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lost in Tenn
5.0 out of 5 starsBrilliant
Reviewed in the United States on March 24, 2020
Though not violent, this book is gut wrenching and nerve wracking. It is a tale of the all too human and very British failure to communicate or express oneself. Murdoch studied philosophy at Oxford and took away from that that immersion in the swirling stew of deep philosophy may not bring the kind of happiness that simplicity and love can. Formal religion is regarded much the same,as being more confusing than helpful. Jesus and the Buddha are treated kindly. Two great near tragedies are redemptively solved, not to give anything away, but to keep you reading.
I'm 60% of the way through this book and still waiting for a hook. Yes, well written prose; yes, well drawn characters; but if there is a plot line to hold my interest I have missed it. She has failed to make me care at all what happens in the remaining 40%. So - I'm done.
5.0 out of 5 starsAn amazingly rich novel - brimming with passion, spirituality, violence and wisdom - and always compelling characters. Genius.
Reviewed in the United States on May 25, 2011
Absolutely wonderful. A stunning novel. The Philosopher's Pupil is a Dante-esque tale of love - as in the Inferno kind, not the love of Beatrice. Murdoch has a mature nineteenth century novelist's depth to her characters; she is easily a match for Tolstoy, Trollope and Eliot, to name some of the giants of fiction.
The novel explores in numerous varieties of love, from dishonest to honorable, self-defeating to masochistic, platonic to deviant, and never ever simply just one type at any one time.
Set in Ennistone, a town renowned for its natural hot water springs/baths, and also filled to the brim with the heat of gossip, anger, passions, and small-minded mischief makers.
But this review is not about the plot, as that's for you to enjoy in your own reading. Instead, this is an homage to the truly marvellous characters that Murdoch's genius has given life to in this novel.
Her fictional beings are beautifully detailed, fully realised in scope and complexity, and each draws you in with their own personal world view, and reasoning and often troubled emotional life, and you are captivated in your watching and listening to them live and breathe and assert themselves in their muddled worlds.
Her dialogue alone is worth the price of the novel - and the prologue, relating the car `accident' (for it really isn't one, but an incident resulting from a violent action), is a tour de force, introducing George, the novel's devil in (barely) human form.
But he is scarily human. He is, for me, the most fully realised and horribly convincing, nightmarish psychopath and sociopath I have read in fiction. Far scarier than Hannibal Lecter as a fictional creation, and more believable than a real-life monster like Ed Gein.
With his extreme ranting and raving, his sheer loathing and violent, misogynistic fantasies (as well as behaviour), he is apocalyptic in tone and revenge. Yet he could just as well be one of your neighbours who has become utterly mad, yet within a framework of apparent sanity at the same time.
He is the strongest case and example - though there are several others in this novel - of Murdoch's impressive ability to complex human beings that convey her passionate intellectual and creative interests, while never failing to be merely conduits or foils for her fictional plotting. There's never any sense of Deus ex Machina at work, here - her creatures spring from the page, and are all tremendously individual in language, thought and action.
As if psychotic George wasn't enough for one novel, there's also the philosopher of the novel's title as well, John Robert Rozanov (George was once one of John's pupils): he is manipulative, amoral, uncaring, soul-less, intellectual and emotionally moribund and, in many ways, is far more of a devil than George himself (though never committing physical acts of violence, or verbal, as George does with such relish and ease).
Then there are the brothers to George: Brian, who is just the most miserable, endlessly complaining and always irritable sod. He is absurdly comical and a foil for much of the novel's humour.
Tom is the youngest of the brothers, at university and naive. He's delightfully happy, at one with his world and his peers, until corrupted by a Faustian task that John compels him to take up.
Then there's Gabriel, the fallen angel in the form of Brian's put-upon wife: always tearful, always troubled, and ready to blubber at the drop of the proverbial hat.
There's the intellectual, yet remote, and incredibly martryrish Stella, wife of the monster George and target for his spleen, murderous rage, violence and misogyny.
And we have Zed - probably one of fiction's most charming, delightful and convincing portraits of a clever little doggie, who is Zen-like and always understanding, even when he's clueless. He's both part of the natural world, yet connected with his human peers.
His trusted companion is the other marvel in this novel, the boy Adam, offspring of Gabriel and Brian. He's Francis of Assisi-like, as well as Buddhist, in his immediate and deep empathy with all living things. Murdoch clearly knows her Varieties of Religious Experience.
If Gabriel, Stella and Zed weren't enough, you have Father Bernard, an Anglican priest who's an atheist, and who believes ultimately that the only hope and saviour for the world is religion without God. He ends up an ethereal, ascetic-Russian hermit/-ancient Desert Father-type, on a remote Greek island kindly, with peasants, birds, sea and rocks as his congregation.
In short, I loved, loved, LOVED, this novel. It's funny and dark, with substance, yet as light as a perfect soufflé. There's also plenty here for lovers of Plato and Dante, for example, and yet such references are never done in an ostentatious way, but flow seamlessly with the events and thinking of the novel and her characters.
And all these riches are carried through with zest right to the end and beyond, with you being totally immersed in and absorbed by the mess and muddle of these human lives (a true Murdochian talent).
You are left joyous and breathless and happy and utterly, utterly impressed by Murdoch for her philosophical wisdom, her mischievous wit, her darkness and light, her psychological insights, her innate appreciation of what it means to be human.
Dame Murdoch convincingly creates a rich world within the fictional English spa village of Ennistone. The sweep of characters and allusions, historical, literary and philosophical, are impressive. In typical Murdoch fashion, the action revolves around an anti-social genius, in this case the philosopher, Rozanov. His famed intellect is more than offset but his petty cruelty and utter alienation from human society. His wretched ex-pupil, George, is his drunken disciple, repeatedly spurned by the "great man." The various sub-plots, involving Quakers, an homo-sexual Anglican priest, half-Gypsy maid-servants, a swimming lap-dog, and Rozanov's absurdly innocent and estranged grand-daughter, all illustrate various human foibles. All of the mere mortals want different things from the philosopher, but he is an empty man. All brain, no heart, except for his incestuous lust for his grand-daughter. I greatly preferred " A Fairly Honourable Defeat," and "The Sea, the Sea," as examples of the author weaving her tapestry of human frailty, self-deception, and morality. And at 700 pages, I wonder if a bit of judicious editing would not have kept things more interesting. A staggering and erudite achievement, nonetheless. Murdoch attempts more in a single paragraph than many authors achieve in a lifetime.
If you have not read one of Iris Murdoch's novels before do not start with this one. In 'The Philosopher's Pupil' Murdoch gets all experimental and metatextual. It's also overlong, even rambling at times, with too many characters, many poorly drawn; she's trying to create a spa town's community of eccentric residents and she doesn't quite bring it off. I am a big Murdoch fan, but if I had started with this one I doubt I would have read any others. Or put another way: this one is for the converted.
4.0 out of 5 starsI read this one on holiday in Thailand and really enjoyed it.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on August 24, 2015
This book explores relationships between the characters. Iris Murdoch has the gift of leading you along one line and then surprising you with something you wouldn't predict. I read this one on holiday in Thailand and really enjoyed it.
5.0 out of 5 starsAn Ideal English sleepy village....
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on July 22, 2013
An ordinary sleepy English town where nothing happens? Wrong, read the subtleties and intricacies of life in the idealist village especially after the coming of the Philosopher. Will someone follow the philosopher's guidance and who will it be? Read to find out more....
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on October 13, 2013
Iris Murdoch continutes in this books to surround us with characters who become deeply part of our life as we read through, Her knowledge and thorough understanding of things philosophical never cease to astound and educate me