July 8th, 2019

Re-Reading Iris Murdoch

It appears that Iris Murdoch is one of the novelists I re-read. There aren't many.

Back in the day she was my favourite living writer. I read The Sea, The Sea shortly after it won the Booker in '78 then bought every new novel as it was published, while working my way through the existing canon. Some of her books I loved, some never came alive to me. Hers is a very artificial world (though it closely resembles ours) and sometimes the galvanising spark is there and sometimes it isn't. Other writers have good books and bad books, but I can't think of another that has living books and dead books.

The one I'm re-reading now is very much alive. It was the last she published before dementia took hold. It's called The Green Knight. She published one more- which I bought but never read- out of respect I guess.

She's unfashionable. It happens with most writers. They become old hat. And then, if they're any good, they're rediscovered. In her case there's the problem of her bloody widower having turned her into the poster girl for Altzheimers. To cap it there was a movie; I don't think I've ever quite forgiven Judy Dench for her part in that. John Bayley, Judy Dench- they get in the way of the books.

I'd forgotten how dense her writing is. How full of information, sensation, ideas. She loves metaphysics but she also loves food. I've just read a passage in which a young man walks along the parapet of a medieval bridge. At first it's easy, then his mind kicks in and space/time begins to distort. How brilliantly imagined it is, how vivid.