Friday, February 24, 2012

Friday Reading Assignment: Who's Afraid of Iris Murdoch

I used to be afraid to read Iris Murdoch, assuming (wrongly) that her novels would be impossibly serious and difficult.  Then I read Nancy Pearl's Book Lust in which she categorizes Murdoch's novels as "Books I wish I'd never read so I could read them again for the first time"--or something like that.  Since then I've been reading my way through Murdoch's oeuvre and have discovered that her novels are delightful, and also  wicked and very funny.  Most of her novels share some common elements:  they are almost always about upper-middle class British people who live in beautiful houses, which Murdoch describes compellingly. There is usually some sort of love triangle, and often a saintly wife.  There is often a sinister character who manipulates the others, and people behave absurdly or badly.  There are often dogs involved.  

This week's novel is The Sacred and Profane Love Machine, written in 1974.  It has all the classic Murdoch elements:  Harriet the saintly wife, Blaise the rotten husband, his girlfriend, their disturbed child, Monty a next-door neighbor author who functions as an observer, Pinn, the evil manipulator, and a cast of dogs, described lovingly.  You can't help loving the dogs, even when they are attacking somebody.

I haven't quite finished reading this, but I'm far enough along to feel unhappy with the ending, which is irrational because you shouldn't expect a traditional happy ending from Iris Murdoch.


  1. I have been looking for something new to read, so I'm putting this on the list. Thanks!

  2. I've tried with old Iris and I just can't get excited about her writing. Perhaps my brain has been damaged from the perfume samples in the trashy magazines which appear in my mailbox on an embarrassingly regular schedule. Or maybe it was those Twilight books. Oh, the humanity!

  3. Sounds very 1950s, dark and filled with goodness.

  4. Hm. I read a book by her eons ago--something about a unicorn in the title. I recall it being unremarkable.

  5. Sorry, can't really get with Iris.
    I must admit that I'm old fashioned, and prefer a happy ending, or at least the possibility of some sort of happiness.

    And aliens.
    Large voluptuous women with hormone problems are also good. Ditto explosions and miscellaneous mayhem.

    John Ringo?