My experience with Iris Murdoch’s work has not been a happy one. Maybe I just chose the wrong titles but I found her a bit impenetrable. Hence why I have procrastinated for more than three years about reading her Booker winning title The Sea The Sea. I knew I would have to tackle it at some point as part of my Booker project. But every time I picked up this fairly big book (538 pages of very closely typed text) I found an excuse not to get further than page 5.
The reactions of Andy Miller in A Year of Reading Dangerously compounded my feeling this would be a slog and one maybe I should delay getting to for as long as possible. In essence he said it was a long book with a distasteful protagonist, in which nothing much happened but there were many descriptions about meals (inedible concotions often) and the sea. None of which exactly had me racing to the shelf.
But me and Murdoch have finally squared up to each other.
And you know what? It’s nowhere near as bad as I was expecting.
What’s more – I am actually enjoying it.
Yes it does, in Charles Arrowby, have a narrator I would dread finding sat next to me on a long train journey. But Murdoch makes him deliciously awful, a wonderful satire on a totally self-satisfied, pompous and deluded man. Arrowby has left his glittering career as a theatre director to live in seclusion in a creaky, run-down house by the sea. He spends his days swimming, watching out for sea monsters and making rather disgusting meals. In between he deals with past lovers and encounters his first love, Mary Hartley Fitch. He decides she must still be in love with him. Her marriage must be an unhappy one. It must be his duty to rescue her.
As you’d expect from the title, the sea plays a major role in the book. It’s always beautifully described. As are some of the ridiculously comic scenes when Arrowby’s past loves descend on the house.
Iris, I fear I have wronged you.