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1. The Nice and the Good
2. The Unicorn
3. The Bell (Penguin Twentieth-Century
4. The Sea, The Sea (Penguin Twentieth-Century
5. Existentialists and Mystics: Writings
6. A Fairly Honourable Defeat (Penguin
7. Bruno's Dream
8. The Black Prince (Penguin Classics)
9. The Italian Girl
10. An Unofficial Rose
11. A Word Child
12. Under the Net
13. The Red and the Green
14. The Good Apprentice (Classic,
15. The Sacred and Profane Love Machine
16. Iris: The Life of Iris Murdoch
17. The Sandcastle
18. A Severed Head
19. The Flight from the Enchanter:
20. Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals

1. The Nice and the Good
by Iris Murdoch
Paperback: 368 Pages (1978-12-14)
list price: US$17.00 -- used & new: US$8.25
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0140030344
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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Editorial Review

Product Description
A novel originally published in 1968, revolving around a happily married couple and telling of a violent death, blackmail, suspected espionage, Black Arts, stress and terror, over which love conquers all. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (8)

3-0 out of 5 stars Nice but not Great
I suppose for anyone who has never read a work by Iris Murdoch, this book will be nice, full of intrigue and thought-provoking moral/metaphysical questions.If however, you've read something else by her, this book may not be that good a choice.The main themes of the book (striving towards an impossible good ((very Platonic)), the irrational yet compelling nature of love, and the relationship between subjective happiness and the good) are so muddled that they barely say anything intellectually interesting.Furthermore, the plot is really contrived/implausible especially the happy endings and the detective subplot. Contrivance, at least to me, is not particularly problematic when it elucidates an interesting facet of human psychology or makes a powerful philosophical argument, but as I said, this book barely does this.A better book in terms of good fiction writing and interesting philosophy is The Book of the Brotherhood; that novel puts Murdoch in the ranks of writers like Mann, Forrester, and Camus.

4-0 out of 5 stars A Good Book... Nice too.
This book is half soap-opera and half occult-murder-mystery. I genuinly enjoyed this book.

But... That's not what this review is really about! This review involves some soap-operatic (is that a word?) mystery of it's own; you are possibly reading this review as part of a wild goose-chase. Perhaps, looking for an electronic address of some kind, eh?

If you concatenate my first name with the name of the animal you are chasing (including no capitalization and no spaces) you will have the address you are seeking.

The host of this address (the part after the "at" symbol) is closely related to a search engine that was named in honor of a very large number. More precisely, the name of the host starts with a "g" and ends with a "mail" (and there's nothing in between).

4-0 out of 5 stars A Dog Named Mingo, a Cat Named Montrose, Talk of UFOs, and Travels to the Underworld

This book has it all.

John Ducane, a man both nice and good, navigates through a languid swirl of blackmail, love, black magic, and lust, in the course of his investigation of an apparent suicide in a government office. As he goes about this quest, the mundane is juxtaposed against the uncanny, and the reader is delightfully held in thrall.

Murdoch describes a natural world that shimmers with something quite beyond the natural:

"The front door was wide open, framing distant cuckoo calls, while beyond the weedy gravel drive, beyond the clipped descending lawn and the erect hedge of raspberry-and-creamy spiraea, rose up the sea, a silvery blue, too thin and transparent to be called metallic, a texture as of skin-deep silver paper, rising up and merging at some indeterminate point with the pallid glittering blue of the midsummer sky. There was something of evening already in the powdery goldness of the sun and the ethereal thinness of the sea".

Meanwhile an intricate relational dance involving characters at once common and exotic plays itself out as the investigation unfolds. Everyone is captivated by desire, everyone is in need of salvation, and so the dance continues.

In the end redemption comes, perhaps a tad too tidily, with a happy ending in some ways too good to be true. But in every other aspect this is an excellent book, and one that can be enjoyed on many different levels.

4-0 out of 5 stars An Exploration of Self-Myths
Murdoch explores how people's actions are driven by their self-images and personal mythologies.The vanities, fears or ambitions that dominate the way our lives unfold vary all over the place - from the need of the protagonist to "think well of himself," to the craving for love, the desire to serve humbly, or the need to forget something awful.Murdoch lets these motivations play out through her plots, which are really extravagant thought experiments.She focuses in particular on our secrets, the various reasons we have for hiding them, and the ways in which we slip into self indulgence and self-justification.

Some may find this approach a bit artificial and intellectual, but I felt that although the situations might be somewhat contrived, the characters' responses and actions rang true.I found the book very readable, and it met my main criterion for a novel - it taught me something new about why people act the way they do.

2-0 out of 5 stars Over-rated
This is my first (and possibly last) Iris Murdoch novel.Although I'm not a fan of the mystery genre, I was looking forward to reading it.The central plot involving the suicide or possible murder of a civil servant involved in black magic is surpisingly uninteresting, the pace ploddingand the 'revelation' predictable.The periphary characters are heavy-handed from the all too free-spirited civil servant couple to the all too anguished Dachau survivor.The only sub-plot of interest involves an adolescent crush which also gives the book its rare suspense.Thecoincidentals of the plot are absurd to the point of being Dickensian and the story ties up altogether too neatly (and happily) although I did enjoy the final irony of the love-sick teenagers.I'll stick to Cormac McCarthy for my debate on good, evil and the nature of man ... Read more

2. The Unicorn
by Iris Murdoch
Paperback: 272 Pages (1987-01-06)
list price: US$16.00 -- used & new: US$6.35
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 014002476X
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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Editorial Review

Product Description
Marian Taylor accepts a position as companion to Mrs. Hannah Crean-Smith, and gradually comes to the opinion that she is a prisoner of her husband. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (15)

5-0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written
This is an older book by a great author that was a pleasure to read. The author draws you into the mysterious world and you are hooked until the dramatic conclusion. Beautiful descriptions of the land and bogs are plentiful.

5-0 out of 5 stars Yet more solid and compelling fiction from Murdoch
Murdoch was at the pinnacle of her art when she penned The Unicorn, a modern gothic work, published in 1963. I've read many of her other titles, A Severed Head being my favorite; however, if you'd like to start reading her, either book would be a great place to begin.

Murdoch takes a little while to warm up her readers but once you are fifty pages in or so, you can't easily lay her aside. This one is particularly savory in that regard.

The story here is about a gal, Marian Taylor by name, who is brought on as a companion to a rather strange woman in a remote and lonely castle. From the start, Marian has good reason to question her decision to take on this job.

Here's a quote which sort of explains the title as well as conveying a little about the woman who's the focus of the story:

"'I'm not sure that I understand,' said Effingham. 'I know one mustn't think of her as a legendary creature, a beautiful unicorn --.'

'The unicorn is also the image of Christ. But we have to do too with an ordinary guilty person.'

'Do you really see her as expiating a crime?'

'I'm not a Christian. By saying she's guilty I just mean she's like us. And if she FEELS no guilt, so much the better for her. Guilt keeps people imprisoned in themselves. We must just not forget that there WAS a crime. Exactly whose probably doesn't matter by now.'" (p.98)

This is good, solid period fiction, a type of which we see all too little today. Highly recommended.

2-0 out of 5 stars Pretty awful, but she's done some great stuff too
I've read three Iris Murdoch novels and this is hands down the worst.The other two (The Nice and the Good, A Fairly Honourable Defeat) are very good indeed, but this one's tedious, over the top, and thoroughly inconsequential.

If there's meant to be a point, it seems to revolve around an abandoned wife presented as a Christ-like figure, patiently enduring martyrdom and inspiring the adoration of various humble devotees in the Wild Highlands.This works well if you can envision Christ as a simpering sado-masochist, alternating emotional seduction and subsequent betrayal of innocents with trembling submission to uber-abusers.Personally, I have trouble finding a resemblance to Christ in anyone so trifling and so vicious.

The other principal characters are almost equally preposterous.As the story opens, Miss Highland Thang is attended by the New Girl - a gullible companion / servant ripe for the psychological rack & thumbscrews - as well as her immediate predecessor in victimhood, a thoroughly beaten and bedazzled Boy, and the handsome, boy-raping Manservant who varies his recreational menu with the sexual taunting of whatever woman happens to be sublimating in the immediate vicinity. Waiting in the wings are other assorted neighborhood folk in a state of more or less chronic muddleheadedness.

The faintest rumor of the impending return of the demonic, wifebeating Dark Lord from across the deep, deep ocean throws all of these fine people into a Major Tizzy.

The thing runs on and on, and stuff happens, but it's all quite stupid, implausible, and ultimately meaningless.I guess that makes this an example of nihilist literature.It's certainly boring enough to qualify.

4-0 out of 5 stars Philosophical discourse disguised as Gothic horror tale
Iris Murdoch is very clever. She takes the format of the traditional gothic mystery novel, full of romantic fools and dark sinisister characters and weaves a tale that is as rich as a Renaissance tapestry with hidden spiders.

First, I would like to comment on the style of writing exemplified in this book. Ms. Murdoch is not of the school of minimal writing in which intentions and thoughts are discerned from actions and detail, which is the forte of Ernest Hemingway and Cormac McCarthy. Rather, she spends enormous amounts of the book exploring the inner thoughts and emotions of the characters, in particular the thoughts, impressions, and emotions of the young governess, Marian Taylor, and the civil servant, Effingham Cooper. However the book is not entirely devoted to in-depth psychological analysis of the characters. There are very fine passages where Ms. Murdoch describes the ever changing sea and cliffs and landscape in which the human characters interact. The sea is described with every color possible, from golden fire, to silvery smoky blue-grey, to purples and azure. Where sea meets shore she once describes as the swirl of black ink in cream. The finest writing in the novel is the chapter where Effingham Cooper walks into the bog and soon finds himself sinking slowly into the goo with an inability to pull his legs free from the mucky suction.

Ms. Murdoch has also constructed a geometric, classically proportioned plot, reminding me of the carefully constructed relationship structures of the works of Thomas Hardy. There are two grand houses in the remote countryside, that are within sight of each other. In one house there are three jailers who surround the real Hannah Crean-Smith, the beautiful fairy queen red haired alcoholic adulturous murderous pivotal character of the book. She is held captive by an overpowering masculine gay man, Gerald Scottow; his young subservient masochistic lover, Jamesie Evercreech; and Jamesie's vampirish lesbian sister, Violet Evercreech. The Evercreechs are distant cousins of Hannah and thus in line to inherit her wealth, giving them more motivation to be her jailers. This triangle surrounds the real physical Hannah.

In the other country manor lives Dr. Max Lejour, the philosophy professor and expert on Plato, his big-bonned botanist daughter, Alice; and his poet underachiving son, Pip. This triangle of characters tend to respond to an abstract and distant Hannah, on whom they project a range of emotions and thoughts. Pip was her young lover until discovered by Hannah's cousin-husband Peter Crean-Smith. He gazes toward her house with binoculars trying to see her, while spending his time fishing and writing poetry. Max, who has become reclusive to finish his great tome on Plato, sees her solitude and imprisonment through his own choice to become reclusive to a greater force than his own self interests. Alice, a thwarted romantic, suffers the lack of a lover and thus projects her loneliness onto Hannah.

Into this stable structure of 2 triangles, Murdoch inserts a triangle that serves as a catalyst for change. Miss Taylor has been hired to be Hannah's lady companion and she gradually learns the full story of Hannah's imprisonment. Effingham Cooper, an amazing egotist, comes to see himself as in love with Hannah and the prince that will save the sleeping beauty. Denis Nolan is the Celtic elfish man who worships Hannah as if she were the fairly queen and provides the information on which Marian Taylor and Effingham Cooper construct their rescue plot.

Iris Murdoch was a philosophy professior in addition to her outstanding career as a novelist. Philosophy gently emerges in two wonderful passages. In one passage she describes Ate, teh Greek concept regarding the ability of those in power to direct pain downward through the hierarchy or power structure. Another wonderful quote is from Aeschylus, "Zeus, who leads men into the ways of understanding, has established the rule that we must learn by suffering. As sad care, with memories of pain, comes dropping upon the heart in sleep, so even against our will does wisdom come upon us."Like Nietzche, Murdoch expresses the concept that human learning and knowledge do not make wisdom for learning, like mundane human life, is soon washed clean from the memory. Wisdom on the other hand comes only from painful experiences that can not be wiped clean from memory. Knowledge can be sought actively, but wisdom, since it is the product of painful experiences, comes to us involuntarily.

Like any gothic mystery, this one involves nieve characters who begin to put the puzzle pieces together to understand the mystery and then to become actors to resolve the tension or conflict. In this novel however, this traditional device becomes a tool for Murdoch to explore the fragility of human emotions and the ability to understand our own motivations and projections.

In keeping with her geometric structure of human relationships, Murdoch resolves the tensions and the plot with two murders and two suicides and five escapes from the bondage of Hannah's romantic imprisonment. Forthy five years have passed since this novel was first published and it retains the ability to entertain as we read a story of romantic images and archtypes projected upon the other players in the world by knowledgeable but all too fragile and self-absorbed human beings.

5-0 out of 5 stars a very readable Murdoch novel
The Unicorn reads easily, with a plot that the average reader can outline and follow: a young woman is hired as a governess to a remote, mysterious household on the English coastline -- Murdoch did have an enormous fascination with the ocean and the coast -- only to discover that there are no children to teach, but rather she has been secured to keep a young married woman, Hannah, company.

As the story progresses it is clear that Hannah is an extraordinary person in extraordinary circumstances. There are all the elements of a satisfying mystery novel -- deep dark secrets, rain and thunder, nighttime walks through the bog, odd personalities, spooky happenings.

But of course, it's a Murdoch novel, and that means a hefty undercurrent of psychological analysis, the fallibility of humans, the disastrous prognosis of sin, accidents of fate, and all the convoluted personality quirksMurdoch loved to inflict upon her characters. She gives the reader a full course meal of philosophical, theological and psychological food for thought all the while maintaining an entertaining story line and engaging characters. ... Read more

3. The Bell (Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics)
by Iris Murdoch
Paperback: 320 Pages (2001-12-01)
list price: US$16.00 -- used & new: US$7.40
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0141186690
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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Editorial Review

Product Description
A lay community of thoroughly mixed-up people is encamped outside Imber Abbey, home of an order of sequestered nuns. A new bell is being installed when suddenly the old bell, a legendary symbol of religion and magic, is rediscovered. And then things begin to change. Meanwhile the wise old Abbess watches and prays and exercises discreet authority. And everyone, or almost everyone, hopes to be saved, whatever that may mean. Originally published in 1958, this funny, sad, and moving novel is about religion, sex, and the fight between good and evil.

With an introduction by A. S. Byatt. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (17)

5-0 out of 5 stars Imperfection Is The Best A Character Can Do.
There's nothing much to say about this novel, since its characterization and story are already presented in these sixteen reviews, many of them being written by Murdoch's devotees. An additional point however might be that Murdoch does not make-up fictions. Characters' and place names, historical happenings, religious texts, etc imbue fictional facts with two or three allusions. To recognize these parallels is an exercise of memory and astute reading because the reader gets entangled in the emotional excitements of Toby, Dora, Michael, and others as a swimmer in the lake's slimy weeds or a walker on the unexpected forest path. One replay occurs between the monastery's legend of the trespasser and nun and the penetrating actions of Toby and Catherine, who respectively go deeper beyond the cloister's outer wall and into the wood and lake. The reader knows the mental workings of main characters and perceives how their companions assess them. Murdoch however does not reveal everyone's interior, keeping opaque the minds of Nick, Catherine, the Straffords, etc, who nevertheless are assessed by the lay community members. All is contained in the whole -- the still lake through which the mechanical noise cuts, the judgments of fitting in or being out, restrictive rules and wild freedom, the mixed-up attraction of males and females, the invisible life within the cloister and the open-air visibility of the laymen, and the retreat into innocence and the running with experience. This novel packs in everything as if the author is creating the world, consecrating A to Z with love rather than assessment. Each evolving, imperfect character is acceptable and valid without extraneous impositions. S/he naturally heads in the direction of the good.

3-0 out of 5 stars Did Not Love
This story opens with Dora Greenfield, a creative spirit who has trapped herself in a marriage where the husband spends more time degrading her than nurturing her. She's ran away and shacked up with another free spirit but this doesn't last for long and she ends up following her husband Paul, an art historian, to a small community of God-fearing people who have set up a settlement out side a nunnery called Imber Abbey. This group is lead by Micheal Meade, a man with his own secrets and internal turmoil. Micheal owns the land outside the Abbey which the members affectionately call Imber Court. These two seem like the most unlikely duo to establish a relationship with one another but without knowing it they do.

There are a host of other characters that affect their lives in both positive and negative ways. There's Noel the journalist, Toby the student, Nick the renegade, Catherine the future nun, Murphy the dog, and Gabriel... the bell. A reference to an old church bell buried in the sludge of the lake between the Abbey and the Court is made throughout the book giving it a position of an important character. Dora even suggests as much when the bell is finally unearthed. "She came near to the bell which seemed more and more like a living presence."

There are a number of strong issues throughout the Bell but the most dominant is religion. This is followed by a healthy dose of homosexuality, marriage and adultery. Some sources site a strong theme of good and evil (probably associated with religious beliefs) but I think evil is really too harsh a term. There are no real evil people or situations in this story. It's about a group of people trying to make it through this life as best they know how while dealing with the foreseen, unforeseen and exaggerated bumps they encounter along the way. Murdoch does use her philosophical background to insert interesting questions along the way like: "Could one recognize refinements of good if one did not recognize refinements of evil?"

Iris Murdoch's The Bell is her fourth of twenty-six published novels. It was released in 1958 but takes place in England in the late forties. This is my second Murdoch novel and I found it flows and is much more vivid in detail than her first book, Under the Net. While I felt this book was certainly better than my first taste of Murdoch, as a whole it bored the heck out of me. Seriously, after the first chapter until they brought up the bell I was bored silly. I realized that is quite a subjective statement but if I had not committed myself to reading all her books I probably would have stopped here. Language differences often slow story down: "After breakfast he repaired as usual to the estate office to cast an eye over the day's correspondence (page 88)." Or just unusual, "From within the dog's barking was redoubled (page 53)." And while cliche is perfectly understandable to most I think it's the easy way for someone who was considered such an established writer. Perhaps it is still too early in her works for me to recognize her greatness. Reviewed by M. E. Wood.

4-0 out of 5 stars Better than the Sea the Sea
I have to say of the two novels I read by Dame Iris Murdoch. I liked this one better than the other one which one the Booker Prize in 1978. Murdoch was an extraordinary person who appeared ordinary to us but had an amazing mind. I think that's part of the problem. She expects others to be similar as well, cerebral or trying to get somewhere higher than lower. Her characters in both novels never really appear content with their lives. While I love the novel cover on both texts, I found Iris' writing to be superb in bringing to life about mundane characters. I think Iris was a great observer in humanity and what she saw as their failings. In life, she was happily married for almost 50 years to John Bayley and led a very active career in the colleges and publishing. Her novels are not set to be easy but an labyrinth of wonder, questions, expectations, and disappointments. Iris' wrote longhand and she wasn't viewed as typically attractive but seen as fun and intelligent beyond belief. She was one of a kind. I don't think it ever occurred to her to leave John ever. THeir relationship was a union based on mutual trust, respect, understanding, and intelligence. They talked about the radio soap, THe ARchers, and lived without a television but in a pigsty. Of course, it was their home. IRis wrote this novel which showed her enormous capacity to love humanity when it doesn't love itself. It's sad but I think Iris was hoping that we evolved higher and sought comforts in the cerebral world. Sorry but I don't most of us have it in us and we resort to settling for spouses, lovers, friends, and jobs much like her characters. Even in this book, Dora seeks happiness elsewhere than London and her marriage. You wonder how many Doras are out there. It's interesting but Iris in both this and The Sea The Sea never really explored children as characters. Both novels seem utterly barren without the presence of children or babies. Maybe because Iris had no use for them herself in her own life, she does not include them in her novels. Maybe the adult characters are the children finding themselves and what makes them happy, content, or satisfied. We know what makes people unhappy, discontent, and unsatisfied.

5-0 out of 5 stars A Real Page Turner
This early ('50's) Murdoch novel is quite a surprise.I wasn't expecting such an entertaining read.One would not expect it from the plot (misfits gathered at a religious retreat), or the dated themes of religious piety and homosexuality.But I found it an absorbing and fast read.

Murdoch seems to have a talent for getting into the minds of her characters such that their thoughts are our thoughts; one knows exactly where they are coming from because one would have the same set of thoughts.Never a false note tracking the internal dialogue of Toby and Michael.

5-0 out of 5 stars An Exploration of Darkness and Light

The Bell is an exceptional book.

It resonates with spirituality. It reverberates with sensuality. It probes our identity and reveals a broad spectrum of darkness and light.

In The Bell things are not as they seem. Murdoch creates a world in which nothing is mundane. See for instance how she describes the transforming magic of the evening sun: "They came quite suddenly out of the wood onto the wide expanse of grass near the drive. The great scene, the familiar scene, was there again before them, lit by a very yellow and almost vanished sun, the sky fading to a greenish blue. From here they looked a little down upon the lake and could see, intensely tinted and very still, the reflection in it of the farther slope and the house, clear and pearly grey in the revealing light, its detail sharply defined, starting into nearness. Beyond it on the pastureland, against a pallid line at the horizon, the trees took the declining sun, and one oak tree, its leaves already turning yellow, seemed to be on fire".

Imber Court is the site of a lay community of spiritual seekers. They are struggling on a path of sanctification - living lives of hopeful but naive becoming. Across the brooding waters of a mysterious lake is Imber Abbey; a cloistered community presumably of those who already have become. The Abbey is imbued with supernatural power and light, even as a dark magic lurks beneath the surface of the lake. None in the community of seekers will escape this power encounter unscathed - though in the end for some there is a kind of freedom.

This is a classic in every sense of the word and one that can be read over and over again. ... Read more

4. The Sea, The Sea (Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics)
by Iris Murdoch
Paperback: 528 Pages (2001-03-01)
list price: US$16.00 -- used & new: US$8.50
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 014118616X
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
Canada | United Kingdom | Germany | France | Japan
Editorial Review

Product Description
Charles Arrowby, leading light of England's theatrical set, retires from glittering London to an isolated home by the sea. He plans to write a memoir about his great love affair with Clement Makin, his mentor, both professionally and personally, and amuse himself with Lizzie, an actress he has strung along for many years. None of his plans work out, and his memoir evolves into a riveting chronicle of the strange events and unexpected visitors-some real, some spectral-that disrupt his world and shake his oversized ego to its very core. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (48)

4-0 out of 5 stars Voyage to the Coast
You want to assume that a narrator of the novel you're reading is trustworthy, but that isn't always the case.Especially in more recent fiction, the storyteller may be a liar, may have secrets to conceal, or may be just plain crazy.Take Oskar Matzerath in Grass's "The Tin Drum", for instance; the first thing he says is "Granted, I am an inmate of a lunatic asylum."Or Charles Kinbote from Nabokov's "Pale Fire", who begins a scholarly introduction to a great poet's last work and suddenly interrupts himself to complain about the calliope music from the carnival outside his window.There's even a name for this sort of technique - it's called the "unreliable narrator".Makes sense.

The narrator of "The Sea, The Sea" is Charles Arrowby, once a famous English playwright and theatre director, now retired to a coastal village and preparing to write his memoirs.In the second paragraph he declares that he can't continue because of something terrifying that happened as he began writing, and a few pages later you find out what that something is; he saw a huge serpent rise up out of the waves and crash back under the surface again.O-kay.

Well, if he's suddenly being victimized by a sea monster, he rather deserves it.He has spent his life terrorizing actors, dismissing anyone who disagrees with him about art or food or anything else, and above all destroying relationships and running off with other people's wives or girlfriends.He has no mercy and little empathy.He tells us that in his childhood and teenage years he loved a girl called Hartley, loved her with miraculous purity and innocence that he has never since regained, and that she loved him too, but that one day she simply broke off with him for no very discernable reason.Then she vanished and he never saw her again.So now, decades later, there she is, living in the same village with her husband of many decades.

Okay, here's a powerful, utterly selfish and possibly delusional older man who finds the one great love of his life, and she's married to someone else.Not going to end well.

This would make a perfectly good, sudsy melodrama, but "The Sea, The Sea" is by Iris Murdoch.She was not only an experienced student of philosophy and one of Britain's leading authors, she was also in a decades-long marriage of her own.On the other hand, she had a reputation for extramarital affairs that she never bothered to conceal.So when it comes to both long marriage and sexual adventuring, she knew whereof she spoke.It's not surprising that this knowledge shows up in "The Sea, The Sea" - friends and enemies keep warning Charles that he has no idea what goes on in a marriage and that people might have their reasons for remaining in even an unhappy one.He pays no attention at all.He tells himself, and us too, that Hartley loves him and will come to him once he has shown her that she can really be free.Evidence accumulates that she's not interested - confused as she sometimes gets, she even tells him so herself - and his response is along the lines of "Okay, my next step at freeing her from her husband is..."Yecch.

Of course, I'm passing value judgments on Charles, but Murdoch does nothing of the sort.She was a philosopher, not a moralist, and one of her great themes was the manner in which people determine what's real and what isn't.And Charles is kidding himself, a fact obvious to everyone except him, but one of the great things about "The Sea, The Sea" is that he's not the only self-deluded fool.Loads of people show up at his seaside house, including a couple of old girlfriends, two or three actors from his past, his career-military cousin, Hartley's adopted son, even his former chauffeur.To one extent or another, none of these people seem able to see what's in front of their noses.The difference between them and Charles is that eventually, most of the rest of them manage to be kind to one another here and there.It takes Charles a very long time to learn that particular lesson.

Not longer than necessary, however.A friend of mine read this novel some time ago and speculated that Murdoch wrote such a long book because she couldn't figure out a good stopping point, possibly an early symptom of the Alzheimer's that eventually killed her.I don't think so, myself."The Sea, The Sea" does go on past the point that seems like its natural closing, but the narration itself mentions that it's doing so - it seems clear that Murdoch knew what she was doing.And looking back on it, if the novel had concluded where you and I think it should have, it might have seemed that Charles had learned nothing at all from his misadventures, and that would have been too bad.

As to what he learns or doesn't learn, let that appear in its proper place.For now, I'll just repeat what others have pointed out.For a control freak like Charles, living next to the eternally malleable and uncontrollable ocean is a sort of education in itself.The best writing in this novel comes from Charles's descriptions of the sea, its colors and motions and constantly changing moods.It hangs over the story like some sort of Greek chorus.In fact, the novel's title comes across as sort of ironic - the phrase originates in a story called the Anabasis about a company of Greek soldiers trying to come back from war in Persia who realize, when they see the water, that they're getting close.When Charles sees the water, he must eventually realize that he's not in his comfortable, controlled home anymore.And that's a good thing at times, for him and for us.

Benshlomo says, Grow up and leave the nest.

4-0 out of 5 stars Beautifully writtten book, as deep as the sea
Iris Murdoch's 1978 Booker Prize winning book is the fictional diary of Charles Arrowby, a famous director of the theater in England, who has retired to a house on the sea.We are immediately drawn into the book by his voice, which is eloquent and energetic, and his (Murdoch's) gift for description, especially the sea in its different elements and phases.In fact, Charles is to describe the sea many times in this book's pages, and they never get old.But we learn very quickly that Charles is an arrogant man, very selfish.As he lists the women he has loved and discarded, the relationships he has destroyed with little evident guilt, we begin to wonder if there isn't something clinically wrong with the man.As the story progresses, we see almost all of those women come back into the picture in some way; he too finds out quickly that his plan to flee his life in London has failed.And as they come back, we see his narcissistic manipulations in action, as when, for example, he toys with a young former lover who has settled on a man, but still pines for Charles.

But no one re-emergence in Charles's life on the sea is an instructive or as dramatic as when he runs into his first love, Hartley, who left him forty year before.She dropped out of sight then, without explanation, and this act seems to have informed his future behavior in many ways.Her presence in this new village sets off an obsession in Charles that will provide the majority of the drama in the book, and lead him to a sort of redemption at the end.But he has to exhaust his manipulative skills and almost die to get there.

Murdoch's writing here is impeccable.She draws an intriguing character in Charles, and puts him a beautifully and vividly rendered environment. Though Charles is not a likeable character, we almost do like him because of Murdoch's voice.She not only gives him a mesmerizing eloquence, but a gruff sense of humor that will make the reader laugh out loud at times.Though the pages are taken up with lots of detail and internal thought, there is surprisingly plenty of suspense to keep the pages moving. And there are big themes aplenty to chew on.Love, jealousy, vanity, memory-- the world we create within our minds to get through our lives.This is a book you will want to read twice for its content.It's a book you can read twice for its beauty.

1-0 out of 5 stars Tiresome
I so wanted to like this book. I was intrigued by the theme--confronting one's ego/vanity and the monstrous manifestations/distortions it can inflict--as described online in reviews and summaries...

In short, certainly Murdoch is a capable writer with occassional deep dips into evocative descriptions and a sense of the supernatural/psychological folds as related to memory, emotions, childhood, nature, etc. But it is in the PLOT that she falls far short and undercuts everything. I found the story itself totally implausible. The characters--all of them--insufferable, caricatures mostly. The lead character, as so many have correctly observed, is loathsome affair--but he is so driven, so obsessed, and so ridiculously irrational, that it renders him two-dimensional. I was also disappointed in the insultingly one-dimensional, misogynistic rendering of the female characters in the book: all of them either histrioncally weak and/or mad, or sexually voracious, and all of them obsessed with men as the basis of their identity.

More obviously and centrally, the lead character Charles' obsession and kidnapping of his "one true love" Hartley is a gross objectification of women. In fact most everything about Charles is sickly narcissistic and self-obsessed. He disrupts the private (and therefore sacred) institution of marriage to please his own ego/delusions. That may be the point of the writer but it is not entertaining or enlightening, it is nauseating. There is so much dysfunction in this book, in its characters' mentalities, relationships, etc. It's rife with a horrible sense of emptiness and dissidence. I understand if the author is making a point upon these "kinds" of people or lifestyles, but it doesn't make for a warm and enlightening read.

Couldn't wait to be done with it.

5-0 out of 5 stars For those who have not yet read an Iris Murdoch novel
I had not read any of Iris Murdoch's fiction, and selected this novel, The Sea, The Sea, because, having won the Booker Prize, it ought to have been worth the reading. Although I must admit to having set the book aside after reading the first 60 pages or so from boredom, I picked it up again some time later and read it through.

I was not disappointed.

I supposed the title to come from Xenophon's Anabasis, and what the Greek soldiers exclaim when they see the Black Sea and realize that they are within reach of home after their long and arduous journey.

Now for the plot. The Sea, The Sea is the story of one Charles Arrowby, sixty-something recent retiree from the theatre, who has moved to a lonely old house called Shruff's End to write his memoirs and renew a dalliance of conveniencewith a lady admirer for whom he has little feeling. He gets off to a slow start, as he chronicles his days' activities and meals in some detail in his journal. But odd, unsettling things begin to happen. Is the old house haunted? Did he see something strange in the water?Then in town he spots Hartley, his first love, taken away from him in youth for reasons unknown. Charles determines to be reunited with this lost love (who, now in frumpy middle age, is already married) and begins hatching his schemes to attain that end, as he is beset upon by visitors from his past life, all of whom he has emotionally mistreated in some way or another. The antics of these visitors and Charles' schemes to what amounts to literally kidnapping Hartley are truly entertaining.

Charles is an interesting character. Bossy and manipulative, he is perceptive regarding the flaws and foibles of his friends, recounting these in great detail, yet he is entirely unaware of his own faults, (though these are obvious to the reader) until, after his own intellectual journey toward the end of the book, he begins to get a glimmer of enlightenment.

The Sea, The Sea becomes at length one man's anabasis toward self-awareness, although it is difficult to tell how much self-awareness Charles has got by the end, or how much more progress he will make.

Thoroughly enjoyable and highly recommended.

5-0 out of 5 stars Monster over the sea
In my opionion this is Iris Murdoch's best book.While we are always
impressed with her teaming world of characters and speculations we
sometimes forget just how funny her books can be.The strange image
of the head of a fantastic, Renaissance monster hovering over the sea
only to reappear again when the main character visits a museum (and
almost faints) is really very funny. Not to mentions the "haunted"
house sequence by our suspicious hero. ... Read more

5. Existentialists and Mystics: Writings on Philosophy and Literature
by Iris Murdoch
Paperback: 576 Pages (1999-07-01)
list price: US$23.00 -- used & new: US$6.97
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0140264922
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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Best known as the author of twenty-six novels, Iris Murdoch has also made significant contributions to the fields of ethics and aesthetics. Collected here for the first time in one volume are her most influential literary and philosophical essays. Tracing Murdoch's journey to a modern Platonism, this volume includes incisive evaluations of the thought and writings of T. S. Eliot, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Simone de Beauvior, and Elias Canetti, as well as key texts on the continuing importance of the sublime, on the concept of love, and the role great literature can play in curing the ills of philosophy.

Existentialists and Mystics not only illuminates the mysticism and intellectual underpinnings of Murdoch's novels, but confirms her major contributions to twentieth-century thought.

"These essays, even more than the novels, changed me and the way I looked at the world."--A. S. Byatt

"At a time when much academic philosophy is hopelessly arcane, morally bankrupt, and barbarously written . . . Murdoch has provided a lucid and compelling counterexample." --The Wall Street Journal

"One of Murdoch's most valuable books." --San Francisco ChronicleAmazon.com Review
Iris Murdoch is a poet, philosopher, novelist, and playwright, and in this collection of her most careful thinking and writing on the relationship between art and philosophy, we are treated to the fruits of decades of good work. Murdoch's changing ideas about the search for meaning in literature and life lead us down a richly rewarding path. Along the way she discusses T. S. Eliot, Dante Alighieri, Matthew Arnold, and many other major literary figures. For cognitive power, a sweeping overview of Western thought and art, and a respectful engagement with the reader, put it on the shelf beside the collected works of Kenneth Burke. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (3)

4-0 out of 5 stars Clear enough for the moment
I don't read this book often. It has a few dialogues at the end that cling to the issues identified by Plato in a society largely shaped by dramatic appreciation of entertainment values and perverse insight. I don't get much from darmatic readings. A literary life is good training for competence in the kinds of things I think about, so Iris Murdoch deserves to be known by those who read and would like to know about what they are reading. Part Four of this book is called: The Need for Theory, 1956-66. I thought I would be interested in a chapter called:

Mass, Might and Myth

and I was delighted to discover that it was a review published in 1962 of the book Crowds and Power by Elias Canetti. She praises Canetti for calling Christianity "a religion of lament." (p. 190). By providing new concepts for the behaviors that create vicious circles in our lives, "He has also shown, in ways which seem to me entirely fresh, the interaction of `the mythical' with the ordinary stuff of human life. The mythical is not something`extra'; we live in myth and symbol all the time." (p. 191). "Rich concepts have histories." (p. 190). The interaction of various intellectual approaches is probably dying out in a nation of shoppers, but books like this are still for sale for those who want them.

4-0 out of 5 stars Almost all of Murdoch's philosophizing in a single package
Except for Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals, which is disorganized and verges on the incoherent, almost all of Murdoch's explicitly philosophical writing is here.So if you are going to be working on Murdoch'sphilosophy, this is a resource you need to have.However, if you're new toMurdoch's philosophical writing, you might do better taking a look at TheSovereignty of Good; it's got three of her best four essays, and it's awhole lot shorter and easier to find your way around in.

4-0 out of 5 stars Re-Affirming a Canon
Murdoch's essays each shine on their own, but collected here you get the full, accumulated brilliance in one volume.She is a needed voice in the post-modernist wilderness --- assuring the careful reader that there are works, though they may be formalist or outmoded or dated, that are worthyof the veneration and study of future generations.And, just as there areworks of art that are "good" and that are superior to others,there are also actions and thoughts and moralities that are better thanothers.Her style is lucid and affecting and is never pedantic --- you areenthralled and rapt while you are being educated.Literature, like theother arts, is a form of communication that never ends.Art speaks to eachgeneration; but some specific works of art transcend time and arecontemplated anew by different human minds.Murdoch takes your chin andpoints your eyes towards these works, and you can see the eternal veritiesand the truths that shine out from them. ... Read more

6. A Fairly Honourable Defeat (Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics)
by Iris Murdoch
Paperback: 432 Pages (2001-03-01)
list price: US$16.00 -- used & new: US$9.22
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0141186178
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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In a dark comedy of errors, Iris Murdoch portrays the mischief wrought by Julius, a cynical intellectual who decides to demonstrate through a Machiavellian experiment how easily loving couples, caring friends, and devoted siblings can betray their loyalties. As puppet master, Julius artfully plays on the human tendency to embrace drama and intrigue and to prefer the distraction of confrontations to the difficult effort of communicating openly and honestly. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (17)

4-0 out of 5 stars a good philosophical treatment of relationship in the form of a novel
A finely weaved story of fidelity, trust, self-deception and tragedy. Murdoch is insanely humorous yet disturbingly dark in putting to doubt the comfortable belief in a lifelong commitment, like in marriage. It takes a while at the start for the story to heat up, but once it takes off the book proves to be hard to put down. One hopes the cunning and deceitful Julius King is purely fictional, but a nagging touch with reality shows otherwise. Can there be a lifelong commitment? If there is, then, perhaps one needs to search anew in unexpected places.

2-0 out of 5 stars A fairly hollow effort
Meant as a satire on the late 60s intelligentsia, A FAIRLY HONOURABLE DEFEAT is not of Murdoch's better efforts. The quick pace at which she produced her novels during her lifetime meant that not all of them are up to the level of THE BELL or tHE TIME OF THE ANGELS, and this work seems far too unnatural and manipulated. The work is largely a study of what Murdoch sees as a human predilection for acting against one's best interests, but the characters are so dislikeable to begin with, and behave with no logical explanation, that the whole book rings very falesly. The central character of Julius, in particular, is so obviously such a monster that it is unbelievable the other characters would want to be within ten feet of him, much less invite him to their homes and act on his recommendations; we are often told he is a man of great charm, but we never see his charm in action. And the historical "explanation" for his otherwise motiveless malignancy offered at the end of the novel seems thoroughly unconvincing.

3-0 out of 5 stars A bitter, rather nasty book
Of course Iris meant it to be bitter and nasty, a satire on upper middle class life and love in London in the 70's.I found most of the characters rang hollow.And Tallis' squalor and his annoying father seemed artificial and overdone.Having said that it was an interesting read.Not one of her better novels.Dare I mention that it does not compare favorably with some of the better Muriel Spark novels?

5-0 out of 5 stars Good Against Evil and the Consolations of Love.
Iris Murdoch's novels cannot be fully appreciated nor savored in all of their richness without some awareness of her philosophical concerns.

This is the story of Morgan, whose return to London after a love affair in America with the sinister, mysterious and seductive (in every sense of the word) "Julius," brings her to the home of her sister Hilda and that sister's husband, Rupert. Their troubled son Peter makes an appearance; and Morgan also encounters her good but estranged husband, Tallis; and a lively circle of friends appears as well, including the gay couple Simon and Axel.

But then Julius returns. His seemingly quiet entry into the lives of these flawed, but oh-so human people, wreaks disaster and tragedy.

Dame Iris underscores and dramatizes her concern with the nature of evil as the expression of the human tendency to be seduced by the glamor of power and intelligence into abdicating simple and obvious duties of humanity. She illustrates her notion of love as a kind of powerful attention (or Kantian "Achtung") and an immersion in the reality of the moment and the Other; and goodness as the absence of selfish immersion in fantasy and escape or "muddle," and involvement in "concern" (Heidegger) or "engagement" (Sartre) with the pain of others.

This is a brilliant and wise book.

5-0 out of 5 stars A more than fairly satisfying read
Brilliant! This novel has everything I look for in a truly great book: complex characters, deft plotting, luminous prose, and profound insight into the human condition. Iris Murdoch knew what it was to be human.She understood our aspirations and longings, our blind spots, our frailties, and our capacities for love and betrayal. She's the only writer I know of who can hold her reader's rapt attentionthroughout a novel in which the action consists almost entirely of dialogue between the various characters. (If you think that sounds boring, believe me, it's anything but!) In this age of high-speed internet, cable tv, and the unending pursuit of distraction, that's no small feat!

I recommend this novel unreservedly.I started reading Iris Murdoch a couple of months ago and since then, have read no other fiction.This is the sixth of her novels I've read and my favorite to date. If, like me, you want fiction to illuminate the human condition and to give you more than an enjoyable way to pass a few hours, then give yourself to Murdoch. She's deepened my thought, sharpened my wit, and made me more compassionate, while holding me spellbound and fascinated at every turn. ... Read more

7. Bruno's Dream
by Iris Murdoch
Paperback: 320 Pages (1976-11-18)
list price: US$10.95 -- used & new: US$47.35
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0140031766
Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars
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The elderly Bruno knows he is not far from death. One of his last wishes is to contact his estranged son, Miles, whose marriage to an Indian woman drove a decades-long wedge between father and son. When Miles comes back into his father’s life, Bruno must confront his guilt, and his family must overcome the tension that grew during his long absence.
Set against an enchanting London backdrop, Murdoch’s complex family drama is a poignant exploration of love, remorse, and the power of emotional redemption.


... Read more

Customer Reviews (6)

5-0 out of 5 stars Better than most novels published today
BRUNO'S DREAM is a remarkable novel.It features an ensemble of eight characters, none of them very noble, and the action essentially consists in the kaleidoscopic shifts in the relationships between and among these eight characters. The reader observes everything somewhat like a voyeur, with an attendant sense of embarrassment over their clumsy grapplings with their egos and their ids, their dreams and their desires.The setting is an admixture of the starkly realistic (middle- and working-class London in the 1960s) and the bizarre and almost fantastic (Bruno's tomb-like bedroom and a cataclysmic flood).Nonetheless, the story somehow manages to stay within the realm of possibility, and it is always captivating.In the course of its unfolding, Murdoch raises and explores, almost as asides and without belaboring, a number of philosophical or metaphysical concepts (love and death, the existence of God, the thralldom of memory, life as a dream).

This is my introduction to Iris Murdoch, so I don't know if BRUNO'S DREAM is typical of her work with its blend of philosophy, humor, probing of human relationships and the individual psyche, and sheer narrative intelligence.I hope so, because then I have much reading pleasure ahead of me.Written in 1969 but not dated in the least, the novel appears to be out of print.If, however, you enjoy intelligent and slyly witty fiction, it should be worth the effort of tracking down a copy, for it is better than most novels currently being presented and reviewed in our leading newspapers as the best of today's fiction.

5-0 out of 5 stars Kept me in a trance!
Iris Murdoch has written one helluva' dream for her protagonist, but here's hoping ol' Bruno changed the sheets once he woke up.

5-0 out of 5 stars simply the best
Of all the whimsical, fictional worlds created by Iris Murdoch, this one is the most haunting and compelling.Her gift for "reading" the human condition is a given; her ability to find consistently some light in the darkest human soul is a gift.The novel's humor notwithstanding, this is a story of desperate people who, unbeknownst to them, live under the watchful, sheltering love of a strange, gentle man (Nigel), who is everywhere and nowhere, and who, along with his unwitting protege, Diana, represents the purest example I've seen in Murdoch's fiction of her concept of selfless love, the ability to be "good for nothing."The final scene between tortured, dying Bruno and spiritually exhausted Diana is as moving as any in literature.I've read all of Murdoch's novels, and each has its beauties.This one stays in my heart, like the memory of innocence.

5-0 out of 5 stars Another Wonderful Novel
Bruno's Dream is a wonderful novel and it's a shame it's out of print.I was so pleased to discover a copy in a used book store, and even more pleased upon reading it.The story revolves around Bruno, a dying old man, and the people in his life--both living and not.Murdoch once again demonstrates her incredible talent to explore the realities of human relationships, to get you thinking on the nature of friendship and love.The novel is at times humorous, serious, philisophical and bittersweet.A truly enjoyable read.

4-0 out of 5 stars a forgotton gem
Bruno's Dream is one of the forgotton books in the Murdoch oeuvre. While I would not encourage anyone new to Murdoch to start here I would suggest that anyone who enjoys her uneven but magical and haunting books should seek this one out.

It has an acute sense of place and the portrayal ofthe shabby and little known area of Chelsea, London near the Lots Roadpower station is powerful. It is one of the first times that I have felt aneed to search out the actual physical location of a novel (not muchchanged actually).

This story of a dying man is a gentle andunfashionable book. I will never forget it. ... Read more

8. The Black Prince (Penguin Classics)
by Iris Murdoch
Paperback: 444 Pages (2003-03)
list price: US$16.00 -- used & new: US$6.90
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0142180114
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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In this riveting tale of love and intellectual intrigue, Murdoch gives us a seductive story with ever-mounting action, including suicide, abduction, romantic idylls, murder, and due process of law.

With an Introduction by Martha C. Nussbaum ... Read more

Customer Reviews (22)

4-0 out of 5 stars Iris Murdock, THE BLACK PRINCE
Dianne Hunter's Review
An autodidactic, pedantic, high-minded, 58-year-old masochist (also known as a self-defeating personality or loser) living in central London with exalted ideas about ethics, eros, suffering and his artistic destiny, falls in love with the 20-year-old daughter of close friends whose marriage is falling apart. The masochist loves Hamlet, quotes Plato and Dante, and gets done in by cleverer, more worldly people in his social set who assume that the masochist loves them whereas he, with a sense of superiority, thinks they are deluded. With philosophizing, psychologizing, humor, irony, and multiple perspectives conveyed via an introduction, letters and postscripts, this rueful story characterizes in depth several late-twentieth-century English people and their muddles. The delusional power of egotism, three failed marriages, social obligations and nuisances, ageing, emotional neediness, unwanted seduction, and smart people working at cross-purposes inform this purgatorial novel.

5-0 out of 5 stars Going Deep
We all have them. Secret thoughts. Secret feelings. Individually, they are mostly trivial. Mostly, they go unsaid, unwritten, unknown. Not so with this novel. Thanks to Iris Murdoch, we are privy to the innermost thoughts of her lead character, Bradley Pearson, the Black Prince. Frequently what he says contradicts his actions-----Makes you wonder about some of those political polls, doesn't it-----And, yes, though her 'say whatever is on my mind without really thinking' approach to writing a novel may be madness, there is indeed method in it. What to call it? Let's start by defining what it is not. It's not simple or straightforward. It's not obvious or to the point. Murdoch is definitely not from the KISS school of writers. And, don't look for hidden metaphors. You can leave that to others such as Fitzgerald, Hemingway or Flaubert. No, while Murdoch's rendition of her character's prissy psyche may be impossible to PowerPoint, in the end, you'll know exactly who Pearson and the other characters all are. There are no hidden meanings because their minds are laid bare. It's like spelunking with Lamont Cranston-----Who knows what evil lurks in the minds of men----Iris Murdoch does. And, now, so do we. To be sure, this is deep stuff. Even frightening. It's not for children. It's not for the faint of heart. But, if you want to discover new insights about human nature, about who you are, spend a few hours going deep with the Black Prince.

4-0 out of 5 stars What is Truth?
What is Truth? Is it necessary in Art? In Love? Iris Murdoch probes these questions in her first-person narrative.

Many will no doubt write of this book's intellectual commentary on Love and Art. And for those, Brits and intellectuals mostly, who can pick up all the literary references, it certainly can be read that way. I'm not among that group. For me, these lengthy commentaries were less interesting than the story of Bradley Pearson and his life, which seems to push him toward some fatal incident.

I found the story of this self-absorbed, rather fussy, man, always ruminating on his failed art, difficult to like at first. When, however, I began to see him as a character in his own movie, played perhaps by a 60ish Peter O'Toole, I began to enjoy it. He's befuddled by the unexpected circumstances which confront him: the revelation by his friend, Arnold, that he may have killed his own wife; the return to London of Bradley's own divorced wife, Christian; the appearance on his doorstep of his sister, Priscilla, red-eyed and tearful, in flight from her own dysfunctional marriage; and his own long dead "urges" for sex and love.

Bradley is incapable of coping with all the chaos and high emotion. His bumbling attempts to handle the situations are both humorous and sad in their naivete and lack of empathy. He finds himself sucked ever deeper into the quicksand of emotion and "drama" that his friends and family have created. Ultimately, he looses himself in fated love for a capricious girl, barely out of her teens, setting in motion the series of events that overwhelms him. She is Beauty, and unspoiled Love. And he falls, headlong, into his own fantasy.

Told in Bradley's voice, his veracity is always in question. Are the words he attributes to others accurate, or does he mishear and misinterpret? Is he manipulated by those around him? Final commentary by all the principals reveals how each views the "story," and Bradley, through his/her own egocentric lens.

So what it truth? Does anyone in the book know how to love? Is Bradley a fiend, a pawn, or a victim of his own lack of sensibility? You decide.

5-0 out of 5 stars Rich and rewarding
One of the best books by one of the best novelists of the 20th century. The story of the heinously bitter and unreliable Bradley Pearson is rich with complexity of character and situation. Between the bitterness and the self-justification, answers to the questions about "what really happened" become almost unknowable- the only "truth" in the book is emotional truth, which rings from every sentence. I want to reread the book now because once I understood what the main text really "was" I felt like I needed to go back and look at it all again in a completely different light

5-0 out of 5 stars Many Personalities, One Voice
Try this hypothesis: the Black Prince's several authors -- Bradley Pearson plus the others who offer commentaries at the end of his work -- are all Bradley, writing as separate personalities of a full-blown psychotic.

Under this hypothesis, the back-story of the novel would be that Bradley's personality was too fragile to sustain even the relatively mundane life he had built for himself.That life falls apart before the action of the novel starts: his well-adjusted wife leaves him, he retires from an orderly job at a relatively young age, he feels blocked in his attempts at writing, and he is traumatized over the approaching end of his sex life by a disappointment with a much younger woman.Under the impact of these blows, Bradley's personality cracks, and his new, multiple personality sets about doing what Bradley couldn't: writing.

The novel itself -- the book that you and I read -- is what the psychotic Bradley writes.As a psychotic, he obviously can't interpret the back-story that led to his insanity: he can tell us that he lost his job and wife, etc., but he can't tell us why.

Nonetheless, in his novel he starts sketching his friends and family.With his psyche out of control, however, these personages rapidly fall out of character and start acting out Bradley's conscious and unconscious wishes, sometimes to the embarrassment of this still reserved man.

Nonetheless, Bradley is happier and more in control in his new world -- a world of which he is, after all, the author.So, he ultimately kills off his old self by writing about the murder of his alter ego, Arnold Baffin, a real writer who Bradley envies.(Although the narrative initially portrays Bradley as only having discovered Arnold's body, Bradley subsequently accepts responsibility for the murder when prosecutors show that he is the only logical perpetrator.Perhaps in the back-story to the novel, Bradley actually did kill Arnold as his first act of full schizophrenia.)

Having killed himself off, Bradley then takes up full-time residence in the fictionalized personalities that his writer-self has adapted from real life, and he starts writing commentaries from their points of view on what he has just finished writing as Bradley.He ends his days in the prison of his own mind, and possibly in the real prison he writes about.

The clues that lead to this hypothesis are both external and internal.Externally, there are the absurd, self-incriminating commentaries that end the novel and that provide the Fowles-like multiple perspectives on the narrative facts.

Internally, I couldn't help feeling that all the characters speak with Bradley's voice.His skill as a writer differentiates the characters' external traits, but somehow they all become philosophers using Bradley's own erudite language to unravel the central puzzles of Bradley's own life.Too much revolves around him.

Supposing that something like the above hypothesis is right, then Murdoch's task was, in a way, easy: she just had to put herself in the place of a mad ventriloquist -- Bradley.This should be no great trick for an experienced novelist!Easy or not, she pulled it off, or something much like it.

... Read more

9. The Italian Girl
by Iris Murdoch
Paperback: 176 Pages (1979-02-22)
list price: US$10.95
Isbn: 0140025596
Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars
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Edmund has escaped from his family into a lonely life.Returning for his mother's funeral he finds himself involved in the old, awful problems together with some new ones. He also rediscovers the eternal family servant, the ever-changing Italian girl, who has always 'a second mother' This particular return to mother holds some surprises for Edmund. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (4)

5-0 out of 5 stars Hauntingly musical
Just finished my first Murdoch. Now I know I have to read more.

Her writing is so concise and exact; she created beautiful scenes, of the inner worlds of her characters, the interpersonal landscape and the natural environment. Even after having closed the book a short time ago, after having had conversations with friends, I am left with the vibrations of her story still playing on within me. While she uses art as metaphor, her writing is hauntingly musical.

5-0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece
Edmund Narraway, an engraver, is the narrator in this stunning novel by Iris Murdoch. One day he returns to his family house in northern England for the funeral of his recently deceased mother Lydia. Otto, Edmund's brother, a stone mason, still lives in the house with his wife Isabel and daughter Flora, along with Maria Magistrelli - Maggie - the nurse whom both Otto and Edmund consider as their second "mother". She is the Italian girl who brought up the two boys since neither their father John - a "nonentity" - nor Lydia - an intensely mean woman - took any part in their upbringing.
Their childhood passed in an alternate frenzy of jealousy and of suffocation from their mother and Edmund feels that, although he didn't return to the house for many years, he never escaped from Lydia, that she got inside him, into the depth of his being and that there was no abyss and no darkness where she was not. And soon Edmund discovers that the remaining relatives still living in the old house are entangled in a web of deceit and false pretence. Flora is pregnant by David Levkin, Otto's apprentice, who is now having an affair with Isabel whereas Elsa, David's sister, is Otto's lover. Edmund quickly realises that his brother Otto, a violently tempered man, has become an alcoholic and he wonders whether he isn't himself rapidly becoming part of "the machine". Soon he feels agitated, exasperated and confused. He finds the whole situation "too scandalous, too outrageous". Edmund is constantly on the brink of leaving, not wanting "to be inside such a circle of hell". But due to his sympathy or weakness, he feels that his presence is needed by both his sister and his niece. But little does he know about the outcome of his stay at the old family house...
Mrs Murdoch has been compared to Tolstoy and Dostoyevski for her literary skills and certainly "The Italian Girl" proves her capacity to show that being in love provides joy but can turn otherwise decent individuals into monsters of cruelty and blindness.

5-0 out of 5 stars The Darkest Corners
The dark, engrossing story of a family falling apart after the evil-sounding mother figure passes away. The main character Edmund returns to his childhood home to find his brother is living a quite complicated, mixed up lifestyle. Edmund tries to help all members of the family, but tries to not get too involved. A good dark family story, with a happy ending--for Edmund at least.

4-0 out of 5 stars Dark Family Drama
I honestly can't ever imagine giving an Iris Murdoch novel less than four stars. Her books are almost uniformly well written and compelling. This is no exception.

The Italian Girl tells the story of an unhappy family onthe eve of the death of the family matriarch. The characters include aspartan typesetter, two witchy Russian siblings, a disappointed housewife,and (of course) the Italian Girl.

I don't find this novel to be one ofher strongest (not compared to books like The Bell or The Sandcastle) butthen again, I can't imagine a book of hers that isn't worth reading. ... Read more

10. An Unofficial Rose
by Iris Murdoch
 Paperback: 288 Pages (1987-01-06)
list price: US$10.95 -- used & new: US$37.84
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Asin: 014002154X
Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars
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Christopher Cazenove, one of England's finest actors, has starred on stage and TV in the US and Great Britain.He most recently starred in A Knight's Tale, Eye of the Needle and Jennie: Lady Randolph Churchill.His reading of An Unofficial Rose brings the comedic tone to life.

Iris Murdoch's novel deploys her gift of high comedy in a new field.she directs her wit, her irony, and her dazzling, often disturbing insights upon the complex life of a family.In doing so, she has produced what is in essence,a traditional "family novel."Iris Murdoch reveals a group of related lives that gravitate together like island universes.Listeners will be surprised by the resulting story. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (1)

5-0 out of 5 stars There is more to it than that. There always is with roses.
Fanny Perronet was dead. The opening line of "An Unofficial Rose" echoes that of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol", and the novel itself deals with of events set in motion by Fanny's death. Her widower, Hugh, a retired civil servant, considers returning to Emma, his former mistress with whom he had an affair more than twenty years earlier. Hugh and Fanny's son Randall considers leaving his wife, Ann, for his own mistress, Lindsay, who is Emma's close friend and companion. Ann also has an admirer in the shape of Felix Meecham, an Army officer who has for many years been platonically in love with her. Felix's older sister Mildred, the unhappily married wife of Hugh's former colleague and neighbour Humphrey Finch, is in love with Hugh. Although the novel is relatively short, the plot is a complex one- too complex to be summarised here- but it revolves around Hugh's decision whether or not to sell a valuable painting.

The title, derived from Rupert Brooke's poem "The Old Vicarage, Grantchester", refers on a literal level to the fact that Randall and Ann run a successful rose-growing business. There is, however, more to it than that. There always is with roses in English literature. A daffodil or a chrysanthemum, a red campion or a viper's bugloss, can be just a flower; a rose has to have a symbolic meaning. It can be a symbol of love, of truth, of beauty, of transience, of Englishness. By an "unofficial" rose Brooke meant a wild rose of the hedgerows which he contrasts with the "official" cultivated flowers of the Berlin garden in which he is sitting, demonstrating his preference for the natural over the artificial.

In the context of Murdoch's novel, Brooke's unofficial rose becomes a complex symbol. All the five elements mentioned above play a part in the book. All the major characters, who are linked by an intricate network of inter-relationships, are in search of love, and some of them are in search of truth and beauty as well. Hugh, for example, is an art connoisseur, and Randall's one obsession, apart from his love for Lindsay, has been his quest to breed the perfect rose. The element of transience is also emphasised; several of the characters (Hugh, Emma, Mildred) are elderly, and are confronted with what may be their last chance of achieving love and happiness.

The unofficial/official distinction perhaps mirrors the division between those characters who act instinctively or spontaneously and those who are more reflective or calculating. Ann, instinctively loyal to her husband despite his infidelity and the younger generation, in the shape of Hugh's teenaged grandchildren Penn and Miranda, fall into the first category. Into the second can be placed characters such as Hugh, who carefully works through all the possible implications of the sale of the painting, and the mercenary Lindsay, who refuses to commit herself to Randall until his financial position has been secured through that sale.

The element of Englishness is not emphasised as strongly in the novel than it is in Brooke's poem, one of the finest evocations of homesickness in English literature. Nevertheless, this is, despite the fact that the author was born in Ireland, in many ways a very English novel, not only in its setting (the Kent countryside on the edge of Romney Marsh) but also in its reserve and delicacy; although it is concerned with strong emotions, these are for the most part expressed quietly, with few violent or dramatic events.

Besides that of the rose, another important image in the book is that of the soldier; Murdoch's choice of Felix's profession was not an accident. Felix states that one should "take life as a job. Just like the Army. Go where it sends one and take whatever comes next". Anthony Nuttall points out in his introduction that this metaphor is borrowed from Plato's "Phaedo", which describes the stoical way in which Socrates met death. In the novel this dutiful stoicism is exemplified not only by Felix, who refuses to declare his love for Ann until after her husband has abandoned her, but also by Ann herself, who accepts her husband's infidelity uncomplainingly. We also see something of this attitude in Emma, who is herself facing death as she is terminally ill.

The novel has been criticised as dealing with too narrow a social spectrum; all the major characters are drawn from the wealthy upper middle classes. (Indeed, with their servants and Tintorettos, they would in some countries be regarded as upper class, but the British have always been reluctant to use this term of anyone not possessed of an aristocratic title). Nevertheless, any novel dealing with personal relationships among a small group of people, especially when many of the characters are related by blood, is likely to be equally narrow in its social compass. If the author attempts to widen the social mix, the result is likely to be a very different kind of work, one dealing with class relationships rather than personal ones.

The book was written in the early sixties, and Murdoch probably deals with sexual matters less frankly than a modern writer would. She implies that there may be a lesbian relationship between Emma and Lindsay, although this is never made explicit. She is, however, more explicit about Humphrey's homosexuality- the reason why his marriage to Mildred is a hollow one- even though male homosexuality was still illegal at the time she was writing. Unlike some sixties writers, however, Murdoch was less concerned with sexual relationships than with emotional states of mind, and her skill in conveying these is masterly. "An Unofficial Rose" well demonstrates why she is regarded as one of the leading British novelists of the late twentieth century.
... Read more

11. A Word Child
by Iris Murdoch
Paperback: 400 Pages (1987-01-06)
list price: US$12.95 -- used & new: US$35.44
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Asin: 0140081534
Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars
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After years of obscurity in a Bayswater flat, Oxford graduate Hilary Burde ha the opportunity to atone for a grievous offense which he committed twenty ye earlier. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (9)

5-0 out of 5 stars The Secrets of Iris Murdoch
The mysterious and mystical Iris Murdoch is my favorite author.Having just finished her extraordinary novel, "A Word Child", I wonder if this was in fact the author's most autobiographical work, and her summing-up of life when published in 1975. Miss Murdoch rarely adopts a tragic tone but remains fairly sanguine and caustic while readers, at times, may want to pull out their hair in a fit of desperation.One comical anecdote which particularly amused me for instance was when Hilary, who is the focal character and narrator of the story, takes us along on his drug trip induced by an unsolicited dose of LSD slipped into a cookie he is enjoying with a cup of tea. Highly original as always and unpredictable, "A Word Child" is a very rich instructive read which made me feel more of a mind on many life issues which the late Miss Murdoch brings to one's eyes.

5-0 out of 5 stars The Best of the Best
Oh, Iris, how I miss you. I first began reading Iris Murdoch in college, for a Philosophy in Lit. class, and was immediately captivated by "A Severed Head", which remains high on my list of favorites. But it is "A Word Child" to which I return most often.
Iris Murdoch's breathtakingly simple and yet piercing prose is at its best in this novel. Her theme is obsession, as always, and while we cannot approve of Hilary, the narrator, we find ourselves liking him for his honesty and his uncompromising view of himself. At first I was disappointed with the outcome of this brilliant novel, then I realized it truly was redemptive. Anyone who adores stellar writing and an eye that sees straight into the human heart must own this novel.

5-0 out of 5 stars One of Iris's best
I've read a fair number of Ms.Murdoch's books and enjoyed them all. This book focuses on Hilary, a low level English civil servant who has been his own worst enemy since a brutal childhood. His own personal history repeats itself here and we wonder if he will ever learn.

4-0 out of 5 stars Iris Murdoch wrote about goodness
Hilary Burde is the word child.He is not a writer, but just likes words.We accompany a very low level civil servant, Hilary, for a number of weeks prior to Christmas Day.The book is funny in parts.How little the bottomless misery of children is understood.Our hero is an orphan. He was saved for civil society by a teacher, Mr. Osmand, who taught him Latin and to value learning.Hilary Burde describes himself as a brilliant plodder, with an aptitude for grammar and an adoration for words.

Hilary went to Oxford.He found that it was very hard to change.Hilary worked in an office with two people, Edith Witcher and Reginald Fairbottom.He rode the entire circle of the underground on Fridays trying to decide which bar to frequent.His mistress Tommy had long perfect legs.Friends he visited Thursday evenings were snobs.Wittgenstein would have loved dinner at Arthur's.Arthur was the friend of Hilary's sister, Crystal.Dinner at Arthur's was always the same.

Hilary knew Gunnar Jopling at Oxford.Hilary had been elected to a fellowship at Gunnar's college after he had gotten his first.Hilary fell madly in love with Gunnar's wife Anne. Anne's face changed.It lost its joy.Gunnar found out and Anne was pregnant with Gunnar's child.Then Hilary and Anne were in a car accident and Anne died.

Both Hilary and Gunnar resigned their fellowships.Hilary had lost his moral self-respect.Hilary became engaged to be married and Gunnar's second wife sent him a letter.He was asked to take the initiative and speak to Gunnar after all the years that had gone by.Hilary resigned his job so that Gunnar would not have to see him. He was prepared to teach grammar to little children.

5-0 out of 5 stars An astonishingly fantastic read
This is one of those books that you simply cannot put down once you begin.Murdoch does such an excellent job of creating a most complex and entertaining character (Hilary) -- I laughed while reading it so much I think my husband will be reading it next.An amazingly developed character, a plot that will keep you turning the page, and sorrow so palpable you will want to weep on poor Hilary's behalf. ... Read more

12. Under the Net
by Iris Murdoch
Paperback: 256 Pages (1977-10-27)
list price: US$15.00 -- used & new: US$7.06
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Asin: 0140014454
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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Iris Murdoch's first novel is set in a part of London where struggling writers rub shoulders with successful bookles, and film stariets with frantic philosophers. Its hero, Jake Donaghue, is a drifting, clever, likeable young man, who makes a living out of translation work and sponging off his friends. However, a meeting with Anna, an old flame, leads him into a series of fantastic adventures. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (27)

4-0 out of 5 stars Review of Under the Net
It's always astonishing to me when I'm exposed to a book I would never have picked up, and that's the very reason I have been working my way through the 1001 Books list.

In UNDER THE NET Jake Donaghue is a failure of a writer, a bum, a leech on his friends and, despite being an adult, views the world almost as a child does.He never thinks an action through to the consequence, he treats his friendships lightly - taking them for granted or doing stupid, silly things to sabotage them.

This book isn't about action and adventure.It's a slow, quietly witty journey through a period in Jake's life.It explores friendships, loves, jobs and heartbreaks.It has quiet humor - in fact, in a way this book reminds me of the few Nick Hornby books I've read (minus the language).

Despite being written in the 50's, UNDER THE NET is not dated and it's very easy to relate the story to modern day times.It's a short novel - so if you are worried that a meandering journey might be something that would bore you don't worry... it'll hold your interest and give you a good dose of philosophy to boot.

3-0 out of 5 stars lovely writing, no plot
I loved the writing and thought this was going to be a great comfort book. I started reading it though and it was a bit of a push. No real plotline to keep you going, nothing really happens. Wish it could have had that writing with some shaping of some sort.

4-0 out of 5 stars Her best
Iris Murdoch started her career with one brilliantly funny novel, Under the Net. From then on, it was downhill all the way.

5-0 out of 5 stars Under the net of language lies the truth
In his early period (specifically, in "Tractatus"), the Austrian-British philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein argued that the "net" of language both separates us from and connects us to the world: it simultaneously impedes and determines our understanding of life. He furthermore concluded that anyone who finally comprehended the meaning behind the language of "Tractatus" would realize that its arguments were senseless; to quote the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, the reader can "throw away the ladder after climbing up on it" and experience the world directly through contemplation rather than through philosophical discussion. "Under the net" of language, then, lie the truths of the world.

Yet it's not essential to have an understanding of Wittgenstein to enjoy the zany farce of Murdoch's novel, whose characters are hunters of truth in its pure manifestations (love and freedom), as well as its illusory aspects (money and success). The chief seeker is Jake Donaghue, short of cash and without much prospect for any meaningful source of income. Jake has been freeloading in a friend's apartment; when she becomes engaged to be married, he's homeless as well as poor. Along with his sidekick, Finn (who serves as a less dependable Jeeves to Jake's ungentlemanly Wooster), he sets out in search of a new home and instead embarks on a series of adventures: a peek at a bizarre theatrical performance by mimes, a night of pub-crawling, a day at the races, a dog-napping, and a visit to a film studio whose riotous outcome prefigures, as much as anything, the finale of "Blazing Saddles."

During his journey, Jake runs across three old acquaintances: a former girlfriend; her sister, a famous actress; and most important, Hugo Belfounder, who had been a fellow patient at a clinic testing inevitably unsuccessful cures for the common cold. During alternating bouts of deliberately induced illness, the pair held philosophical conversations, to which Hugo contributed nearly all of the original thoughts. Jake in turn converted these pronouncements into a book, "The Silencer," published without telling his new friend. Only after he'd finished the book, however, did Jake realize that the profundity of Hugo's opinions had been frustrated by his own attempt to render them into words. Jake's embarrassment over both his deceit and his failure had caused him to break ties unceremoniously with Hugo, who has since become a filmmaker. (Although this suggestion of truths masked by language is one of the more overt allusions to "Tractatus," biographer Peter Conradi points out that the character of Hugo is based not on Wittgenstein but on a Cambridge friend of Murdoch's who was the philosopher's star pupil.)

There are a number of wildly unpredictable and often absurd subplots involving the four old friends, all based on the miscommunication that results because each of them is in love with another, but none of them is in love with each other. It's a circle of love right out of an Elizabethan drama.

In spite of its philosophical borrowings, Murdoch's first novel is her most fast-paced--and it's certainly her wackiest. At times, it's even downright silly, and looking for meaning in the fun is like tracking down the literary references in a Buster Keaton film (they exist--but does it really matter?). Once you get past the surface trappings of its metaphysics, you can simply enjoy the screwball comedy of "Under the Net."

5-0 out of 5 stars Fun and profound
Jake Donaghue is the free-spirited center of this luminous novel about a man who drifts confidently through his life mooching off friends, chasing dreams, and never once realizing how much time and talent he is wasting while in orbit around himself. Ejected from his latest rent-free living arrangement by a woman friend who finds a "real" boyfriend and wants her flat to herself again, Jake and his dreamy sidekick, Finn, run off to their buddy Dave's house to try to find another (free) flatmate or two.
The journey is hilarious and pitiful at the same time. Jake truly lives for the moment. Just as the reader adjusts to Jake's newest situation, he jettisons himself into a new place, new relationships, new goals, even a new pet dog which he steals for his own leverage purposes, then becomes too attached to give the pooch back. He revisits a long-ago incident of dishonesty with a former friend, chases the elusive shadow of an old girlfriend, and finally comes face to face with the man he cheated long ago. All along one gets the uncomfortable, prickly feeling that Jake is running, running, hiding from the truth: the truth about the book he wrote that stole another's words and insights; the truth about who he could have been if he hadn't been so shiftless. The title of the book, in my humble opinion, is a metaphor of how truth catches us, in contrast to the popular notion of seeking after truth. Murdoch presents truth as a hunter and humanity as the prey. We make our wild attempts to fool Truth, as Jake does all through this delightful and powerful novel, but in the end, Truth triumphs and we are caught "under the net" like an insect caught for a collection under glass.
Great fun, but do be careful. The net is poised over you, just as it is over Jake!
... Read more

13. The Red and the Green
by Iris Murdoch
 Paperback: 288 Pages (1988-03-01)
list price: US$10.95 -- used & new: US$39.50
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Asin: 0140027564
Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars
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An Irish family becomes involved in events leading up to the Easter Rebellion. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (2)

4-0 out of 5 stars "What will Home Rule do for a woman begging in the streets?"
An extended Anglo-Irish family living in the vicinity of Dublin on the eve of the Easter Rebellion of 1916 reflects the attitudes and pressures that lead eventually to the cataclysmic events at the Dublin Post Office.Andrew Chase-White, a young officer in the British Cavalry, has been assigned to Dublin, where he has often spent holidays with his extended family and where he has an almost-fiancee.His idolized cousin Patrick Dumay, "the iron man," is secretly a member of the Irish Volunteers and an admirer of Padraig Pearse.His teenaged cousin, hot-headed Cathal, supports the Citizen's Army under James Connolly.

As the action unfolds throughout the week leading to the uprising, the family interacts on several levels, revealing their mores, their dreams for the future of Ireland, their occasional tendency to look for religious significance in political destiny, and their personal hopes and failings.The story of Andrew's chaste courtship of Frances Bellman is thrown into sharp relief through the character of Millicent Kinnard, Andrew's aunt, a flamboyant and overtly sexual woman.

Millie has tempted one relative into abandoning his priestly calling, persuaded another to propose marriage to her as a way of solving her financial problems, and worked her wiles on her chaste young nephews, a generation or more younger than she is.Since she has a peripheral role in the rebellion, Millie, in the absence of a single main character, connects the older and younger generations both socially and politically, acting as a linchpin of the action.

Murdoch's stunning ability to choose precisely the right word or phrase leads to memorable descriptions which enliven the story and bring the large cast of characters to life.Andrew, for example, possesses "plodding conscientiousness," in place of courage.An elderly man's legs are like "solidified paste, rigidly tubular yet without significant shape or color."Physical love is regarded by one person as "the triumph of his will over his fastidious mind."

Murdoch's eccentric characters combine with her sense of irony to create absurdities that are filled with dark humor, and in one memorable scene, the procession in and out of Millie's boudoir (which also serves as a shooting gallery) resembles a slapstick film.Less philosophical, perhaps, than some of Murdoch's later novels, this is the only one which uses Murdoch's native Ireland as the setting.Mary Whipple

3-0 out of 5 stars Now I want to learn Irish history
This is the second historical novel in recent history that covered a period of European history with which I have an inadequate acquaintance. Asa device for getting me interested in the period leading up to Irish independence, it succeeded. As a novel, not so much. ... Read more

14. The Good Apprentice (Classic, 20th-Century, Penguin)
by Iris Murdoch
Paperback: 528 Pages (2001-12-01)
list price: US$18.00 -- used & new: US$1.21
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Asin: 0141186682
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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"A brilliant entertainment." (Harold Bloom, The New York Times Book Review)

Edward Baltram is overwhelmed with guilt. His nasty little prank has gone horribly wrong: He has fed his closest friend a sandwich laced with a hallucinogenic drug and the young man has fallen out of a window to his death.Edward searches for redemption through a reunion with his famous father, the reclusive painter Jesse Baltram. Funny and compelling, The Good Apprentice is at once a supremely sophisticated entertainment and an inquiry into the spiritual crises that afflict the modern world. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (7)

5-0 out of 5 stars A horrible death leads two young men on a comic pursuit of forgiveness and goodness
Few authors could take the ghastly death depicted in the opening pages of "The Good Apprentice" and turn it into the stuff of comedy. In the novel's first chapter, Edward mischievously spikes his friend's sandwich with LSD and, when his friend passes out, he leaves for a nearby date with a girl. The ensuing tragedy, a result of jovial if reckless negligence, wracks Edward with guilt--a shame complicated by the fact that he lies about his role during the inquiry.

At its most basic level, the novel portrays a basically decent young man whose life has gone horribly wrong. In the immediate aftermath, Edward lives in a hell of his own making; his friend's mother sends venomous, accusatory letters, but nothing can be more damning than the young man's own opinion of himself. And the adults in his immediate circle who might be able to help him out of the morass quickly prove themselves to be oblivious dimwits or deceitful hypocrites. To escape the madness, Edward flees to Seegard, the estate owned by his reclusive father, an illustrious artist and notorious rogue he has never met but whom he reinvents as an idol. His stepbrother, meanwhile, has decided to pursue a monastic/mystical path in pursuit of goodness, but his initial efforts prove to be misguided--and anything but altruistic.

Edward and Stuart form the book's center, but the supporting members of the cast are brilliantly rendered: Thomas, perhaps the only respectable psychotherapist in all of Murdoch's fiction, reluctantly dispenses wisdom and advice, unaware of the treachery of those closest to him; Edward's stepmother May and her daughter Bettina guard the secrets of Seegard and of their cloistered guru-artist and appear, variously, as a well-meaning protectors, outmoded hippie-chicks, and scheming witch-like gaolers; and Brownie, the confused sister of Edward's victim, reveals herself to be more open to the possibility of forgiveness than does her mother, whose "hatred is taking over her life." The intertwined lives of these families lead Edward from one startling revelation to another--and then his father Jesse vanishes.

This is the book that started me on my trek through Murdoch's novels nearly 25 years ago, and it has a little of everything you'll find in her novels: a thickly plotted comedy of British manners and pretenses, a "novel of ideas" that explores morality through the various metaphysical stances of its characters, a psychodrama of the "prodigal son" and his journey to hell and back, a neo-Gothic tale of an idyllic resort that turns into an eerie prison, a sitcom of impossible coincidences that brings together the book's saints and sinners in the type of uproarious scene you'd expect in a Neil Simon play. Yet for all its melodrama, angst, parody, and farce, "The Good Apprentice" is deadly serious about its inquiry into what it means--and what it takes--to be good in this world.

4-0 out of 5 stars Iris Murdoch
I am a fan of Iris Murdoch. This is again about relationships with psychological content. A good read

4-0 out of 5 stars Rich in pleasures, plot, and philosophy
The Good Apprentice sucked me into reading Iris Murdoch about 20 years ago. I have since worked my way, with immense pleasure, through all her novels. I'm reading GA for the second time, and I find I have less patience now for the long philosophical soliloquies of the characters. But the novel reminds me how well Murdoch indulges her readers' love a good plot and richly imagined and deliciously flawed characters, all revolving around a Great Man, who may not be but probably is somewhat of a charlatan. Reading Murdoch is the best way I know to combine a love of philosophy--and excellent writing--with a hankering for soap opera. GA is a good place to start reading Murdoch (and come back to).

3-0 out of 5 stars the jury is still out
With all the attention given to the life of Iris Murdoch over the last few years, and having become familiar with some of her philosophy, I looked forward to reading my first Murdoch novel. The Good Apprentice kept my attention well enough for me to finish it, hence the three stars.The author's craftsmanship is quite evident but beyond that, I don't know that I could recommend it, particularly as the place for someone to begin reading Murdoch's fiction. My primary reason may seem trite, but I just can't help it. These characters are annoying.Typically, I can find atleast one sympathetic character in a work of fiction.These people basically just got on my nerves. From popmpous and obnoxious to neurotic and self-indulgent, a full spectrum of negative personality traits are portrayed. The multiple plot lines all resolve, but in far too tidy a fashion, and the various resolutions are both annoying and dissapointing, because it's it questionable to me as to to whether anyone experiences any growth.As a reader, you leave the book knowing that Thomas will remain aloof, Midge will remain neurotic, Harry will remain obnoxious, Edward will remain self-indulgent, and Stuart will continue to drift through life trying to figure out how to do some "good".As I said, I will probably give Murdochanother go, and hopefully, I'll find someone among her characters along the way that I might actually relate to or care about.

4-0 out of 5 stars Good intentions & the pursuit of happiness
What happens when loving intentions result in disastrous outcomes?Iris Murdoch's, The Good Apprentice, features gothic ancestral dwellings, a trio of eccentric women, peculiar, seedy London séances, modern psychiatry, upper-class contemporary love affairs and infidelity, intense family relationships and questing for worthy missions in order to justify individual lives.I didn't easily breeze through this book neither could I put it down.Murdoch's heavy philosophical background is excruciatingly evident.However, I knew I was in the hands of a great artist when I laughed out loud with delight in passages.I look forward to reading more of her writing. ... Read more

15. The Sacred and Profane Love Machine (Penguin Books)
by Iris Murdoch
Paperback: 368 Pages (1984-03-06)
list price: US$20.00 -- used & new: US$4.00
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Asin: 0140041117
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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A writer of detective fiction who has not recovered from the loss of his wife becomes involved in the life of a neighbor's family. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (4)

3-0 out of 5 stars love machinations
A volume that speaks of love at every page, adumbrating on love's lights and shadows, but always appealing to love's sense of self-destructiveness and the incessant need of redemption. After reading the novel, one is left with a sense of revolt believing that love is more than a mechanism of self-preservation and and an antidote for sanity. In the end, one wonders which love is sacred, which love is profane. If humans are mere clockwork of love, then we simply succumb to the inevitability of fate.

5-0 out of 5 stars Ruthless, perhaps evil, this is a pornography of the soul
No sex, no violence, but pornography in the highest artistic sense:it is about the irredeemable.The worthless, the evil, the basest and most foul, while simulteneously exalting the pure aspects of love, even as it denigrates them.

If you can keep yourself from shuddering while Pinn speaks to Monty in his bedroom, then you need serious mental attention.

4-0 out of 5 stars An excellent novel
Iris Murdoch's books aren't for everyone: they are for sensitive, intellectual, and introspective readers. I read this one a few months ago, and was very impressed with the quality of the writing, the complexity ofthe characters' personalities, and the pervasive exploration of theirdifferent viewpoints and feelings as the story unfolds. Not only is thisbook intelligent and insightful, it is also entertaining, and neverslow-going. My only criticism concerns the two somewhat"fabulous" accidents which take place near the end. An excellentnovel nevertheless.

4-0 out of 5 stars Murdoch on love and betrayal
The Sacred and Profane Love Machine describes the spectacular unravelling of two families at the hands of Blaise Gavender. The first family is his own "legitimate" one, comprising his wife Harriet and son David.The other is his lover Emily and their son Luca. A weary and cynicalnovelist,the newly widowed Montague Small, is the unwilling observer andintermediary of this melange.We see a recurring exploration of themeaning of love when the faults of the lovers suddenly become overwhelmingand the only options are forgiveness or alienation.As in her other books,Murdoch's characters are complex, their motivations tangled by alternatingemotional currents of elation, despair, and futility. ... Read more

16. Iris: The Life of Iris Murdoch
by Peter J. Conradi
Paperback: 768 Pages (2002-11)
list price: US$19.95 -- used & new: US$4.50
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Asin: 039332401X
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Iris: A Life of Iris Murdoch is already regarded as the standard, authorized biography of one of the most important female novelists and thinkers of the twentieth century. Three years after her death, Iris Murdoch has begun to fascinate a whole new generation of readers, and a movie about her life was released in early 2002. In this critically acclaimed biography, Peter Conradi assesses the intellectual and cultural legacy of a remarkable woman "at the center of our culture" (A. S. Byatt). Published in hardcover as Iris Murdoch: A Life.32 pages of b/w photographs. ... Read more

17. The Sandcastle
by Iris Murdoch
Paperback: 320 Pages (1978-03-30)
list price: US$16.00 -- used & new: US$8.00
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Asin: 0140014748
Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars
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The quiet life of schoolmaster Bill Mor and his wife Nan is disturbed when a young woman, Rain Carter, arrives at the school to paint the portrait of the headmaster. Mor, hoping to enter politics, becomes aware of new desires. A complex battle develops, involving love, guilt, magic, art and political ambition. Mor's teenage children and their mother fight discreetly and ruthlessly against the invader. The Head, himself enchanted, advises Mor to seize the girl and run. The final decision rests with Rain. Can a 'great love' be purchased at too high a price? ... Read more

Customer Reviews (3)

5-0 out of 5 stars The House Upon the Sand
The last novel by Iris Murdoch which I reviewed for this site, "An Unofficial Rose", has a particularly complex plot, detailing a complicated web of emotional entanglements among a large group of characters. "The Sandcastle", published a few years earlier, is also a psychological study of love and desire, but with a much simpler plot and a much smaller cast of characters.

The central figure is William Mor, a middle-aged schoolmaster at a public school in Surrey, who is considering standing as the Labour candidate for the neighbouring constituency at the next election. (It is described as a safe Labour seat, although in reality Surrey is, and was even in the fifties, a stronghold of the Conservative Party). He is married with two teenage children, but the marriage is not a happy one; Mor's wife Nan is a cold, domineering personality who is fiercely opposed to her husband's political ambitions. Mor meets, and falls in love with, Rain Carter, a young painter who has come to the school to paint a portrait of Demoyte, the school's former Headmaster, and discovers that his feelings for her are returned. He therefore needs to decide whether to leave his wife for Rain, knowing that if he does so this is likely to spell the end of his career at the school and of his ambitions to enter Parliament.

The significance of the book's title becomes clear in a scene where Rain is telling Mor about her childhood. She grew up in the South of France, where she attempted to build a sandcastle on the beach, as she had seen children doing in pictures of England. The Mediterranean sand, however, proved too dry, and her sandcastle collapsed in a heap. This image can be seen as symbolic of the relationship between Mor and Rain, whose dreams of future happiness together might prove to be built out of equally unpromising materials. There may also be an intended reference to the passage in St Matthew's Gospel about the "foolish man, which built his house upon the sand".

Images of moisture and dryness are important in the novel. Rain's Christian name has obvious symbolic connotations; she is like rain falling into the parched desert of Mor's life. Water plays a part in a number of key scenes. In one early chapter Mor manages to drive Rain's car into a river, and the scene, about halfway through, in which they realise their love for one another takes place against the background of a thunderstorm. This storm marks the end of a long, dry summer heatwave which has dominated the first half of the book; again the symbolism is quite clear.

Besides Rain and Mor there are several others who play an important part in the story. Nan's marriage may not be a very happy one, but she is implacable and determined to use every weapon at her disposal to try and save it. The children Donald and Felicity have both, in different ways, been marked by the marital discord between their parents. Donald is a headstrong, rebellious young man; it is an act of reckless bravado on his part which precipitates the novel's final crisis. Felicity is a strange, fey girl, in thrall to her own private superstitions. She is convinced that she has occult powers and that she can communicate both with the ghost of the family dog, who died two years earlier, and with a supernatural being whom she names Angus. On holiday by the sea (another water image) she performs a bizarre ritual designed to divide her father from Rain.

Two characters who play lesser, but nevertheless significant, roles in the story are Demoyte and Bledyard, the school art teacher. Demoyte is a close friend of Mor and encourages his relationship with Rain; there is a suggestion that the elderly former Headmaster may be in love with the young woman himself and is using his friend as a vicarious way of fulfilling his own fantasies. Bledyard, on the other hand, urges Mor to remain faithful to Nan; he is partly motivated by his strong religious faith, which tells him that adultery is a sin, but also by a belief that Rain has a vocation as a great painter from which she will be distracted by an unnecessary romantic affair. (Murdoch also uses Bledyard as a vehicle for a debate on the philosophy of art, especially representational art).

The two most important characters, however, are of course Mor and Rain. Rather surprisingly, given that she was a young woman in her thirties when she wrote the book, Murdoch concentrates more on the middle-aged man than on his younger mistress, who despite her clear intelligence and artistic gifts is portrayed as rather naïve, a girl in search of a father-figure. We learn that Rain's own father, Sidney, who has recently died, was himself a famous painter and a great influence on her life and on the development of her artistic career.

Mor is, initially, a rather austere figure, portrayed as a man of great integrity with a deep regard for the truth. Although he is a freethinker, who does not share Bledyard's religious views, he nevertheless suffers from guilt over his deceiving Nan- not deceiving her in the sexual sense, for his relationship with Rain is never physically consummated, but deceiving her in the sense that he is concealing the truth from her- and this guilt leads him into a fatal prevarication.

This was Murdoch's third novel, after "Under the Net" and "Flight from the Enchanter", neither of which are really favourites of mine. "The Sandcastle", however, is in my view her first great novel, in which she admirably demonstrates her gifts for characterisation andpsychological analysis.

3-0 out of 5 stars Not her best, but still interesting
I've always liked this novel, though it isn't what I would call Murdoch's best. I found it to be much gentler than her other novels: there isn't any of the astounding weirdness of The Good Apprentice or The Severed Head: noincest, no murder, no wife-swapping.

As a result, it is an interestingnovel to read for the change of pace it offers in the body of her work. Itoffers perhaps a subtler take on repeated Murdochian themes of betrayl andalienation--artistic, intellectual, marital, sexual, and so forth.

Ihave always wondered why A.S. Byatt chose to highlight The Sandcastle inher book about women's writing _Imagining Characters_; perhaps Byatt seessome of the same qualities in the story that I do.

2-0 out of 5 stars Beware formulaic, empty & tedious
My first Iris Murdoch, due to her reputation Iexpected quality literature,but dear me, it was like reading a mills & boon, such empty boring characters sooo predictable I hope her other books are better &that her reputation is deserved, but I shan't be finding out, there'splenty other fish in the sea. The only reason I gave it 2 stars is for theportrayal of Upper Middle Class English Culture of the 50's YAWN... ... Read more

18. A Severed Head
by Iris Murdoch
Paperback: 204 Pages (1976-11-18)
list price: US$15.00 -- used & new: US$3.49
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0140020039
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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Comic complications ensue when an intruder unleashes the primitive passions long subdued by London intellectuals who play at the conventions of love set by a society devoid of emotion. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (25)

5-0 out of 5 stars Freudian classic
If you liked other Freudian works, A Severed Head is the novel for you--classic in every way.

5-0 out of 5 stars A sharp punch in the face
This is a biting little book, an intelligent mockery of how the most "civilized" level of societymaintains manners as these characters savage each other's marriages and lives.

Murdoch specializes in the misguided narrator whom the reader enjoys even as we realize what a snake he is. Martin at the book's opening is calmly discussing his rich wife with his young girlfriend. She's a dependable young woman who let him off the hook when she got pregnant. In other words, Martin deserves whatever he's going to get, but we actually feel badly for him as he's led through a maze of hilarious situations, a revelation or a comeuppance around each corner.

I found the book to be a very swift read, but I wasn't that fond of the opening chapter, in which so many key players are introduced in dialog. It feels stagey, but I have to admit that this fits with the bedroom farce tone of the book. I also found Martin's characterization of Honor as so utterly alien because she looks Jewish to be jarring and grating. I know it was a strike against Martin, part of what made him contemptible, but he was so seductively likable that it was jarring to my modern sensibilities. I persevered and he got his.

It's hilarious and neatly done, and through it all, Murdoch takes a break from the farcical situations and treats us to prose poems on the atmosphere that surrounds her characters. Between the fog, the sun, the reflections and proximity to windows, there's a paper about light, obscurity and truth in this book begging to be written. But I'm out of school.

3-0 out of 5 stars Felt more like a play than a novel...
What a strange, strange book. In many ways, it was QUITE ridiculous, with the characters (the narrator especially) acting completely unbelievably. But, I suppose with the fact that of the seven people in the cast, all of them were sleeping around with the same few people, that really made it rather unbelievable. I was quite surprised at the happy ending. It seemed more like a play than a novel, and I'm not quite sure what all the fuss about Iris Murdoch is. But it was, despite the time it took me to finish it, a surprisingly fast read and with the sex-crazy plot, a very modern novel for 1961.

3-0 out of 5 stars If you like soap operas...
I had to read this for my Contemporary Lit class. I didn't like it, but it was well written. Basically, it's about this guy, Martin Lynch-Gibbon, who's cheating on his wife Antonia. When Antonia tells him she's leaving him for her psychoanalyst, chaos ensues. This book is like musical chairs, except with beds. There's only one character that doesn't have sex in the book. If you like soap operas or books about infidelity, check this one out. It's loaded with drama, lies, and betrayal.

Iris Murdoch has put a lot of irony intentioned to be humor, but I just found it odd. I don't like any of the characters, and Martin keeps making the same mistakes over and over. The ending was the weakest part.

5-0 out of 5 stars Depth, Wit, and Language
After completing this read, I retrospectively notice three primary functions that make it worthy of five stars. First, the language flows together to construct a cohesive work that captures the reader and doesn't let go. Second, a sprinkling of wit can be found throughout the book, enlivening it and complimenting the language. Most importantly, these two facets enhance a certain intangible depth. It is the kind of depth that you can't really put your finger on but that you unmistakably feel is present. All in all, Iris Murdoch has managed to do in just 200 pages what most authors never accomplish: that is to create a truly great literary work. ... Read more

19. The Flight from the Enchanter: A Story of Love and Power
by Iris Murdoch
Paperback: 288 Pages (1987-01-06)
list price: US$10.00
Isbn: 0140017704
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A group of people have elected ambiguous and fascinating Mischa Fox to be their god. But his alter ego, Calvin Blick, is inspiring fear, and Rosa Keepe is swept into the battle between sturdy common sense and dangerous enchantment. ... Read more

20. Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals (Penguin Philosophy)
by Iris Murdoch
Paperback: 528 Pages (1994-03-01)
list price: US$20.00 -- used & new: US$9.05
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0140172327
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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The acclaimed author of The Good Apprentice draws on the entire history of philosophy--and particularly on Plato and Kant--to formulate her own model of morality and demonstrate how thoroughly it is bound up with our daily lives. "An utterly absorbing book."--The Wall Street Journal. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (2)

5-0 out of 5 stars Summary thoughts of a world-class scholar
Iris Murdoch was appointed to the faculty of Oxford at the age of twenty-nine.In this book, published in 1992 and based on a series of public, valedictory lectures she was invited to give, she ranges over philosophy, literature, the concept of consciousness, the relationship between religion and morality, and other topics.She "cuts loose" here, unworried about academic niceties, expressing her unvarnished opinions.She is marvelously fluent in the western philosophical tradition, addressing Plato, Kant, Schopenhauer, Wittgenstein, Sartre, and Derrida, among others.Her position, reflecting many years of development, is Platonic in the best, pagan sense: she argues against modern versions of relativism, but also insists that all perception is saturated with value. She is concerned with the future of spirituality in a "demythologized" culture, and draws on Platonism here as well: "God" as a metaphorical representation of Good, Good as the ultimate (secular) source of spiritual nourishment.The vision is very clear and consistent.A shorter, earlier exercise is The Sovereignty of Good, and the novels Under the Net and The Nice and the Good address themes discussed more directly here.

4-0 out of 5 stars Interesting but Dated
This book reminds me a good deal of Walter Kaufmann's Critique of Religion and Philosophy. In both cases, an extremely well educated person with a literary or scholarly background tries to buttress traditional Europeanethical philosophy against what Yeats called the 'rough beast... slouchingtowards Bethlehem': i.e., positivism, fascism, existentialism, and all therest of the 20th century -isms. Murdoch makes the same turn inward thatKaufmann does, seeing religion as a valid, real aspect of subjectiveexperience and, following Kant, insisting on the complete separation andconcomitant autonomy of the phenomenal and moral worlds. She then makes anessentially Platonic argument for the existence of objective moralstandards.Most contemporary readers will find the terminology and thewelter of names to be bewildering, to say the least. They may also feelwhirled in circles by the book's sustained abstraction and insistence onsubjectivity: it's like watching an otherwise sane woman using scissors tocut fog. But to my mind, the main problem is the absence of the mostimportant name of the 19th century: Darwin. Robert Wright's book The MoralAnimal explains why Darwin trumps Plato once and for all: "readmonkeys for preexistence." ... Read more

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