“A Fairly Honourable Defeat” roundup and “An Accidental Man” preview #IMReadalong @IrisMurdoch

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It’s time to round up our reading of “A Fairly Honourable Defeat” and look forward to “An Accidental Man” There’s been a great discussion on my review again and I’m so appreciating the same people joining in each time, but if you’re coming along to this not in the month we read the book, please don’t be shy and do add your comments.

This one actually went down slightly in my list – not hugely and I didn’t dislike it but the characters were a bit more annoying than I remembered, and I’ve certainly gone off Morgan. But we have good old manky Tallis and his saintliness at last, seeing as I’ve been banging on about that for the last however many months.

Do post in the review comments if you’ve reviewed the book on your own website, blog or Goodreads page. Jo has done another great Goodreads review, even though this was her least favourite one so far. I’ll add more links as you let me know about them.

Just one reader-submitted cover this month. Peter Rivenberg has done stalwart work sending me the Viking US firsts and here’s the very odd but at least applicable one for this book:

 

An Accidental Man

Moving on to the next book (and we’re over half way through them now!) and I get the openings to this one and “The Philosopher’s Pupil” mixed up for some reason (anyone else?).

I have three copies as usual: a first edition found and sent to me by the lovely Kaggsysbookishramblings, a weird Penguin and the newer Vintage Classic (back to the red-spined ones). What odd covers they’ve all chosen! The Penguin is a representation for a hermaphrodite, for no good reason.

The firs edition goes onto the back and yes, I’m sure they are both scenes from the book, but aren’t there some more attractive ones to choose?

There was an original clipping and review tucked into the book: I do love the caption to the rather dashing photo of IM:

So there’s the blurb from the first edition:

I like the way the Penguin blurb uses “appalling” which always seems to be a very Murdochian word to me.

and the blurb writer for Vintage has as usual read the above.

Are you going to be reading or re-reading “An Accidental Man” 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 – “A Fairly Honourable Defeat” #IMReadalong @IrisMurdoch

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Here we are at the mid-point of the readalong (oh no!). How have you found it so far? Do you have a favourite and a least favourite so far? What are you looking forward to most in the second half of the project? If you’re joining outside the set months I did this readalong, welcome, and please do contribute your comment or link to your review!

I first read this one in my teens and remember feeling, as with “A Severed Head”, that this was terribly sophisticated, which was obviously rubbing off on me (or not). I’ve read it at least twice since then, and my attitudes to the characters have shifted slightly, though I think I’ve felt the same about the actual story. Talking story – the blurb on my Vintage copy begins with events that occur on p. 404 of 438! What’s that all about?

Iris Murdoch – “A Fairly Honourable Defeat”

(August 2018)

Here we have a comedy of manners, indeed, something referred to as a midsummer’s entertainment. We have a cast of middle-class characters, some conspicuous by their veneer of American sophistication (by association) and some more gentle and doing all the good they can. Beautifully drawn relationships, heterosexual, homosexual and sibling, as well as those among friends, show what can happen when, as arch-would-be-enchanter Julius mentions,

Human beings set each other off so. Put three emotional fairly clever people in a fix and instead of trying quietly to communicate with each other they’ll dream up some piece of communal violence. (p. 419)

Does this not just sum up Murdoch’s novels in general??

We open with the shock of Morgan returning to London after the end of her affair with Julius. She bursts into her older sister, Hilda’s house, where she lives in perfect harmony with husband Rupert. Meanwhile, Morgan’s messy, contingent husband Tallis lives in a decaying house with his ailing father, and Simon and Axel, Rupert’s brother and his partner, fret over decorations and the perfect dinner. There’s a wayward son, Peter, too, for whom I had little sympathy this time around (presumably as I myself grow away from his age). And into this set of situations comes Julius, ready to work some tricks and have some fun. I’ll now look at the usual Murdochian themes and comparisons to the other novels in the oeuvre.

We have plenty of siblings – Hilda and Morgan, Rupert and Simon, and Tallis and his dead twin sister, who still visits him. Rupert and Tallis are both writing books, great unfinished works (Tallis gives up on his and Rupert’s gets destroyed). Pairings and contrasts abound, from Rupert and the hedgehog to Morgan’s comment on her two lovers: “Tallis has no myth. Julius is almost all myth” (p. 52) Quite a few papers are torn apart and scattered and there are two sets of letters – based on two other sets of letters, of course.

We have only a bit of stone action and more water. The stone is the malachite paperweight which Rupert manages to give to both Peter, in childhood, and Morgan, and Rupert holds all his work papers down with stones. The swimming pool holds pivotal scenes and the rain drums down on it with a pivotal thunderstorm, too. Hilda thinks the sea will bring her strength and help her decide what to do, then fails to actually visit it. London is a character as usual, although more benign in its weather. Rupert and Axel are civil servants, and the institution of the museum as well as the civil service and universities, workers’ education and charities all come into things.

It is a funny book in places – not just the savage irony of the plot, but comments such as “Julius might read all your letters if you left him alone in your flat, but he’d be sure to tell you afterwards” (p. 26) and is it only me who finds Tallis’ father’s rants about the revoltingness of being human quite funny at times? Simon’s horror at the sight of a naked Morgan raises a smile, especially the sentence, “He did not find it enjoyable” (p. 154). The teddy bear is funny, especially when poor Simon is trying to get rid of it.

Who is the saint and who the enchanter? Well, Julius is mentioned alongside the word saint on the first page, but is he either? He wants to manipulate, and seeks to control, but then Axel, Simon and Morgan, and poor old Hilda, all do fall under his spell. He’s definitely no saint because he’s busily passing on the pain of his war in a concentration camp by upsetting and hurting people all over the place, for fun.

Tallis is, of course, along with Anne Perronet in “An Unofficial Rose” often mentioned as the classic Murdochian saint. I was actually less annoyed by him than in previous reads, although the descriptions of his kitchen are perhaps best not read over your own meal. Being described as spiritless, a muddler, tired, confused and overborne makes him a classic IM saint. Morgan says of him,

His sanity is depressing, it lowers my vitality … Tallis has got no inner life, no real conception of himself, there’s a sort of emptiness. (p. 52)

Julius points out that he only doubts himself when he considers himself (in this scene, where Julius tidies the kitchen, he does apply attention to Tallis, too, p. 327). He tries to forgive, to help others, even at the cost of himself, to learn about people and to absorb. He seems distracted but has that all-important attention: for example, he’s the only character to spot Julius’ concentration camp tattoo. He has a handcart which feels a bit like a cross, and doesn’t care about appearances or possessions, and has visions of being at one with the world (see p. 199). But for all his meekness, when he needs to act (and Simon has this, too), he slaps the assailant in the Chinese restaurant before anyone can notice he’s moved, and he forces Julius to undo his bad deeds by making him speak to Hilda on the phone. In fact, Morgan is obsessed with him as if he’s an enchanter, but I feel that might be down to Morgan’s character, rather than his, as she is also obsessed with Julius and Rupert …

Is Hilda a sub-saint? She doesn’t pass on suffering and Morgan points out:

Who was always talking about helping people? Rupert. Who was always really helping people? Hilda. Only one failed to notice Hilda’s virtue because she was unaware of it herself. And she treated her good works as jokes. (p. 378)

Julius also seems to respect her in a non-snarky way, saying, “She’s not interested in herself the way the others are. This is what makes her so restful to be with.” (p. 398) I’m not sure I was that aware of Hilda even on the last read. I certainly rate her higher than her sister now: dignified and practical with her help for others.

I love how Axel and Simon’s relationship is treated as entirely normal – in fact described as so – with nothing particular about it actually reminding us they’re gay: it’s just a relationship. This is still quite an early book and I’ve always loved this about this one – and Axel and Simon remain two of my favourite characters in the whole oeuvre. I think they survive because they don’t meddle in other people’s business, and do that consciously, too, talking about it and making a decision, so doing something active there.

In relation to other books, it hadn’t really struck me that Peter was an extension of the Godless young generation that IM discussed in “The Time of the Angels” and will go on to discuss in “The Message to the Planet”. He is described as belonging “to the first generation that’s grown up entirely without God” (p. 12). Tallis’ father seems another version of Bruno, railing against the dying of the light, his illness kept from him, mulling over his life and the grotesequness of age. Hilda and Julius’ conversation at cross purposes (“so you know?“) puts us in mind of similar misunderstandings in “An Unofficial Rose”. Julius’ comments that Hilda will suffer to “spare them suffering” reminds us of poor old Diana being told to step aside and fade into the background in “Bruno’s Dream”. Who is the “philosopher with the funny name that  [Rupert] admires so” (p. 342) – could it be John Robert Rozanov from “The Philosopher’s Pupil”? Axel and Simon and Julius going off to the Continent at the end reminds us of any number of the books, going right back to “The Flight from the Enchanter”.

So, a book with a more attractive premise than “Bruno’s Dream”, perhaps, and a good Shakespearean theme. I feel it’s a more conventional novel, but with so many touches that can only be Murdoch’s. And I still enjoyed it, even though my opinion on the individual characters has shifted once again.


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.

“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 – 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.

“The Nice and the Good” roundup and “Bruno’s Dream” preview #IMReadalong @IrisMurdoch

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It’s time (in fact it’s over time, as I’m a day late, again) to catch up on what went on with our reading of “The Nice and the Good” and to look forward to “Bruno’s Dream”.

I reviewed the book here and we’ve had a good discussion already, even though I posted quite late in the month (I struggled with putting together my review somehow). You can also read Jo’s Goodreads review here and I will add more as I’m sent them.

I had lots of contributions of alternative covers for “The Nice and the Good”. Lucky I’m not collecting them myself, right?

The first American edition from Viking (submitted by Elaine Brix and David Mahon) has a lovely author photo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The blurb

and David added this excellent character list from his copy:

(interesting point: Fivey is named as “Ewan” in Judy’s letter in the UK version. Is he Gavin in the US one?)

Bookish Beck has another of the very odd 70s Penguin covers. Who is this even supposed to be?

and Peter Rivenberg contributed his later Penguin, of which he comments, “Rather conventional and artistic. But as an added bonus, this second-hand book came with a used parking disc from the Cork City Council as a bookmark.”

Bruno’s Dream

Moving on to Bruno’s Dream, I have three copies: my first edition, my Triad Granada 1980 reprint, bought in the mid-80s, and the Vintage Classic. Don’t get me started on why they left this one out of the new red spined editions. But they did. At least it still has an introduction.

Here are the blurbs from the original …

which seems to sum it all up very well (I’ve completely forgotten Lisa, however: will I remember her as I re-read this for the third or fourth time?). Triad Granada went for:

and Vintage are more brief:

Are you going to be reading or re-reading “Bruno’s Dream” 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 Nice and the Good” #IMReadalong @IrisMurdoch

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This review is late, and I’m sorry. I actually finished the book a good few days ago, at the weekend (still a bit late) and then I’ve been shillyshallying over writing up my review. I feel a bit intimidated because this feels to me like the first time Murdoch spreads her wings and fills a book with a million details and thoughts and feels and I have SO MANY post-its stuck in the book and I’m going to have missed all the stuff. And yes, I’m writing informally because I’ve reverted to my basic flippancy when under stress. At least I didn’t get THAT out of a blooming IM novel (see below).

So I hope my lovely Read-Along-ers come into play with some insightful comments and readings. Please. Right, here goes …

Iris Murdoch – “The Nice and the Good”

(August 2018)

As I mention above, this felt to me this time (and I’m not sure it’s happened in other chronological re-reads) that this is a point where IM really expands to fill the space allowed. Maybe it’s because it’s expanded into multiple locations, so many characters and scenes with more than two people in it (thank you to Peter Rivenberg for pointing out that doesn’t happen often in “The Time of the Angels“) so feels a long way from the claustrophobia of “The Time of the Angels”.

First off, so sorry to announce this, but we don’t (as far as I recall and now I’m fretting) have a woman in a white dress being pursued through the dusk. However, we do follow McGrath and the shine of his shirt through the under-office tunnels, so all is not lost. Incidentally, whenever I get to these tunnels, I can’t help thinking about the sub-sub-basement at the library I used to work at. I’m sure there were tunnels there.

With our usual themes, stones and shells must be mentioned first. Poor old Pierce gets his first of many setbacks when Barbara sweeps his shell-woman off her dressing table. Then of course he gets his sour “revenge” with the ammonite fossil. The uncanny twins are obsessed with stones and fossils: they’re uncanny in a good way of course (of course?). Hair is everywhere, from Willy’s white wisps to Kate’s pre-Raphaelite fuzz. Barbara has an “elaborate filigree head-piece” for hair, which is along the lines of previous Murdochian hair. Weird siblings we have of course, and a good pair who have special games with special rules and ask the most marvellous questions.

The sea and water are of course a major theme in the Dorset portions of the book. So many beautiful descriptions that are simply heart-stopping. Contrasts are there in the two main locations, office and outdoors, London and Dorset, town and country (the Grays have homes in both and most people move between the two), and we also have an explicit contrast in the discussion of the “chequer-board” of contrasting atmospheres in weekday and weekend/holiday Dorset. Dry, cool Paula is set against muddled Mary. Two women let themselves into houses (Biranne’s then Ducane’s) in front of horrified observers and both Mary and Paula take trips to London to revisit old haunts.

I found the description of Ducane’s thoughts when walking to see Willy with Kate very interesting:

Thus he walked on with Kate at his side, conveying along with him his jumbled cloud of thoughts whose self-protective and self-adjusting chemistry is known as mental health. (p. 46)

It feels like this is a contrast with all the talking and machinating that goes on in the book and also all the thinking and machinating provided by psychoanalysts in others of her books.

The animals in this are superb: Montrose with his “bird look” and silly old Mingo, both providing plot points in their own way, and then signifying the resolution of the midsummer of madness when they finally curl up in the basket together. I’d forgotten that Montrose appears on the breakwater and on the beach, wandering further than the house and garden, and liked this touch very much: he’s an observer, contrasted with Mingo’s eager participation.

The humour is back, muted but definitely there, from Pierce and his strokable nose which as “already troubled, in half-conscious form, a number of people, including some of his masters at school” (p. 22). Barbara is gently laughed at with her new pretensions and pony-madness. Ducane and Kate have conversations where each misinterprets the other, and he says how lovely it is to be so “rational” while really being nothing of the sort (p. 49). McGrath’s unpleasant colouring, or rather Ducane’s attitude to it, is jarring in a funny way: “McGrath was in very bad taste” (p. 64). Uncle Theo wanting to end up placing a pebble on each of Pierce’s buttocks makes me giggle every time I read it – but is is meant to be read like that or am I just being silly? Of course the cat and dog bring humour: when Montrose is defending his basket, “He lounged with the immobility of careless power” (p. 102) and of course the twins’ questions (and the questions the adults dare not ask them) are hilarious at times.

Do we have a saint and an enchanter? It’s not so clear-cut as it sometimes is (though will be again in later books, I think). Lots of people have saintly attributes: Kate “herself undefined, was a definer of others” (p. 18) and has a stammer and she and Octavian have “an indubitable virtue of generosity” (p. 19), but she’s not so self-effacing as to almost disappear. Jessica’s messy and makes weird art that she destroys; she is eventually free but doesn’t seem to actually help anyone. Is she an echo of Dora from “The Bell”?  Ducane wants to be cool and collected and help people and not get messy, and he’s also told repeatedly that he’s come to save people or help them; he is changed by the end of the novel, more messy and contingent, but I don’t think he’s the saint. He has a passage on p. 75 where he is shown as having “quite explicitly set before himself the aim of becoming a good man” and of course one of the rules for being good is not trying. On the other hand, Kate thinks that being good is “just a matter of temperament in the end” (p. 122) and something to do with being a happy, breast-fed baby.

I feel Mary or Willy might be our saint. Neither passes on their pain, including Willy never discussing his life in a concentration camp except to Theo, who sort of absorbs and doesn’t listen. Or maybe Theo’s the saint. He’s described as being invisible (which might be a curse, according to Mary) and

Theo also had a considerable gift for being physically relaxed. He seemed a totally non-electric, non-magnetic person. Perhaps it was this air of blank bovine ease which made his neighbours rightly so incurious. There was nothing to know. (p. 87)

He even has eyes whose colour you can’t describe. Mary is described thus: “… the mediocrity and muddle within Mary felt to be her own natural medium” (p. 20) and she has a self-effacing need to prove her place in the world by serving:

Mary depended, more than she might have been willing to admit, on a conception of her existence as justified by her talent for serving people. (p. 88)

(I had a jolt reading this, read first when I was around 14 and something I have built myself around, too: did that come from here?). Willy is “affectionate, detached, passive, absolutely passive” (p. 107) and although Mary has been subservient to him, that’s described as being entirely her doing (however, it’s worth noting that almost everyone seems obsessed with trooping to his cottage; so is he a quiet and ‘good’ enchanter after all?). Theo describes Willy’s book as “It’s not great, it’s not even necessary. It’s mediocre, it’s a time-filler” (p. 124) but is that a comment on Willy or Theo? Theo also tells Pierce to “Keep the blackness inside yourself then … Don’t pass it on” (p. 155) and that’s only after being pretty well asked for advice by Pierce. But he has had a difficulty involving a young boy who drowned, his master is now dead and he is “sunk in the wreck of myself” (p. 347) and knows what he must do but “cannot bear” to.

However, Willy, our other candidate, has this to say to Ducane:

Happiness … is a matter of one’s most ordinary everyday mode of consciousness being busy and lively and unconcerned with self. To be damned is for one’s ordinary everyday mode of consciousness to be unremitting agonising preoccupation with self. (p. 179)

However, just after this Ducane comes to the conclusion that he can’t stick with his view of himSELF as a strong helper, but is “enervated by all this mess and guilt” – so if he’s not become the good man or saint that he hoped to be since childhood, maybe he’s on the way to being good now he’s accepted and been subsumed by mess and contingency. He moves further forward in the sea cave, having an Effingham-like revelation

To love and to reconcile and to forgive, only this matters. All power is sin and all law is frailty. Love is the only justice. Forgiveness, reconciliation, not law. (p. 305)

and he takes this forward in his successful dealings with Biranne.

IM has an interesting explicit description of goodness, in that a saint might “possibly … be known by the utter absence of such gaseous tentacles” (p. 144) meaning their mysterious agencies which cause pain and mutilation to others without them even knowing, and the ability to insert themselves into people’s dreams. There’s a whole study of who appears in whose dreams there, isn’t there.

Is Kate the enchanter? She’s the centre of the Dorset group and says, “You are all my dear – children”, described by Ducane as “Slaves” (p. 258)

Echoes with other books: when Carel said in “The Time of the Angels” that maybe life boiled down to some dusty feathers in a cupboard, I thought of Radeechy’s poor old pigeons and there they are. Also like in “The Time of the Angels” and I’m trying to think what other novel (I think one yet to come), Jessica, as a Young Person, is shown as ignorant of religion and only part of a cult of the young. Fivey is a mix of Eugene from “The Time of the Angels” with his brown moustaches and Jake’s Finn in “Under the Net”. Kate and Octavian’s brisk and open discussions about Kate’s fancies remind me of all the self-justification and attempts to be objective in “A Severed Head”; however, here, they do seem to be genuine and not to be skating over the surface of some awful chasm. How has this changed? Octavian certainly “reclaims” Kate while on holiday and is triumphant, so maybe that’s it. I find them more and more peculiar as I get older (this is the first time I’ve read them while married myself, which I think makes a difference). The spaceship at the end echoes another spaceship at the end of another book which is such an important plot point that I hesitate to name the book here for fear of planting spoilers, as well as the more well-discussed sea serpent in “The Sea, The Sea”. The trial by sea in the cave reminded me of the weir scene in “Nuns and Soldiers” (weirdly, that scene comes way later in the book than I’d remembered). The word “rebarbative(ly)” appears for the first time since its sight over-use in “The Bell”, I think (p. 57)

So, have I really said what I need to say about this book? I don’t know. Who is the saint, who the enchanter? I don’t know. Theo and, more, Ducane, certainly grow towards goodness. Montrose, Mingo, Mary, Willy, Casey even are essentially “good”, aren’t they? The blurb on one of my copies says no one in the book is good, but I don’t agree.

Oh, and it’s a really good read with an exciting sub-plot and surprising and exciting events. Did I miss that aspect in my review?


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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