It took me a little while to get into The Book and the Brotherhood by Iris Murdoch, but I'm glad I persevered. There's a certain sensuality to Murdoch's novels. Her characters are usually rich, educated people who have beautiful things, live in enviable houses, and wear lovely clothes. Murdoch describes all these things with exquisite attention to detail, without ever lapsing into flowery or effusive language. Of all the characters in literature, Iris Murdoch's are the ones I'm most inclined to envy, even though terrible things happen to them.
In The Book and the Brotherhood, there are large country houses and flats in London and a stone farmhouse in the south of France. There's a midsummer ball at Oxford and sports cars and Rolls Royces and ball gowns and day dresses. Gerard, Jenkin, Duncan, Crimond, Rose, and Jean were friends at Oxford. Now they are middle aged and entangled in their complicated relationships. Gerard has slept with almost everyone in the group. Jean and Duncan are married, but Jean had an affair with Crimond, years ago. Rose is in love with Gerard and Gerard was in love with her brother Sinclair, who was killed in a tragic accident. Jenkin is the monastic in the group who hasn't slept with anyone. The crisis is that Crimond, who the rest of the group has been financing for twenty years so he can finish his life's work, a book on political philosophy, is now nearly finished with the book and has also stolen Jean from Duncan for the second time.
At first, I couldn't keep track of all the characters and I couldn't see where Murdoch was going with the story. Eventually, her whole brilliant plan becomes clear and you find yourself a little stunned at the intricate interweaving of the plot lines. Some of the Amazon customer reviewers call this her strongest work. All of Murdoch's work is strong, but I'm inclined to agree that The Book and the Brotherhood is one of her best.