Tuesday, September 15, 2009

"The Unicorn" by Iris Murdoch

Last night I stayed up late to finish The Unicorn by Iris Murdoch. It took longer than a medium-length paperback normally would because of the arrival of the fall Vogue. But The Unicorn fit nicely into my purse and had chapters exactly the right length to fit into a 15 minute work break, two chapters to a bus ride. I talk first about these minor structural elements because if you know anything about Iris Murdoch I don't need to tell you that it was a fantastic read. As the friend who lent me the book said, she's a reader's writer. Her books are deep and well written, and at the same time gripping and engrossing. Her characters are full, her backdrops lush. In the Unicorn she lulls us into a happy dream world out of time, misty with mystery and whiskey. As the truth of the situation situation is slowly revealed a cold darkness grips the reader, as it grips the heroine, Marion. Like the reader she is disturbed, but unable to wrench herself away. She at first relishes her part in the adsurd fairy tale until she realizes she has become ensnared in a net which she quite willingly threw herself into, and is now unable to escape. A cold darkness descends so thick that I imagined all the ensuing scenes to be taking place at night, even though they may have been at breakfast. The characters do seem to be travelling through an endless night as they wait, and wait, and wait for the forewarned crisis which is all the more horrifying for it's incomprehensibility. As they wait they become increasingly desperate, clinging together or wrenching apart in a dance of domination and sexual desire.

This is the second Murdoch novel I have read, after "The Black Prince" and I've never understood why there isn't a greater fuss about her. She is truly one of the great modern novelists.


  1. I am so excited you feel so strongly about this book! It's a real gem, isn't it? I too feel like Iris Murdoch, although she's certainly known, isn't at all celebrated to the degree she deserves.

    The sexual relationships really intrigued me in this book.

  2. PS I think I was kind of in love with Denis Nolan for a good chunk of the book.