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4.0 out of 5 starswell worth the effort
Reviewed in the United States on November 28, 2011
Some might think that the title of this book is misleading. It is a later work and on a par with "the sea, the sea" and "the green knight". Many of her books have to do with relationships that change dramatically when a major character changes. "The Unicorn" is probably the book where this is the most obvious but "the message to the planet" develops this theme in a much more complex way. Also, in many of her books lots of people die. In some cases it's simply to hard to believe the casuality rate. It isn't the case in "the message to the planet". The book is a great example of Iris Murdoch at her best.
I'm going to go out on a limb and say that I like this book at least as well as The Bell and the Sandcastle, and very possibly more. One of the characters in this book asks where ordinary morality is, when what is called for in the world is the courage of a saint. Once again, Murdoch visits the question of the Good and how it applies to human life. This time the question centers around Marcus, who anchors the novel as a character from myth-- sometimes a saint, sometimes Prospero, sometimes a lunatic. Each of the other characters in the book have to find their way (through eccentric marriages, chaste romances, resurrections, and mysticism) in a world where all the familiar rules no longer apply. All the solutions (where there are solutions) are complicated and costly. As usual, the writing is crisp and incisive, the characters well-formed and very complete. One of the great Murdoch novels.
Well, first, let me say that Iris Murdoch is a good writer, that she captures what seemms to me the tenour of the social interactions in comtemporary England among the Middle classes extremely well, rather crabbed and incestuous (not literally), and that The Tempest influence works for the most past.
BUT...this book, taken as a whole, seems to me a work of theodicy (explaining God's ways to man) which simply doesn't sit well with a work of art-In short, it's tendentious-The "Message," in the end, seems to be:"God works in inscrutable and mysterious ways and it's best not to ponder overmuch these mysterious ways (such as the Holocaust) or it will KILL you."
This is a bit of an oversimplification, but will have to do for this review.
On the other hand, Murdoch does have a deft rather than heavy hand in portraying human relations. So, I suppose one must take the well-written with the tendentious.
For those looking for a more brilliant modern novel heavily influenced by The Tempest, may I humbly recommmend The Magus by John Fowles whose wriring is brilliant, and the "message" of which will leave you pondering long after you put the book down.
I am just starting on Murdoch. Having read the Green Knight previously I found this book a dissapointment. Yet I couldn't, or wouldn't let myself put it down. In The Green Knight, Murdoch created a wonderful mixture of spiritual depths and the basic gossipy human interaction that makes a novel fantastic. Also, an incredible authorial and personal sense of the community that friends and (sometimes) family develop. This one seemed to be striving for the same and yet failed as I could see. I was continually judging the characters, weighing them mentally. This in itself is not a problem, but when they consisently come up lacking or increasingly confusing, and without what I sensed as an overriding authorial vision of who they truly are, it becomes difficult to maintain faith in a novel and the potential larger message. I found the narrator's fascination with the main character unjustified; indeed, his interpretations of all the characters were difficult. And again, such limited authorial intrustion to provide me with a reliable roadmap. Nevertheless, I am addicted to this writer and am now on the one Iris Murdoch a month track.
As a philosopher, Murdoch writes in novel structures (as J.P. Sartre did, she admired) She expresses deep thinking about "our planet" and particularly its people: happiness/sadness, good will/ crualty, sanity/insanity,.... At the heart of the book, Marcus, a man not like the others. Views on his personality (a mad man? a genius? a prophet? an ordinary man? Very various views, positive and negative, and yet, he is surrounded and well cared for. Worshipped by those who are in search of a "new christ figure" since he is said to have arosen someone from the death. Doubt all through, and the main question : Did he have a message to the world? The novel is full of questioning, in a very philosophical way. It needs concentrated reading, sometimes re-reading. As often in Murdoch's writings, true love is also being dealt with, the holocaust is also well present in all questioning, the theme of "power", the theme of suffering, the theme of genuity... A very complexe and interesting book.