State of the TBR November 2018 #amreading

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Well, pleasingly, even though I’ve had a fair few book confessions in October, I did manage to read eleven books, most of them from the physical TBR as I took BookCrossing registered books on holiday at the start of the month. So the TBR is looking a little smaller than at the start of October.

You can see it’s shuffled around a bit, as I took books out of order and then read and released them in Cornwall. The front shelf finishes at the pink of Simon Armitage’s “Gig”.

I’m currently reading Hal Higdon’s “Run Fast” which is actually not as annoying to this slow runner as I’d feared, and is quite a sensible read about interval training, etc. I’m hoping to take it to do a running book swap at our running club’s Awards Night next month along with some more running stuff, if I get through it.

Next up will be project and review books, so the treat of Iris Murdoch’s “A Fairly Honourable Defeat” (a favourite of mine on all other readings) and then Joni Seager’s “The Women’s Atlas” for Shiny New Books and Mark Atkinson’s “Run Like Duck” kindly sent my way from the publisher by the lovely Lisa Jackson (thanks, Lisa!). I’ve also recently won on NetGalley “Jog On” by Bella Mackie (mental health and running) and “Let Her Fly” by Ziauddin Yousafzai (Malala’s father!) and Louise Carpenter, so hoping to get all these read and reviewed this month.

And then on the TBR, it’s Christmaaaas! OK, it’s Christmas last year but there we go: I’m not quite a month behind. I do like to get Christmas and birthday books read before the next Christmas, to make room for the inevitable (and wonderful) book flood. It’s a mixture of novels and books about books, really – Mary Webb’s “Gone to Earth” (which has crept out of the picture on the left), Karen Joy Fowler’s “We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves” (I’ll admit I’m not sure about this, as I already know the Massive Twist) and Fracis Spufford’s “Golden Hill” (historical, but a gift, so I’ll give it a go” and Stella Gibbon’s “Westwood” on the novel side and Marcus Crouch’s “The Nesbit Tradition”, “The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap” by Wendy Welch, Samantha Ellis’ “How to be a Heroine” and Christopher Fowler’s “The Book of Forgotten Authors” on the books about books side.

Have you read any of these? Which do you think I’ll enjoy? What’s on your reading calendar for November? I know a few people are doing Non-Fiction November, but I read quite a lot of non-fiction anyway and frankly I don’t really have time for special blog posts at the moment! But have fun, all who are sailing in that ship!

“Bruno’s Dream” roundup and “A Fairly Honourable Defeat” preview #IMReadalong @IrisMurdoch

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It’s that time of the month again – we’re recapping our reading and discussion of “Bruno’s Dream” and looking ahead to “A Fairly Honourable Defeat”

A brisk and interesting discussion is going on on my review of “Bruno’s Dream” (do join in even if you’ve read it after October 2018!). We agreed that Nigel is odd (is he an incarnation of God or a weird, uncanny hippie?) and the book is full of rather unsavoury people and power relationships. Yet it’s a good read, very atmospheric, and not as gloomy and full of death as I thought when I first read it as a teenager (I remain endlessly fascinated by the process of re-reading and our changing attitudes to familiar books.

Also do post there in the comments if you’ve reviewed the book on your own website, blog or Goodreads page. So far, Jo has posted another of her excellent reviews on Goodreads as well as joining in the discussion on the review page. I’ll add more links as you let me know about them.

Now for some reader-submitted covers. Peter Rivenberg and Jo Smith have both sent me images of the Viking US first edition, not a cobweb in sight! What is that actually an image of?

That image from Peter, and here’s the rather lovely author pic, in Jo’s version:

Peter also has the most deliciously horrendous and inappropriate copy of the Dell paperback.

Really? And who is this: Danby and Adelaide or Miles and Lisa??? And the back cover blurb …

Really, really? Keep them coming: I love these!

“A Fairly Honourable Defeat”

This is one of my favourite of IM’s novels, and features, new readers will be glad to know, the character Tallis who I keep going on about in my reviews.

I have the customary three copies: my Chatto & Windus first edition, my 1980s Penguin reprint, and my new red-spined Vintage Classic with introduction.

More cover art from the first, as the disturbing image wraps right around the back!

Lovely! Competition to work out who all these people are coming soon!

So the blurb is quite straightforward in the first:

I love this: it explains who the main characters are, raises the idea of Julius and Tallis fighting over Morgan and discusses the final defeat. We go a bit more minimalist with the other two. Here’s the Penguin:

And well, that gives it away a bit, right? And the Vintage is getting into the whole Shakespearean thing but I’m not sure about that first paragraph. We’ll see.

Are you going to be reading or re-reading “A Fairly Honourable Defeat” along with me? Are you catching up with the others or have you given up)? What’s your favourite so far? Your least favourite?


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

Book review – Jill Baguchinsky – “Mammoth” #amreading #LibraryThing

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I received this book from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers Programme, and it was a physical book for once, which was a nice change. It’s published by Turner Publishing in the US, and I’m grateful to them for sending me a copy in return for an honest review.

The description makes it sound a bit chick-litty, and yes, there is romance, friendship, clothes and high spirits, but I think it has a lot more depth than the genre description might make you think.

Natalie, our heroine, is a plus-size fashion blogger and palaeontology geek who reinvented herself in high school, and no, not in that way they expect plus-size heroines to invent themselves: she did not lose weight; she learned to make the best of herself, developing a funky vintage style thanks to the support of her very cool aunt, who owns a vintage boutique, makes clothes and accessories and is a marvel in a thrift store.

I’m linking up with Grab the Lapels’ “Reading Fat Women” project here, because this is her aim:

to find positive representations of folks who identify as fat women in books. That positive representation will not hinge on the character being miserable and then happy after losing weight or falling in love. Characters can lose weight or fall in love, but it is not the catalyst for their happiness. I also will not recommend books in which the character pulls her body apart and criticize pieces (I call this the “chicken dinner”).

and I think this book fits into that aim.

Natalie describes herself as fat, both internally and to others, she is proud of her style and she is not interested in losing weight. She brings up some issues around choosing what to eat in the cafeteria as she doesn’t like being seen as eating too much for fear of being fat-shamed (but she doesn’t shame herself for her eating; it’s self-protection, because although she is trying to be awesome as well as live her lived experience, sometimes it’s hard, and I think it would be unrealistic for it not to be). She mentions sitting in a certain way so her thigh doesn’t spill over and touch someone’s leg, then reminds herself (and indeed this proves true) that it is a strong thigh (later, she’s shown as having an advantage in her strength when a wispier colleague finds it hard to kneel and dig on the mammoth excavation). And most importantly, while she does have a further transformation, it’s to remove some of her protective armour of thick makeup and a body shaper, rather than to lose weight and add more adornment. She’s celebrated for her abilities – she’s a talented palaeontologist and a great needlewoman. She makes mistakes and learns from them. She does seek love but it’s not the only thing she’s after or shored up by – her family (especially her marvellous aunt), female friendships and career are equally as important.

It’s a moral book all through: we see issues such as parent-child relationships and bullying, stealing others’ work, needing to learn that no means no and keeping your own boundaries. When people step over the line, they’re punished for it and it’s explained why. Both women and men take leadership roles in the organisation we come across, and there’s talk of needing more women in STEM.

So it’s a book about getting an intern role on a mammoth dig and making discoveries and finding your hero has feet of clay. It’s also a book about being true to yourself, about beard one-upmanship and how sometimes you do need to wear flat shoes. It’s about following your dreams and daring to try hard at things, while accepting the consequences. I loved it.

Book review – Barbara Kingsolver – “Unsheltered” #amreading #books

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Mr Liz and I are big Kingsolver fans. I have been for a very long time (since before I began book blogging!) and Matthew picked her up at Flight Behaviour, which he read with me, then went back to Prodigal Summer (for me, a re-read) and The Poisonwood Bible. Neither of us fancy The Lacuna, as we don’t like fiction about real people (yes, I realise that comes into this one) and don’t love a historical novel (again, but in fact this cemented that for us). I made the unusual move of buying this one in hardback on the day it came out, and Matthew got the audio book at the same time, narrated by Kingsolver, whom he highly rates as a narrator of her own novels.

Now, people do complain that what they don’t like about Kingsolver is that she’s didactic and lectures one. I’m fine with the fact that she’s got a lesson to share and information to impart, and yes, it’s a novel that teaches you things, but that’s not a bad thing in my book. In addition, I don’t personally feel it feels clunky, but arises naturally from what the characters have to say and what they do. We learn as other characters learn. I do appreciate that’s not for everyone and I would never try to force a writer like this on anyone – also of course she is somewhat preaching to the converted where we’re concerned, but you can’t be out of your bubble all the time (at all!) can you.

Barbara Kingsolver – “Unsheltered”

(18 October 2018)

In 2016 Vineland, Willa is living with her husband, second-generation Greek-American Iano, his profoundly unwell father, Nick, their tiny, dreadlocked, activist daughter Tig and an ailing dog. They have a son Zeke who’s the golden boy, new father, tech startup millionaire (on paper, anyway) with a lovely corporate wife. Meanwhile, Tig comes and goes, appears to be mending cars with the Hispanic lads next door and is unfathomable, and Nick, when he gets out and about, demands to listen to right-wing talk radio as he personifies the Trump voter. Their house is falling down around their ears but they came into it and can’t afford anything else, even though Iano is well-educated and Willa a freelance writer.

In 1871 Vineland, Thatcher Greenwood is struggling to come to terms with a new marriage (up for him, down for his wife) and life in an ailing house, which is falling down around their ears, but they came into it and can’t afford anything else. Thatcher is a schoolteacher and bursting to show his pupils the delights of Darwinian evolution, but is being stymied at every turn by his boss and the boss of the town. He meets an odd woman scientist, Mary Treat, and gets to let off steam with her. But his wife craves pretty dresses and ponies and for that he will have to buckle down.

In a huge way, this book is about underestimating people. Both Tig and Mary are seriously underestimated, but so is the threat from Trump. Nick seems powerless but his cohort brings in chaos. A headmaster with a hook for a hand on the wrong side of history turns out to be an enemy that can’t be beaten. The power of justice is overestimated. Everything’s a mess and people’s houses are falling down around their ears when they’ve made a good life and what should be the right choices. Even the structure of the novel is undermined: while you read the book you realise that most of the big events actually happen off-stage, and we’re left with the spaces between and around them.

As usual, against the backdrop of huge ideas and sweeping social change, Kingsolver is excellent at the minutiae of family relationships. The growing respect between Willa and Tig is gently and beautifully drawn, as Willa realises how she has let her down in favour of the golden boy, very much less golden it seems now. Who represents the future: the small-scale activist doing practical good in gardens and individual people’s lives or the tech startup with everything in the cloud?

This really sums up the modern half of the book with its interleaving chapters:

We can’t afford to stop doing the shit that’s screwing up the weather, and can’t afford to pick up the pieces after we do our shit. (p. 172)

Although Matthew hasn’t quite finished the book yet, I can speak for him too when I say we both preferred the modern chapters; however the 19th century ones were really well-done and involving, with good characters. It was slightly frustrating to see everything through Thatcher’s eyes, but also a good exercise in top-flight writing to make it believable, reveal things a bit at a time and follow what a man of his age would have thought.

I wouldn’t put this above Flight Behaviour and Prodigal Summer, but that’s not to say it wasn’t good. Testament to its power and readability was the fact that I used up our extra hour of sleep hunched under the covers, reading and reading to see if Kingsolver was going to say there’s any hope in our world. Whoever it was I read who was looking for Great American Novels, I think this would count!


I’m currently reading Hal Higdon’s “Run Fast” which is less annoying than I thought it would be; and next up for review is Jill Balguchinsky’s rather marvellous “Mammoth”. What’s the best book you’ve read in October?

Sedate lady running 22-28 October 2018 #amrunning #running

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A good running week this week with four runs, three of them under bright blue skies! I have to runfess that I still haven’t got back to my circuits (and it’s going to hurt when I do, isn’t it!) but I did go to yoga and I did also get some hamstring stretching in on other days (I need to remember it’s not a great idea to do that while drying my hair, getting it all hanging forward!)

Tuesday – I did the running club run tonight, 4 miles of route (the one called Feck Hill) and 1.4 miles there and back. I seemed to do the back quite quickly – I ran some of the start of the route with Ruth, then got separated and completely on my own (which wasn’t great: it was dark and I was running up a road there’d been a burglary on recently; I had my head torch on and one of my clippy lights on the front of my hi-vis vest but still felt anxious. Ran part of the way home with Ruth and managed to watch the whole of Great British Bake-Off before bed!

5.4 miles, 12:11 mins per mile

Thursday – Although Sonya and Sara have done their half marathon, so didn’t want a super-long run, they agreed to come out with me for something in the morning. We started at 9, handy for school drop-off for the others, and took in a nice route which Sonya had made up, stopping off mid-route for what I call a Pee Group Pressure toilet break (I didn’t need to go but took the opportunity to go anyway). Here we are, in the Mac loos!

Glam surroundings as ever! Thanks to Sonya (middle) for the photo

With a slight dash to get there and a sprint to get home and back to work, this was a lovely workout in the sun – my blue Primark top has mesh sides (and a top underneath) so I didn’t get warm enough to take it off.

6.5 miles, 12:05 mins per mile.

Friday – Claire yoga! Quite a gentle class but with a lovely squat (I do like squats, must be the strong legs from running or something) and a lovely guided meditation at the end. Oh, I also cleaned the whole house beforehand, which has to count as some sort of cardio and strength work!

Saturday – My old friend Jase, who I know via our mutual hobby of BookCrossing, had decided to do some parkrun touristing and came up to Birmingham from Wales for the day. He only started running in January, as part of his weight loss journey, and he’s been getting faster and faster so I had encouraged him to come up before he got faster than me!

Jase and Liz at the bandstand

Goodness it was cold! When I was getting ready to go out at 7.30 our Amazon Echo announced it was 1 (33 degrees) feeling like -4 (24.8) and I put on my cowl neck top under my club tshirt and packed my last year’s London marathon failed-to-get-in jacket in my bum bag. I ran swiftly down to meet Jase at the furthest (but free) car park, thinking I was late – a 10:40 mile ensued, oops! We spent some time chatting to my club and parkrun friends then were off.

It was sunny if freezing and the trees looked lovely. We ran with Tracie and Caroline from the Sedate Ladies most of the way, and Amelia and Baby Thomas joined us, too. Neither of us held the other back and we powered up the hill to get official times for me and Jase of 35:16 and 35:18 respectively. I was pleased to get a few PRs for bits of this route, though I’ve only run this route six times since I’ve had a Garmin! We then did a walk for run and talk as it was so cold and had a lovely coffee with Bournville Harrier folk from run and talk.

1.45 miles, 10:48 mins per mile

3.1 miles, 11:22 mins per mile

Sunday – I wasn’t up to my magic 20 miles for the week so Mary Ellen and I headed out on a lovely green route she’d worked out (nice and safe on a Sunday morning with lots of runners and cyclists, some of whom we knew).

Hazelwell Park

Hazelwell Park

Hazelwell Park was looking suitably autumnal with long shadows on the grass and lovely colours. Would you believe this was England’s second city, all urban and mucky? I was pleased with my pace, especially as I was a bit tired and had had my main meal on Saturday at lunchtime.

6.6 miles, 11:50 mins per mile

Miles this week: 23.1

Progress towards 1,000 miles in the year:  863 (30 miles ahead of my end-of-October mini-goal)

Weekly wrapI take part in the Weekly Wrap run by two wonderful running women and joined by lots of other inspirational women. Wendy’s weekly wrap is here and Holly’s is here.

Book Review – The Pool – “Life Honestly” plus book and mag news #amreading #netgalley

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I was really excited when I got an email from the publisher offering me the chance to read this collection of essays from The Pool, a refreshing platform for busy women which publishes honest and interesting articles with a feminist slant, founded by Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne which is transparent about its sponsors and which I’ve been reading for a while now when its articles crop up via social media.

So a quick review because without picking out millions of articles in detail, I can only talk about it in general terms, and I just urge you to go and look at the platform and/or the book, and then I’ll be sharing some magazine and book loveliness. Yes, more of it! Oops!

The Pool – “Life Honestly”

(16 August 2018, from NetGalley)

I really enjoyed this collection of essays and enjoyed its intersectional nature, featuring issues and writers from a range of communities, not just middle-class white women. Put into sections that feel sensible, with no essay or section so long it gets boring, these are great reads which I would press into the hands of any woman who doesn’t already read The Pool. I have to say that as an occasional reader with a photographic memory, I did recall having read some of the pieces already.

Covering major sections on gender politics and power, work, friendship, body, relationships, wombs, mind, money, parenting and style, there’s something to pique everyone’s interest, whether that’s centred on dealing with coercive control, womanning up about your finances, what kind of friends you should get rid of to how black women source and share information about wedding planning when the ‘mainstream’ media don’t feature them at all.

Thank you to Pan Macmillan for making the book available in return for an honest review, via NetGalley.


So, when we got home from our holiday, as well as the book I’ve highlighted already, I was excited to find in the post two of the magazines I now read, with another appearing in the week. Two of them had mentions of me in them!

The Iris Murdoch Review (No 9) is an A4 format journal which has a few essays on IM, often developed from conference papers, something about some primary texts (here, letters to her last PhD student), reviews and reports from conferences and events. I was a little nervous as I knew there was a review of my book, “Iris Murdoch and the Common Reader” (scroll down in the link to see the book and links onwards) by the ever-lovely Pamela Osborn: I knew she wouldn’t savage it, of course, but I do fear academic rigour and feel myself lacking in it (as, indeed, she pointed out, very kindly in the review). But it was a lovely review, and I was particularly happy that she appreciated my warm and friendly but still academic tone, as that’s something I strive for in all my writing.

Saga-Book, which is the journal of the Viking Society for Northern Research, has some really meaty essays on aspects of the sagas and other Old Norse literature. I rejoined the Society having been a student member 30 years ago, and don’t get to the meetings but do enjoy dipping into these publications and seeing familiar names from my student days still going strong.

The Persephone Biannually highlights the new publications from Persephone and also has short stories, reviews from the papers and Our Bloggers Write – the latter including an excerpt from my review of “Princes in the Land” by Joanna Cannan – how exciting!

Unseen: I still enjoy The New Statesman, especially for the reviews and for catching up with news in different parts of the world. I had mag-lag with that one, too, as one arrived just before our holiday and one during.

I’m proud to say I’m all caught up now, with only Saga-Book left to read!

And so to new books in.

Mr Liz (Matthew) and I are very keen readers of Barbara Kingsolver’s novels. I’ve been reading them since her first, slimmer works, and have loved her ever since, and we even “did” “The Poisonwood Bible“, which hadn’t appealed to me for years after it was published (we’ve still not read “The Lacuna”, as I have a strong dislike of the use of real people as central fictional characters in novels, but I bet we succumb some time, just because her writing is so excellent). Anyway, I was writhing in envy when a few bloggers I read had got hold of review copies of her new one, “Unsheltered” and so took the unusual for me step of getting hold of a hardback copy as soon as it came out. Matthew’s zooming ahead of me in the audio book (read by Kingsolver herself, which is always a treat as she does it so well, apparently) and I’m very much appreciating the clever zeitgeisty workings of the early part of the book (although the situation the modern characters are in feels like an Anne Tyler situation, which is confusing me a little!). More to follow on this one. Who will finish it first?

Another thing I don’t often do these days is put in for a LibraryThing Early Reviewers book as they all seem to be genre fiction (and the genres are sci fi or thrillers, which I’m not keen on) but I did go for “Mammoth” by Jill Baguchinsky and a nice paperback proof copy duly arrived. Blogging and palaeontology with a bit of light romance thrown in: it does look fun. I have to remember you’re supposed to read and review LTER books within the month, however, so it will have to go in after “Unsheltered”.

I have just finished Cathy Newman’s “Bloody Brilliant Women” which was well-done but I’m reviewing it for Shiny New Books so will share that in due course.

What new books have you let into the house recently? What magazines or journals do you read? Have you got mag-lag or do you assiduously read them as soon as they come in?

 

Book review – Iris Murdoch – “Bruno’s Dream” #IMReadalong @IrisMurdoch

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I will admit to finishing reading this book a good few days ago, but I need a chunk of time to write these reviews that I really didn’t get in the week back after our holiday in Cornwall. I was slightly worried about reading this one as it’s traditionally been one of my least favourite, however I recall liking it a lot more last time, and I found even less to feel weird about this time. Maybe it’s a book that gets better with increasing maturity (or age!). Discuss! Let’s NOT discuss any further how Vintage didn’t do a “red spine” edition of this one. It’s fine. Honestly.

EDITED TO ADD: After some comments and some thinking about this on my own part, I’ve realised that I’m using these ‘reviews’ of IM’s books as sort of notes for discussion rather than traditional or formal reviews, using a kind of shorthand regarding themes etc. I’ve realised this might be a bit offputting to the casual or new visitor, or the person visiting IM for the first time, even, so I’ve added this comment here and tweaked the piece slightly to hopefully make it a bit more approachable. I’ve made additions in italics on 23 October in the early morning, so the first two comments on the post were made before that.

Iris Murdoch – “Bruno’s Dream”

(August 2018)

Bruno, very elderly and frail, is dying slowly in his son-in-law Danby’s house. Across London, his estranged son, Miles, lives with his second wife and her sister in some sort of domestic harmony. Meanwhile Danby dallies with the maid, Adelaide, who is mixed up with a pair of twins, weird actor Will and Nigel, Bruno’s nurse. As the Thames threatens to flood, Bruno mulls over his indiscretions, his obsession with spiders, his stamp collection and the metaphor of his dressing gown as he sinks and the waters rise.

When I first read this book, in my mid-teens, it really did feel like it was all about Bruno’s slow death, and I found it morbid and alarming and really wasn’t keen. But there’s so much more to it than that, including a range of interesting other characters and their tangled relationships. What I hadn’t realised, though, or remembered, was just how much Adelaide (like Patty?) is abused and mistreated.

We’re straight into Bruno’s consciousness at the start of the novel, and it’s amazing how she “gets” his life and his slow decline. With the description much later, “He felt as if the centre of his mind was occupied by a huge black box which took up nearly all the space and round which he had to edge his way. Names not only of people but of things eluded him, hovering near him …” (p. 278), it’s almost impossible not to think of IM’s own Alzheimer’s, isn’t it (or is that just me, ignoring my Reception Theory / Death of the Author underpinning?).  But it’s not all about him and soon we meet Danby, and a great pithy summary of his character:

Danby was the sort of man who, if civilisation were visibly collapsing in front of him, would cheer up if someone offered him a gin and French. (p. 11)

There’s not so much farce and humour in this book as there is in some of the others, even if there’s some drawing-room stuff and some partner swapping going on. It’s more irony: Bruno saving the stamp collection for a rainy day has pathos and humour when he considers what he could have done with the money, and then savage irony when it’s an actual rainy day that takes it away. There is the farce of everyone thinking Danby has crept into Miles and Diana’s garden to see them which reminds us of other misunderstandings in other novels. The duel, again, could be farcical but is odd and disturbing and leads Nigel to make a strange claim about who he loves. IM does seem to like amusing when she’s describing a house: she’s done that before and she does it again in Auntie’s house: “Not everything which ought to be against a wall had a wall to be against” (p. 45)

I think something which might be unique in this book is the flash forward to Adelaide and her marriage and children: does this happen in any other of the novels? Also quite unusual is the brief flash of feminism on p. 220:

‘My name is Nigel. I’m the nurse. Nigel the Nurse. I suppose I should say the male nurse, the way people say women writers, though I don’t see why they should, do you, as more women are writers than men are nurses. Wouldn’t you agree?’

Another weird thing I found: Nigel refers to Adelaide as taking the stamp “for Will Boase” – however Will is his twin and Danby knows this (doesn’t he?) so why would he refer to him as Will Boase and not just Will?

With our main themes that we find in most of her novels, and which make IM’s entire oeuvre something many people read over and over again, rather than having a particular favourite, in the descriptions of women, Diana “tucked her hair well back behind her ears and thrust her pale smooth large-eyed face boldly forward at the world” and I think if we came upon that in isolation we’d know it was IM, wouldn’t we? Adelaide fulfils an important theme by having her hair cut off and then carrying the cut-off bit around with her. With siblings, we have Diana and Lisa and their swap in importance and power; Lisa also becomes a sort of child in Diana and Miles’ marriage. Miles and Danby are brothers-in-law and of course we have nasty Will and creepy Nigel, weird twins grown up but torturing each other rather than conspiring. Why was it Bruno and not them I found horrifying on my original reading of the book?

In further doubling, Lisa resembles the dead Gwen, Miles’s first wife, and Nigel goes to do the job Lisa originally signed up for in Calcutta. Bruno has written his Great Book but it wasn’t a huge tome after all and we get a wryly amusing passage about its decline from a planned great work to a couple of articles. Nigel spends quite a lot of time looking through windows from damp gardens, and then Danby has his foolish climb into Miles and Diana’s back garden to look through their window, causing the horrible almost-farce in the garden. Water is of course a main theme, with the threat of the Thames flooding and the flood scene, plus Danby’s escape from the duel by swimming the Thames. Adelaide’s tears make more water appear. And who can forget London and its fogs, redolent of “The Time of the Angels” or “A Severed Head” as almost another character.

IM is often talked about as having a central enchanter and a saint figure in her novels. Who is the enchanter and who the saint? Poor old Adelaide feels herself not to be like other people, lives in clutter and “did not feel herself in any way attached” which is quite a classic indicator of Murdochian sainthood. She’s in the power of Danby and Will but is maybe enchanted rather than saintly? Lisa is spoken of as having a vocation and she is a “bird with a broken wing” but also very strong: she works in an “atmosphere of dirt and poverty and muddle” and “lived in a real world” (p. 148), and of course she cares for Bruno without revulsion and tries to go and do charity work but finds her role is back healing the folk around her. She is also described has having “superb negativity” (p. 254) and being detached.

I’m not sure there IS an enchanter. Nigel claims he’s God but I think he’s just a creepy hippy – and certainly no enchanter claims to be one and usually becomes on by his subjects making him one. Or maybe he’s a saint: he gives Diana advice to “Let them trample over you in their own way” (p. 223), although he doesn’t seem to follow his own advice. But again, he talks in his letter to Danby of being a saint, and the way to be one is not to strive to be one, isn’t it. Diana learns to let people do as they will and to look after Bruno without recoiling, so is maybe moving towards goodness. As Bruno fades, she realises, “She tried to think about herself but there was nothing there” (p. 289) so in helping Bruno she’s subsumed her own person – and become saintly?

Echoes of other books: First of all, the pursuit of a woman is back, when Bruno chases Janie through the department store early on. Miles also sees a woman in a pale dress walking across the paving stones in the dark and doesn’t know whether it’s his wife or sister-in-law.  Gwen and Danby meet on the Circle Line Tube, a line which will of course assume prominence in “A Word Child” (taking a forward echo on for once). The fog and London echo “A Severed Head” and “The Time of the Angels”, and of course Will Boase and/or his sons are mentioned in “The Sea, The Sea” (which I love).

I’ve really been feeling my way as I’ve written my review here rather than formulating thoughts on the book in advance and putting forward full hypotheses. I certainly reacted viscerally to some of the scenes and like it a good deal more than when I first read it, 30-odd years ago. I hope this piece isn’t too muddled and is clearer now!


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.

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