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Green Jay

Iris Murdoch

I've just been reading a little snippet in the Guardian book review section - my only serious reading about books at the mo - which mentioned a recent discussion at the Royal Society of Literature on Iris Murdoch. She was being championed by A S Byatt, Bidisha, and Philip Hensher, who also had a few criticisms, but overall were hoping to recapture her memory and reputation as a writer, which since her death has rather been overshadowed by the memoirs of John Bayley and the film versions of her played by Judi Dench and Kate Winslett.

I know we discussed her books ages ago, or maybe on the old board, but I wanted to revive this. I haven't read anything by her for years, but I liked her earlier (thinner) novels very much: Under The Net, The Bell, An Unofficial Rose etc. Perhaps she was let down by having her last novel(s?) published when her brain was beginning to go. One comment in the discussion was that she always "refused to be edited", which is never wise, however a good a writer someone is. It also seems to me to be an indication of arrogance. It might be that you think you're very innovative and no one, not even a good editor, will quite "get" what you want to say or how you want to say it, but a good editor, surely helps an author say things in the best and clearest way and points to the stuff that doesn't quite work?

Anyway, it made me think that I'd like to lok out some of her novels again.
Green Jay

The piece is not available on-line so I’ve copied out some of it...

'Introducing it, chair Anne Chisholm  [said] that Murdoch had become “better known but less respected” since her death, [and was] “in danger of being remembered for the wrong reasons”...Philip Hensher applauded her novels’ “insane readability” and their “generosity of formal experimentation”; A S Byatt, friend of Murdoch’s [who was once her mentor] and author of an early critical study, said “what I love about her novels is people thinking”; Bidisha, presenter of a Radio 4 programme [past or to come?] on the novelist said...”even her boring novels are interesting”.'

'Later Hensher commended her for creating the best dog in fiction in The Philosophers Pupil ...that she only uses nine character types...while Byatt criticised her prose, her debut Under The Net excepted. Carmen Callil, her publisher, confirmed from the audience that she refused to be edited – and confessed to being irritated by lengthy dialogue passages depicting “the chattering classes chattering”.'

I've been conscious for years of a Murdoch-shaped hole in my reading, which I hope to start filling this year, so I can't write about her with any authority, but I understand entirely the dismay of people like A.S. Byatt (whose first book, I think, was the study of Murdoch the article refers to) that her work is now overshadowed by John Bayley's version of her final years. I don't know where a good place to start reading Murdoch is, but I rather fancy The Black Prince.

The Bell is my favourite of her novels so far, I absolutely loved it - I have The Unicorn on the TBR shelf, but want to read all of her novels eventually.  There is at times something slightly...not quite right, somehow, abbout her writing - I know we've discussed this before - but I agree that they are great if you like to read about people thinking.

I haven't read The Black Prince, but the title, like so many of her titles, is irresistible.  Am at work just now (and shouldn't be here really!) so will read all this in more detail later.

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