Iris Murdoch’s 15th novel is part-thriller, part-love story: a book that explores the intricacies and inconsistencies of human relationships.
Bradley Pearson, narrator and hero, is an elderly writer with a ‘block’. Adding and contributing to his torment are a host of predatory friends and relations - his melancholic sister, his ex-wife and her delinquent brother, and a younger, deplorably successful writer, Arnold Baffin. Not to mention Baffin’s restless wife and disturbingly engaging daughter. Bradley attempts to escape. His failure to do so, and its aftermath, lead to a violent climax and a most unexpected conclusion.
Having read and re-read Murdoch’s works for 20 years this novel is, I think, her very best. It shows us both the confident artist at the height of her powers, and yet undercuts that with a metafictional work that displays both the artifice of fiction and the conflict that lies at the heart of any writer. This is why this novel, and indeed all her fiction, continues to endure; as Bradley tells us, ‘the rag bag of human consciousness is only unified by the experience of great art or of intense love’.
Read Miles Leeson’s essay on The Black Prince here