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The Good Apprentice [Aug. 29th, 2009|08:57 am]
Tony Grist
I was thinking about forgiveness and how someone should write a novel about a seeker of forgiveness- and then I started remembering Iris Murdoch's The Good Apprentice- which is not exactly that novel but close- and now I'm re-reading it.

I used to love Murdoch. I bought all her later novels as they came out. I was a young clergyman struggling with his faith and all those conversations her characters have about the Platonic Absolutes and the Death of God were food to me. Then I moved on and she died and turned into Dame Judy Dench and what with one thing and another I hadn't read anything of hers for twenty years. I was afraid I would't like her anymore.

I needn't have worried. The philosophical conversations mean less to me now than they did but they're still entertaining. And I'm seeing things I was too solemn to see before- like how funny she is- how tongue in cheek- and how well- and how mischievously-  she writes about love and sex. The Good Apprentice is my favourite of the novels- and for two reasons. One is the character of the Good Apprentice himself -  Stuart Cuno- a young man who- without God or religion-  sets out to "do nothing bad"- and the other is Seegard- the cobbled together house in the fens- part medieval barn, part 18th century manor, part modernist masterpiece- where the dying painterJesse Baltram lives attended by his Arts and Crafty womenfolk. If the 20th century had produced a great English artist- which it didn't- Baltram would have been it. He is part Picasso, part Augustus John, part Eric Gill.  Myths swirl around him, none of them quite settling. Is he the minotaur in his labyrinth, the Fisher King in his Grail Castle, the Great God Pan, or  merely an exhausted, empty fraud? Murdoch invents an oeuvre for him- his early phase, his yellow and black phase, his "royal" phase- when he was painting Gods and monsters- his "late Titian" phase and lastly his Tantric phase. I can see these things in my head. They are very great indeed. I only wish they existed. 

[User Picture]From: frumiousb
2009-08-29 10:02 am (UTC)
I think that's a good summation of this book-- the first that I ever read by Murdoch, by the way. It led me to her other works and a life-long love affair with her novels.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-08-29 05:17 pm (UTC)
The first I read was The Sea, the Sea, the one that got her the Booker. I read it on a transatlantic flight. When I left Heathrow she was just a name to me, by the time we touched down at Kennedy I was hooked.

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[User Picture]From: sovay
2009-08-29 04:52 pm (UTC)
He is part Picasso, part Augustus John, part Eric Gill. Myths swirl around him, none of them quite settling. Is he the minotaur in his labyrinth, the Fisher King in his Grail Castle, the Great God Pan, or merely an exhausted, empty fraud?

I have never read anything by Iris Murdoch; I think I will have to start with this one.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-08-29 05:20 pm (UTC)
I think you'll like it. She's a unique talent.
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[User Picture]From: richenda
2009-08-31 10:22 am (UTC)
Rachel trickett, who loved her dearly, a;ways claimed that she wrote the same book over and over agin. I don't agree with that, but I can't get on at all with the later books
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-08-31 04:30 pm (UTC)
The books got longer as she got older. I'm 400 pages into The Good Apprentice and beginning to feel it's time she wrapped things up. I love this book, but I don't think it would have hurt it to have been- say- 100 pages shorter.

Trickett has a point, but I think it's one you could make about most novelists.
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