“The Red and the Green” round-up and “The Time of the Angels” preview #IMReadalong @IrisMurdoch

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Welcome back to the great Iris Murdoch readalong and today we’re reviewing “The Red and the Green” and looking forward to “The Time of the Angels”. I’ve got a lovely cover to share of “The Red and the Green” in the same series as we saw for “The Italian Girl”. Some of these paperbacks are very weird, aren’t they! In other news, I’ve ordered my next five Vintage Classics, as I am enjoying reading the introductions and updating my collection, and I’ve managed to fill in the last gap in my collection of first editions (just so I can take images for you, my readers, of course!) which happened to be the next three after we’ve done creepy, foggy London (not to mention creepy, foggy Carel). But first a round-up.

“The Red and the Green”

For the book which is possibly the least popular, not to mention with IM herself, apparently, we did get a good discussion going on this one over on my review earlier in the month. People surprised themselves, I think, by getting more out of it than they expected. I’d certainly forgotten that epilogue and was worrying about what was going to happen to everyone as I read through it.

Apart from the discussion, Jo has contributed a great review on Goodreads.

Maria Peacock and Peter Rivenberg, who have turned into real stalwarts of the readalong, submitted their weird edition’s front covers, with Maria offering the blurb, too. The cover is clearly in the same edition we saw last month with “The Italian Girl” and Peter wondered who the figure is (and why are they hiding in the bushes?). Is it a man or a woman (have a look at those fingernails) and why are they dressed like someone from the 60s for a book set in 1916 (oh, wait: it was published in 1968)?

Here’s the blurb:

Book blogger BuriedInPrint came across this and “The Time of the Angels” in a charity shop: this Penguin 1960s cover is clearly from the same edition as the lurid “Italian Girl” one I featured last month:

9 Buried in Print The Red and the Green Penguin

If you have comments to make or links to blog posts or Goodreads reviews to post, you can put them here or (better still) on the review. And if you chose NOT to read this one, I’d love to know why …

“The Time of the Angels”

Now we’re going seriously odd on the covers I have for this novel. I can kind of understand the peculiar figures on the first, but not sure who the woman on my 1983 Triad Granada is (I don’t have a note of when I bought this, which means it was really early on: what on EARTH did I make of it in my mid-teens?). I actually think the Vintage edition’s cover sums it up best for me.

Here’s the blurb from the first edition:

We’ll see that IM is cast as an enchantress or spell-caster in these blurbs, which I love.

Here’s the Triad Granada:

Not so many names here or indeed characters, but obviously inspired by the first one. I do like the Times’ assessment of the book, too!

And my Vintage classic:

So, again, a sort of greatest hits!

I’m looking forward to diving into the dank, murky depths of this one again. There are certainly some memorable scenes, and we’re back with London as a central character, too.

Are you going to be reading or re-reading “The Time of the Angels” 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 – Iris Murdoch – “The Red and the Green” #IMReadalong @IrisMurdoch

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Carrying on with the #IMReadalong, we’ve had two of the “minor” novels in a row here, with “The Red and the Green” being I feel one of the less-read novels. It’s Murdoch’s only specifically historical novel, treating the events of Ireland’s Easter Rising and taking a close look at Anglo-Irish and Irish identity. I’m not sure myself that it entirely works as either a historical novel or a novel, but there are of course lots of Murdochian themes and complicated relationships to enjoy, and a less successful Murdoch novel is still a good novel in my eyes.

Iris Murdoch – “The Red and the Green”

(27 February 2018)

I’d forgotten that the sea plays such an important scene-setting role in this book, with beautiful descriptions as usual for IM. Almost immediately we’re looking across Dublin Bay with Andrew Chase-White, in a view that’s “intensely familiar and yet disturbingly alien” (p. 10) – a description it seems of how the Anglo-Irish characters feel when in Ireland (and perhaps in England, too). And we soon meet his cousin, Pat Dumay, the very reason he’s joined a cavalry regiment and grown a moustache. It does feel a bit creaky to have a plot that sets cousin against cousin in the struggle for Home Rule, but then again these things do happen and it enables IM to make some useful points: does the personal outrule the political / military in people’s hearts (yes). While there are plenty of confusing siblings, with pairs marrying each other and a few outliers, Andrew is without siblings and longs for that relationship.

With these confusing siblings, Murdoch actually once again describes the confusion of reading her books:

‘We Anglo-Irish families are so complex,’ Hilda used often to exclaim with a kind of pride, as if complexity in families were a rare privilege. (p. 18)

Checking that quotation, I noted Millie’s assertion that “we’re practically incestuous,” used to greater effect right at the end of the book, of course.

We have plenty of civil servants in the book and also plenty of doubling. Both Barnabas and Christopher have given up civil service jobs to write books. Christopher’s an interesting character, seeming to be quiet and sere and all pulled together but then effectively destroying himself through sudden impulsive actions. Is this the contingent winning over the pattern? Pat and Andrew both fear sex and loathe women, with Andrew being very naive about their motivations. Of course they then, and Christopher, are after the same woman. Andrew and Barney are both virgins and it’s clear they both fail in this respect (I think it’s clear with Andrew).

Pleasingly, we find both people staring into houses through windows – Frances and later Frances and Christopher, and we even find Frances flitting across the lawn in her “whitish” dressing-gown, carrying on the tradition of pale-clad women fleeing through the dew.

It’s quite clear to me that we have two enchanters in Millie and Pat Dumay, and one saint in Kathleen. Kathleen is actually described as the good woman to Millie’s bad woman at one point (p. 108). Kathleen is indifferent to her surroundings and lives in mess and chaos, wearing shabby clothes (in contrast to Millie’s showy dressing-up). It’s explained that her lack of attention to the house is down to her being too busy helping people in distress. Christopher describes her as an independent character and no slave, and respects her for this. Barney goes further, describing her (like Ann in “An Unofficial Rose”) as having “a negative quality in her, an un-life, in the presence of which ordinary healthy persons, such as myself and my step-sons, quite perceptibly shuddered” (p. 213). It’s good to see that she and Frances prevail uninjured to the end of the epilogue, Kathleen still taking in waifs and strays.

As for Millie, Christopher is unable to prevent himself falling in love with her and has been “helpless”. Barney, similarly, “A few kind words, a touch, from Millie re-established and confirmed his servitude” (p. 110). She collects admirers and is “simply incapable of refusing a devotion however absurd” (p. 84), thus being another enchanter whose role is created by their subjects. However, she does also go out of her way to lure Barney when he’s training for the priesthood – “She simply wanted this black-robed priestling as her slave, a pet to fondle and caress” (p. 105). I’m not sure Pat manipulates people in the same way: everyone appears to be in love with him, but he doesn’t do anything to encourage that. Cathal complains of being “enslaved” (p. 125) but continues their bathing ritual past when he could have stopped, and Andrews’ idolising of him means that “the spring of power was broken inside him” (p. 308). So maybe he’s the true enchanter.

As well as goodness we are introduced to ideas of freedom – in Pat’s case “a real loss of tissue in the Self” but associated with pain and masochism and mixed up with his idea of his role as Ireland’s liberator.

Back to that water, we have the sea (notably, Barney visits it with Frances and fails to give his rifle up to it), and also the incessant rain – Millie is practically constantly slightly damp around the skirts (and dampens Pat’s trousers with her “tears or kisses” (p. 180). Water even falls through the conservatory roof onto the tablecloths and there’s always something dripping. When Millie drops her earring inside Andrew’s shirt, it immediately begins to pour with rain. She and Frances also have complex buns, as characters have to have in IM, although I’m not sure anyone’s hair is cut (Millie’s comes down at a pivotal moment). Kathleen and Barney and also Millie have chaotic and busy rooms and there are two mentions of masks (Pat when observed by Cathal). There are complicated arrangements for war but a very Murdochian sudden slew of detail on exactly how to gag someone effectively but safely.

There are discussions of women’s issues which I don’t recall being to the forefront in the other novels (though we do have the efficient secretaries who take things over in “The Flight from the Enchanter”). Millie demonstrates a masculinity which makes her an attractive boy to some characters, but it’s Frances who pushes against the boundaries and raises questions (and who escapes the clutches of Ireland).

Although it’s very much a novel of deep ironies (most strongly the fact that however much one wants to act in a certain way, one’s deep human relationships will always prevail – see Pat and Cathal; Andrew and Pat), there’s not a huge lot of humour. I did like a point about Millie which almost (and I know I don’t usually espouse linking books to their authors’ private lives) seemed to echo Murdoch’s:

A popular woman who enjoys her admirers and is also kind-hearted will naturally want to keep her friendships strictly sealed off from each other. (p. 78)

The inability to do just this gives her the funniest line in the novel, much later:

Well, a woman caught in my situation has got to adopt some tone, and it’s not easy to combine devastating frankness with calm dignity. What tone do you suggest? (p. 251)

The Epilogue is necessary, I think, and of course gives some more doubling and patterning with the coming of the Second World War and Frances’ worry about her son’s friend going to the Spanish Civil War. There’s some slightly heavy-handed discussion of what history will remember, the historical novel side of things intruding once more.

The introduction in my copy mainly covers the psychological aspects of the novel, apparently informed by its 1960s time of writing, which influenced some other works about the Easter Rising. So the historical aspect is prime there, whereas I tend to see the novel as an IM novel with history inserted into it. Not a bad read by any means, not a work of historical document, and I’m glad we move back to the dank mists of religious England for the next work.


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.

“The Italian Girl” round-up and “The Red and the Green” preview #IMReadalong @IrisMurdoch

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Welcome back to my Iris Murdoch readalong and we’re fairly galloping through them, aren’t we. Today we review the small and not very much discussed “The Italian Girl” and preview another book considered “minor”, I think it’s fair to say (partly because Murdoch herself apparently changed her mind on it), “The Red and the Green”.

“The Italian Girl”

I reviewed this one nice and early in the month here and we’ve had a bit of discussion in the comments already. Bookish Beck reviewed it on her blog but did comment that she felt she got more out of my assessment than out of the book itself. Annabookbel read her late mum’s first edition and reviewed it here. Jo has written a very thoughtful review highlighting Edward’s use of female stereotypes here.

Bookish Beck also submitted this great cover image from the 60s – one of the pretty horrific series of covers they did for her, which I secretly really like.

Maria Peacock has the 1967 Penguin with a fairly disturbing cover (who is this supposed to be?) and interesting blurb:

8 Maria Peacock Italian Girl 1967 Penguin blurb8 Maria Peacock Italian Girl 1967 Penguin

Peter Rivenberg again steadfastly sent me his cover images, noting the art on them, too. This is the late 70s Penguin with Botticelli’s Primavera (who is that supposed to represent or can we read meaning from the picture):

And also the 2000 Vintage Classic before my edition, featuring The Fall by Hugo van der Goes, so a range of themes overall!

If you have comments to make or links to blog posts or Goodreads reviews to post, you can put them here or (better still) on the review.

“The Red and the Green”

Murdoch’s Irish historical novel is set in a very different Ireland to “The Unicorn”. It’s a mix of sexual farce and serious history which received mixed reviews on publication and I’m not sure is read much today (although I’m sure I met someone who said it was their favourite of her novels once).

I have the usual three copies: a first edition bought for this project, a 1990s Penguin (bought on 19 January 1995 when I was 23, presumably with a Christmas or early birthday book token; I had a habit of catching up with Murdoch purchases around January each year) and the new Vintage classic:

The cover image on the Penguin is Lady Lavery as Cathleen in Howihan by Sir John Lavery. I really don’t like the first edition image in the middle – what is that supposed to be? and I really like the gloomy and dread-filled new Vintage cover.

The blurbs: the first had a long description which you might not be able to make out, covering all the characters and themes. Perhaps they thought the book needed explaining:

There’s a lesson in first edition value, here, too, in the flyleaf:

I paid the very much lower of the two prices for it.

My Penguin is quite brief:

and then the new vintage takes its description of Millie (my favourite character, I remember) from the first edition, which is nice:

Are you going to be reading or re-reading “The Red and the Green” along with me? Are you catching up with the others or have you given up)? What’s your favourite so far?


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

Book review – Iris Murdoch – “The Italian Girl” #IMReadalong @IrisMurdoch

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This is a very small book, I think Murdoch’s shortest? but my goodness, it packs a lot of Murdochian stuff in, almost like a distilled Greatest Hits (a bit reminiscent of “Under the Net” which I likened to an overture back in November). My copy is now festooned with post-it tabs so I hope I can make sense of my thoughts on this one. What I will say is that I kept thinking as I read it, “This is either a masterful portrayal of the complexities of family life and addiction or it’s a load of rows over sex and infidelity with a dodgy uncle thrown into the mix”. Maybe in someone else’s hands, it would be the latter, but we’re safe with Iris, aren’t we?

Iris Murdoch – “The Italian Girl”

(27 February 2018)

Well, if we’re looking for people chasing other people in white dresses through damp and dark woods, we’ve got them in bundles here, haven’t we (does this make up for the one book that missed one of these chases?) It’s even on the front of the Vintage reprint! Of course, we open with a classic return scene, almost another fairy tale, like “The Unicorn”, and indeed Edmund is requested by Isabel to be the healer in the household, surrounded by overgrown vegetation like Sleeping Beauty’s castle, reminding us of the talk of seven years that have passed in that previous book.

A note on the re-reading aspect: how had I forgotten that this is one of the male first-person narrator novels? I’m not sure IM loves Edmund as much as the narrators of “Under The Net”, “The Black Prince” and “The Sea, The Sea” (and, of course, “The Philosopher’s Pupil” – how I long to reach that one again) but he’s certainly a dry and seemingly self-aware but foolish chap, maybe reminding us of Martin Lynch-Gibbon from “A Severed Head”.

Those chases: Edmund starts out following his own dewy footsteps on the lawn. Then he follows Flora to the pool, observing the different colours in her pale skirt as they go. This pale dress appears and disappears among the trees in a very familiar way. Only a few pages later and he’s chasing Elsa through the rather revoltingly wormy lawn: “I seemed to see the fleeing figure somewhere in front of me”. He finally follows Flora on her final flight (in the rain, by the pools), and then Maggie back again, although he catches up with and carries her – this is obviously important.

Like in “The Unicorn” and indeed “A Severed Head” we are given a load of portents and warnings early on, in Isabel’s cluttered room that is different from the rest of the house particularly, which is full of images of overpowering fire. In fact, the large garden is there because there was previously a large house which had been destroyed by fire, and Lydia is described as having been obsessed with the fear of a fire, which is why Isabel has her big open fireplace in the first place.

Who is the enchanter and who the saint? Dead Lydia is said several times to be the only person who can control somebody (Flora, Otto …) and has a peculiar hold over Edmund and Otto even after she’s passed. Was Edmund’s father, the artist, a saint as well? He’s described thus: “Your father is not a good man, he is merely a timid man with unworldly tastes” (p. 17) and held in contempt, which usually indicates a saint. Isabel says of Edmund, “You lead a simple good life. You help people. Oh, I know about it. I wonder if you think it’s easy to be like that” although Edmund immediately counters that he’s selfish, so maybe he’s just filling a space in her pageant of types. Again, in this conversation he mentions that his father was a much “finer” man than he, so maybe in this novel both the enchanter and the saint are dead? Maggie also says Edmunds’s good, though, again countered by him saying that she is (and she’s quiet as a mouse, often a sign of someone good yet existing almost as a non-presence. Edmund talks about having been captured by magicians and being enchanted in the summer house when he misses his breakfast with Flora, but this sounds like an excuse to me, although then Otto talks about the siblings as being fairies or demons when he claims to have cast them out.

Attention comes up again, when Otto and David tiptoe around each other in the hospital, treating each other with “a gentleness, a tenderness almost, which in the midst of such grief on both sides seemed a miracle of attention” (p. 147) and we have Isabel’s moment of clarity in the hotel room where she sees the tabby cat in the garden when normally she wouldn’t have seen it. She has grown and changed and has new life to begin, unlike many of IM’s previous characters who just seem to travel the path they have been given; although she does describe life in the house as a “merry-go-round” with the implication that you can’t get off it. Mind you, Edmund also feels trapped “Some pattern too strong for me was taking me away, curving away back to the old lonely places” (p. 166) and then with a huge effort frees himself.

There’s humour again, just touches but they do raise a smile: I loved this description of the house from near the beginning, which recalls the furniture plans in “An Unofficial Rose”:

The dim electric light revealed the big landing, the oak chest and the big fern which never grew but never died either, the fine but entirely threadbare Shiraz rug, the picture which might have been by Constable but wasn’t which my father had got at a sale at a price for which my mother never forgave him … (p. 15)

There are Otto’s ridiculous dreams, with telephone dials turning into all manner of things, too, and Otto is described in a savagely funny way as like a gorilla, and needing to ingest similar amounts of foliage.

As to our other themes, Flora has the red hair this time; Maggie has a long bun, which seems odd, but unravelling buns are a theme and of course she gets it chopped off, another common occurrence. Isabel’s hair seems odd and complicated and adds to her strange charms, seeming to grow and acquire extra bits out of nowhere. Elsa also had flat metallic hanks of hair which someone else had in another novel – anyone remember? And she is the classic artificial woman who IM often seems to dislike, in her case revoltingly grubby and greasy. Otto has the big face and cherub-gone-bad features but might be the most revolting specimen we encounter in the oeuvre, and David Levkin is another prancing, merry Jamesie but with a darker side, perhaps.

Doublings are found in the two sets of siblings, in Edmund’s two mothers (Lydia and the stream of Italian girls). In a memorable description, we find that Otto is a wet-lipped man and Edmund a dry-lipped man. Otto and then Flora cry in front of Edmund and so indeed does Isabel. Edmund bangs on the summer house door and then Flora’s door. Edmund is expected to heal the household but only heals the cracked blocks of wood – and then I think leaves them there. He encounters Isabel and then David stripped to the waist in another uncomfortable couple of scenes. Water is there early on in the diverted stream in the garden and then of course the pool and waterfall that Flora climbs to escape. Again, some of the most beautiful descriptions are of this water. IM’s dislike of psychoanalysts slips through in a statement of Edmund’s:

My relations with women always followed a certain disastrous and finally familiar pattern. I did not need a psychoanalyst to tell me why: nor did it occur to me to seek the aid of one of those modern necromancers. I preferred to suffer the thing that I was. (p. 24)

There are some ivory water buffalo in Isabel’s room which seem the only nod to Chinese or Japanese art, although they’re usually linked to wise people, which I’m not sure she is.

In other nods to the other novels, Maggie loses (or “loses”) her shoes in the mud, recalling Marian’s adventure in the bog in “The Unicorn”. The chases under the trees, of course, echo most of the books and Edmund’s fawning over Flora remind us uncomfortably of Randall and Miranda in “An Unofficial Rose”. He is creepy, isn’t he, or are we just reading this with a modern mind: “All that came into my mind was the image of Flora. How exceedingly pretty she had become. I wondered how old she was” (p. 27). Isabel’s display of herself to Edmund reminds us of Annette’s dress getting ripped open in “The Flight From the Enchanter”.

I’ve just realised there’s no special introduction in this book (which basically means I’ve bought a fancy cover wrapped around the text of the 1980s copy I already had). I wonder why this is!

What would I say in conclusion? Yes, it’s an odd novel and a lot of it a bit distasteful, with gross images of sweaty grubbiness. But there is a way forward and a resolution, and a musing on attention. Is this one even read much any more? I’m not sure. But I did enjoy it.


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.

“The Unicorn” round-up and “The Italian Girl” preview #IMReadalong @IrisMurdoch

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It’s the last day of the month, so it must be time for an #IMReadalong update. We’re galloping through the oeuvre, aren’t we – and I hope you’re still with me! – so here’s a quick round-up of “The Unicorn” goodness, and a preview of the delights to come with “The Italian Girl”.

“The Unicorn”

I was a bit later with my review of this one, but got it up before the end of the month, so that’s a win, right? And I don’t mind a bit if other people lag behind a little (or a lot!) as long as you’re enjoying your reading. Here’s my review with a great discussion that flourished just at the end of the month in the comments. Jo has reviewed the novel on Goodreads and has some great points to make about the hysteria and fairy-tale of the book.

My three copies are shown above; Peter Rivenburg and David Mahon both have the somewhat lurid 1963 Penguin (do we think Hannah looks like this? I’m sure she should have more and red hair. Or is it Marian?

and David contributed the blurb, too:

If you have comments to make or links to blog posts or Goodreads reviews to post, you can put them here or (better still) on the review.

“The Italian Girl”

Is this the shortest of Murdoch’s novels? My two paperbacks run to 171 pages, with the hardback stretching out a bit more with some Very Large Print.

I treated myself to the rather odd first, and still have my 1985 Penguin – I remember reading this early, so would have got this a few years after it came out. Then for anyone following our theme of women in white dresses running away through trees, I think we might have bagged one with the Vintage!

This is a classic Murdochian tangle of family secrets and generations of dysfunction, as the blurbs make clear. Much more detail in the first edition than either of the other two, this sums it up really, although I feel it sounds quite like “A Severed Head” in this:

The Penguin has a much shorter blurb than some, but with some good establishment press support:

and as usual, the Vintage sort of blends the two, with a bit from a different newspaper to add a bit of spice (ancient experience, though? Is it based on a myth I’ve not understood?):

Are you going to be reading or re-reading “The Italian” along with me? Are you catching up with the others or have you given up)? What’s your favourite so far?


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

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

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I was already looking forward to this one (unlike last month’s read) and it didn’t disappoint. I must have read it early on in my Murdoch discoveries and love the Gothic qualities of the novel. Back in 2008, I did such a small review it’s not worth sharing, but wrote loads of notes to share in my discussion group – we all liked this one. As usual, there were some differences from my memories of other readings of the book, but it in no way disappointed, so another good month.

I’ve had the same cover image sent to me by Peter Rivenberg and David Mahon, the disturbing 1960s paperback with a face looking into a mirror – does anyone have any others?

Iris Murdoch – “The Unicorn”

(27 February 2018)

Oh, the opening to this book is the most gothic thing ever, isn’t it – the journey to a mysterious place to be a governess of all things, the mysterious pick-up at the station and odd characters to travel with, the wild castle and appalling scenery (just like “The Bell” and “rebarbative”, this book is definitely brought to us by the word “appalling/appalled”). By the way, I can’t understand why I didn’t realise before it was set in Ireland – lots of things point to that but I’d managed to ignore them before. Just shows what a re-re-reading can do. There’s plenty of doom and gloom and even slightly “Cold Comfort Farm”-y warnings – “No one swims in this sea. It’s far too cold. And it is a sea that kills people” (p. 12). The mentions of seven years being up are frequent and everything does seem fairy-tale and overly patterned, and indeed Gerald mentions “the pattern that is what has authority here” (p. 151)

Once Marian is installed, she tries to work everything and everyone out, as we do, and I felt like this passage was almost a commentary on how we find reading Murdoch’s works ourselves (I didn’t draw out a family tree for this one but started last time quite soon after this!):

There were many matters for puzzlement in the big self-absorbed house and she found herself still, sometimes disconcertingly, unable to ‘work out’ the relations of the individuals to each other. (p. 30)

Marian’s journey from thinking “This is mad” (p. 64) falling under Gerald’s spell as much as if he’d beaten her is fascinating and a portrait of what can happen when you get isolated from real, sensible living conditions and people. It’s a kind of mass hysteria which is fascinating but unsettling to read about. In a way, the small and tight community with its slightly sinister woman overseer reminds me of “The Bell”, but without that book’s honest and useful sense of purpose.

Who is the enchanter? Is it Peter, holding the strings from so far away, Gerald, manipulating and controlling everyone, or Hannah? Max seems to be Effie’s enchanter figure, along with Hannah perhaps, although Effie has come away from the blind adoration he had for Max as a younger man. Hannah is described near (although not at) the end of the action as having “so beautifully sent them all away in their different directions” (p. 208) – although she’s something of a blank at the centre of the novel, used for characters to project their feelings onto, some of them do create her as an enchanter for themselves, Marian and Effie chief among them, and maybe also Max, who is inexorably drawn to Gaze.

One really important feature here is perhaps the first real mention of “Ate” (p. 98-99) and the idea, so central I think to Murdoch’s novels that-

Good is non-powerful. And it is in the good that Ate is finally quenched, when it encounters a pure being who only suffers and does not attempt to pass the suffering on.

Also important to Murdoch’s themes is Effie’s vision, which unfortunately fades,

Love holds the world together, and if we could forget ourselves everything in the world would fly into a perfect harmony, and when we see beautiful things that is what they remind us of. (p. 173)

However, this does get a bit lost and there is no love left at the end, is there, with everyone dispersed, whereas there’s an important hint that Denis is the saint of the novel:

And with Denis’s words she had an eerie sense of it all beginning again, the whole tangled business: the violence, the prison house, the guilt. It all still existed. Yet Denis was taking it away with him. He had wound it all inside himself and was taking it away. Perhaps he was bringing it, for her, for the others, to an end. (p. 262-3)

There is humour still, although maybe not so much as previously (savage irony seems to rule the roost in this one, especially in the plot denouements near the end). I did like it when Effie meets Pip, Denis, Marian and Alice, Jamesie and Gerald and “bristled with dislikes” (p. 85). There’s also a rather amusing scene when Effie, quite unnecessarily, attempts to let Marian down gently.

Looking at our themes, of course water in the form of rivers and particularly the sea is very strong here, and the descriptions of the sea, starting at the beginning, are just magical and amazing. Does anyone write the sea like Iris Murdoch does? I loved the encounter with the seal, too. Hannah has the red curly mess of hair and Jamesie the boy’s curls, although I think Pip’s baldness/wisps are unique. We have the common duality of the two houses, Riders and Gaze (one suggesting movement and activity, one stillness and passivity) and the contrast of town and country in Effie’s horror at being lost in the countryside (his scene in the bog, though, lasted a shorter time and came earlier in the narrative than I’d remembered).  The bog scene is doubled by Marian’s loss of her shoe in the bog early in the novel, and she finds the glutinous pools similar to those Alice and Effie encounter near the end of the novel.

Max is an academic and Effie was and is now in the civil service, with a frighteningly efficient female underling, two very common Murdochian careers, reminding us of “The Flight from the Enchanter”. Stones are represented by Alice’s shell woman on her bed, and there’s a doubling when Alice resembles this herself later on’ the shells in that scene are described as glittering like jewels, echoing back to Hannah’s scattered jewels, left out on the table on the terrace. There’s another echo of the trinity of women encountered after Effie’s bog experience which I can’t really mention without a huge spoiler: don’t read the Introduction in the Vintage edition if you haven’t read the book before!

In links to other books, we don’t follow any women in pale dresses through the gloaming, although we see Hannah flitting away through the gardens. Marian and Effie’s big plan echoes Dora and Toby’s in “The Bell”. Max Lejour is perhaps a precursor of the tutor whose name I can’t recall in “The Book and the Brotherhood” or John Robert Rosanov in “The Philosopher’s Pupil” or even Bruno in his  yellowing age. Hannah’s psychological entrapment is perhaps hinted back to in “The Message to the Planet” when Patrick Fenman has a mystery illness attributed to another character.

Effie’s Humber getting stuck in the mud at the gates of Gaze recalls very strongly Rain’s Morgan getting into the river in “The Sandcastle” and I do love Murdoch’s slight obsession with cars. More subtly, doesn’t the “mahogany erection containing a mirror surmounted the fireplace and reached almost to the dim ceiling in a converging series of shelves and brackets upon which small complicated brass objects were clustered” remind us of James Arrowby’s similar arrangement in his flat in “The Sea, The Sea”? And there’s a very small mention of a mask, when Effie is too scared to look at a figure in case he sees on the face, “laid thereupon, like a hideous mask, the likeness of his own features” (p. 256). He’s also sent away with a Japanese print – does this mean he’s gained some sort of enlightenment, or is it just a decorative feature for him?

So, a powerful and mature work, frightening, engaging and very readable. A fairy-tale where things seem to drive to an inevitable conclusion which is Shakespearean or Jacobean in general in its savage irony of the events that fly in front of us one after the other. The Introduction to my copy agrees with me on the significance of the house names but sees practical “dear” Alice as the saint and as Denis having to go off to redeem himself; there’s more to it than that and I would like to re-read A.S. Byatt’s thoughts, but that’s for another time.


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.

“An Unofficial Rose” round-up and “The Unicorn” preview #IMReadalong @IrisMurdoch

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Hello and welcome to another #IMReadalong update, with a round-up of responses to “An Unofficial Rose” (and some great additional covers) and a preview of “The Unicorn”

“An Unofficial Rose”

I managed to get this one read and reviewed really early in the month and you can read my review and all the lovely comments here. There are just a few, but some lovely long thoughts on it. Only a few reviews sent to me from other people’s blogs or Goodreads, though, so far, which is a shame – are people lagging or giving up (lagging is fine, well, giving up is, too, of course, but I would love to take people right through them all!) or did I put you off with my lacklustre feelings about the book?

Jo has put another excellent review on Goodreads, I love the way she compares the book to the others we’ve read so far. Liz has also reviewed the book on Goodreads and makes an interesting point about how all of the characters imagine they know what’s going on, but …

I had three copies and Peter Rivenburg and Maria Peacock sent me even more editions – how fun!

This is the American Vintage first edition, which I think is nicer than the UK one and reminds me of The Bell:

and then the 1973 Warner paperback, which is something of a spoiler, I think. I do like a lurid and unsuitable Murdoch cover, though!

Maria has the Triad Granada, an edition in which I have about half of my IM paperbacks, but who is it supposed to be depicting? I can’t work it out and it looks more like an Anita Brookner to me!

 

 

If you have comments to make or links to blog posts or Goodreads reviews to post, you can put them here or (better still) on the review.

“The Unicorn”

Moving along, it’s time for us to get all gothic and move over to a castle on a rocky shore for “The Unicorn”. I have very fond memories of this one from all the times I’ve read it (the first time in my teens), especially dear old Effingham and his revelation in … well, I won’t spoil it.

Now I’ve been busily collecting first editions as I’ve been going along, I have three copies of this one. From left to right, my Chatto and Windus first edition (love the cover image), my original Triad Granada paperback, reprinted in 1984 and acquired in around 1986, and the lovely cover of the Vintage edition, bought to read this time around:

Let’s see if those blurbs entice you. From the first edition …

 

I like this one, as it gets across the feel of the book and the lovely dual-house theme that we’ve just had in “An Unofficial Rose” and will return again and again. And it is a bit frightening.

It’s interesting that the 1980s version plays more heavily on feminine archetypes – wife, abandoned wife, with a husband and an admirer, and she might be a witch, eh?

Finally, we get quite minimalist with the Vintage copy:

As we’ve seen before, the blurb writer has gone for a mix of the two older copies but there’s no so much to go on there, is there.

 

Are you going to be reading or re-reading “The Unicorn” along with me? Are you playing catch-up with the others (which is ABSOLUTELY FINE)? What’s your favourite so far?


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

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