back. So she very kindly brought me over some books and I gave her some and may have caused her to buy some I recommended from the charity shops of Stratford Upon Avon. She’s an inveterate New Yorker, and has actually participated in this guy’s walks, so it was a great one to have and I’ll keep it for when I eventually do go there. Lovely incomings for Shiny below!

Cy A. Adler – “Walking the Hudson: From the Battery to Bear Mountain”

(23 August 2018 – BookCrossing)

An interesting guidebook covering the first reaches of a proposed longer walk up the Hudson River through a series of “greenways” which will run alongside it to it source, from New York (or vice versa, of course). As well as the usual guidebook stuff of maps, explanations, points of interest and a thorough coverage of toilet stop opportunities, it includes background information on how it was formalised so far, Adler’s letters to the papers, etc. I got much more of an impression of New York around the river than I formerly had.

Lovely Thames and Hudson generously allowed me to pick some books from their autumn catalogue to review for Shiny New Books. Even though I do have piles of books at hand sometimes, I love my privileged spot as one of Shiny’s non-fiction reviewers, and these are great.

“The Pursuit of Art” by Martin Gayford (and isn’t that a gorgeous cover, and yes, those amazing pumpkins are featured) is essays about his travels to and encounters with both works of art and artists. I’ve read this already and it’s a great, unpretentious read, intelligent but without the pomposity and jargon that can accompany writing on art.

Simon Armstrong’s “Street Art” is in their fab “Art Essentials” series and looks marvellous, a good study of the topic with plenty of pictures and an expert to link themes together.

“How to Read a Photograph” is a lovely hefty tome which takes a long journey through all those photographers you’ve heard of, from the very earliest to the ones operating now, and shows you how their photographs are good and why. I’ll be wrestling Matthew for possession of this one!

What lovely incomings this week, and fun reading once I’ve finished my Murdoch. Now to write 800-1000 words on the first one …

Book review – Margaret Atwood – “The Testaments” #amreading


I will start by saying that I almost never let myself get carried away by book hype. The last time I did anything like buying a book on purpose on pre-order to arrive on the day of publication, apart from style guides for work, was probably when I bought Harry Potter Five from a bookshop in the evening of the day of publication and read it through. And that wasn’t brilliant. I remember falling for the hype over “Girl with a Pearl Earring” but not reading it in hardback, and I didn’t even buy my beloved Iris Murdoch on the day she came out in hardback when I was old enough to know of her. But “The Testaments”, the long-awaited sequel to “The Handmaid’s Tale” that I knew loads of other friends and book bloggers would be pouncing on? It had to be done.

I wasn’t actually able to start reading it that day. I had a Terrible Cold and didn’t want to sneeze near my pristine copy, and I was waiting for Matthew to finish reading “The Handmaid’s Tale” which I’d finished the night before in a bit of a reading frenzy (see my review of that one here).

Margaret Atwood – “The Testaments”

(10 September 2019)

So we knew the general premise of this, that it was a follow-up, but not a straight sequel, to “The Handmaid’s Tale”, and it was going to be in the form of the testaments or writings of three witnesses to the flowering and fall of Gilead. And you know what, that’s all I can really say without spoilers. Although it’s a work of literary fiction, beautifully written with not a single error I could spot, beautifully produced, an object of joy with its woven green bookmark, it is, essentially, a book you’re going to read for the world-building, commentary on modern life and plot. And you can’t really talk about those without spoilers, and it’s just too soon.

I will say that this book was all that I wanted it to be. Re-reading “The Handmaid’s Tale” (which I do urge people to do before reading this) gave me a good few things that I wanted to see in this book (and I don’t think that’s introducing spoilers, because I’m guessing different people would want different things). Not every mystery from that book is answered; not every mystery in this book is answered, but I was a happy, satisfied reader by the end.

There were plenty of twists and surprises, some wanted, predicted from tiny clues and then given, others a shock (there was an actual gasp at one point). It’s a coherent world that makes sense, and we get a much more 360-dgree view of Gilead this time, rather than the narrow view seen through the blinkers of a veiled Handmaid who is trying to negotiate her new life and remember her past life: we see it from within and outside, from before, during and after.

It’s a fascinating investigation into how you can be a normal person and become a mid-range power in a hostile regime, keeping power and gaining it, trading it. It looks at how different personalities might take that power differently, and just what you might do to keep it (the book I would say is as graphic and violent as “The Handmaid’s Tale”, in similar ways: it’s the psychological considerations that creep into your mind). It also looks at how you might feel you were able to redeem yourself by working from the inside in various ways – but do the ends justify the means?

In echoes of “The Handmaid’s Tale”, done nicely, we have one narrator who is addressing an audience they do not even know will read their testimony. The mentions of tulip flowers are another nice touch. Books have an effect again. Female solidarity helps again, and might form a network for revolution, although women still work against each other, too. I found myself sucked into the world, believing it almost as reportage, enthralled by a small mention of what has happened in Europe and England, as if I was reading reality.

I highly recommend this. It will give you a lot to think about. Read “The Handmaid’s Tale” first (or re-read it). There’s no need to watch the TV series if you don’t want to: Atwood has talked publicly about her relationship with that and its with the writing of this book, though, and that makes interesting reading.

Read Ali’s review here. Of course we read it at the same time. Her review is longer but doesn’t have spoilers, although details of The Handmaid’s Tale are mentioned so you might want to save it if you haven’t read that one yet.

Older Entries