Love is the difficult realization that something other than oneself is real.
– Iris Murdoch
Honestly, the only novel by Murdoch that I’ve read has been The Unicorn, which I remember liking, because it was all Gothic and philosophical, set in a big English manor somewhere in an English countryside, with strange characters who were a little touched, but I have never plunged into the Murdoch oeuvre. Whenever I look at her books, I get the sense that they’re very dry and dusty, though very intelligent. I’d like to keep the intelligent but get rid of at least the dryness. I think that’s what I did like about The Unicorn, but I haven’t managed to move on to any others. But then I come across quotes like this from Murdoch, and they make me want to look into her books again. If there are any real Murdoch fans out there reading this, send me honest to goodness suggestions as to which of her books I really should read. I still can’t imagine myself ripping through all of her work, but I would read another Murdoch novel if I had it on good authority that one or two of them are absolute must-reads.
It’s spring, or so it seems for the moment, and my inner English novelist is calling for a good cup of tea and a desire to read about vicars and rummage sales. Early spring seems to always do this to me. And I’m fresh out of A.S. Byatt. I did read through all of her books a long time ago.
I’m a huge Murdoch fan, and am happy to advocate for her books (Though if you are looking for vicars and rummage sales I’d suggest Barbara Pym instead – who is also fantastic, but works with a much smaller and understated canvas than Murdoch. OK, now I want to go off on a praise-tangent about her. Maybe I’ll do a post later.)
A steady diet of Murdoch may be hard on the digestion, but when I’m in the mood, she’s fantastic. I haven’t read The Unicorn, so it’s a little hard to match appealing traits. Of the ones I’ve read, The Sea, The Sea has the strongest supernatural pull to it, but at the same time, its conventional storyline is probably the driest. Still, there is one moment about 2/3 of the way through that is one of my all-time favorite moments in literature. I still get a thrill when I think about how I felt when I read it.
The Good Apprentice is probably more like The Unicorn. Sex, guilt, relationships, and those 3 women roaming around his father’s house with their spinning wheels. Reflected myth shifting places with the mental illness of being young.
I read The Black Prince, too, but can’t remember it as well as the others. Stylistically it’s more complicated, and sticks closer to the social traffic of 1960s Britain. It’s all lies and posturing, subterfuge and selfishness, and if you can decode how the characters transgress the social codes of their time and place (which, coming from modern America, is admittedly sometimes difficult) they are not dry and dusty, but behaving very badly indeed.
Now I want to read some Murdoch, too…
(Oh! and more alternatives. In the mood-for-England-vicars-and-rummage-sales vein, if you liked Byatt, try her more-conventional, more-prolific sister, Margaret Drabble.)
Alisa, thank you so much for this! I think I’ll start with The Sea, The Sea, now that I have a good list with an idea of the content and style of each. I think I’ll move through them in the order you presented them.
I haven’t read Barbara Pym, but have heard interesting things about her. And I have read Margaret Drabble, though haven’t felt pulled to her pages the way I am with Byatt. I think it’s the unconventionality of Byatt that makes me enjoy her writing more. Actually, she follows a lot of conventions, but she departs from them in lovely, fanciful ways more often than Drabble, and I guess that’s what I enjoy, are the departures. I may have to give Drabble’s books another chance in the future, though. Just to check in again, and see if perhaps it was a matter of timing (wrong point in my own life maybe) to have tried reading them.
Finally! Through your post I’ve identified the one Murdoch book I read years ago. I gave the book away thinking I’d never read it again. Now I find myself pulling up images from the book and dwelling on them. I guess I’d better re-read it. I have The Green Knight sitting in a stack of to-be-read titles. I seem to remember picking it up because of religious quest and redemption themes.
I’m looking forward to reading your book “The Love We Share Without Knowing.” Hoping to fit it in during the month of April. Wish I had more time for reading!
Thanks for the note, Terri. I hope you enjoy the book! Please let me know what you think when you do get a chance to sit down with it.
I just found this blog, I’ve read everything by Iris Murdoch. In fact she’s the ONLY novelist I really love. I don’t remember anything dry about her novels at all. In fact there are always people in love with people and about to fall in each other’s arms, and they’re unlikely loves, intense inner situations always. Beautiful descriptions that I will never forget, of countrysides and oceans and towns. The Sea, The Sea is my favorite. Not dry, nothing dry about them. They sweep you away.
Thanks for the recommendation, Claire!