What is the term equivalent to white trash for the Brits Well, I don t know, but here is a menagerie rife with those interesting, yet devastatingly bleak individuals they are all mad they ve all taken X Beauty is such self forgetting 47 indeed and this is a brilliant and breathtaking family portrait, so very post Victorian Jerry Springer filthiness First off, the strongly redolent, very judgmental narrator and weakling Edmund becomes immediately attractive to any reader who often ventures out of a definite comfort zone to stray off into the world s dark undercarriage And the plot He finds himself in a mad dream inhabited by imps by doubles and doppelgangers any possible reader could possibly want The protagonist, like the reader himself, is faced with too much information too soon to possibly fit all too neatly in his restricted view and awestruck mind He must work out all the cogs in the machine before the orchestra fully unfurls before him Lastly, the pace is ominous and foreboding all of it frosting in an evenly frosted delicious morsel Respect the gods of the almighty novella It arrives from the same stratosphere of the macabre as American Hawthorne s The Blithedale Romance There is a commendable and dire need to be anti Victorian with the superb Murdoch It s vile and cool in equal measure The erotic siblings, the not too discreet lovers, all vicious and dripping in sexwell, it is all one huge cochinada pigstyish maelstrom At 171 pages, this practically a novella, but it packs a lot of emotion into those pages, and although it s an early work, it is very clearly an Iris Murdoch, albeit less subtle than later works.Edmund returns to his childhood home after the death of his manipulative and estranged mother His brother Otto, an alcoholic, lives there with his wife, daughter and the eponymous Italian girl an au pair who stayed on , none of whom he has seen for years His brother is a half stranger and he can t remember how old his niece is, but such detachment started earlier, My father had passed from us almost unnoticed, we believed in his death long before it came.These five character, plus another two, have multiple and complex relationships and neurosis that they discuss, without much hope of overcoming They have all missed out on happiness in some way, and so they seem destined to sabotage the possibility of it in their own lives and those of others Despite his introspection, Edmund distrusts psychiatrists, describing them as modern necromancers and saying I preferred to suffer the thing that I was.There are two further characters The house itself has dark qualities, made clear from the start when Edmund arrives so late that the house is dark, everyone is asleep and it has a haunted atmosphere The closed doors breathed a stupefaction of slumber Lydia, the dead mother, continues to be a major force on the lives of all therein.The plot twists, turns, tangles and the Italian girl is in the background till the end Some aspects are a little dated fair enough or stretch credulity, but it s a good story and well told.Having attended a couple of humanist funerals lately, I was particularly struck by this passage At least a Christian burial would with ancient images and emotions have covered up this moment of blankness and lent to that querulous frailty the dignity and sadness of general mortality If Woody Allen hasn t read any Murdoch, he really should They have much in common. Notes to self1 Read a book a couple of weeks ago Turned out it was about Alzheimer s.2 Cannot remember the title or story of note 1.3 Read another book last week Turned out it had a character who suffered dementia.4 Cannot remember that title or story either, of note 35 Current author developed Alzheimer s.ReviewA short and absorbing tale that takes place in Northern England Murdoch was an established and honored and prolific author She wrote beautifully And is now dead.This story is told by a solitary, 30 40 ish year old man, who is not aware of what he does not have, but carries a sense of emptiness.He reestablishes a relationship with his brother and his brother s dysfunctional household It is to be a temporary visit Their mother, despised by both sons, has died, and the story begins at the funeral for the mother.A beautiful and realistic account that pushes all the right buttons for this reader Philosophy, irony, miscommunications between its characters, love, reflection, redemption, loss, interesting dialogue, empathy or lack of, compromise, some angst and tension, trials between family members, the intrusion of outsiders, the casual assaults by youth, and.Recommended for we who acknowledge our fractured lives.Any further questions will not be answered by this reader, who will have forgotten the story, momentarily. This is Iris Murdoch s eighth novel I have been reading her novels in order of publication and become quite a fan She brings a philosophical bent to her fiction Though the next book for me would have been The Unicorn, one of my reading groups picked this one so I set aside my OCD tendency and went with it Some critics have considered it one of her weakest novels I liked it just fine.The younger son, Edmund, has come home due to the death of his mother and tells the story with wistful viewpoints of each member of the household Lydia, the deceased mother, had been controlling and no longer interested in her husband now deceased once she had two sons She was overly possessive of the boys in alternating periods Otto, the older brother, still lives in the family home with his wife Isabel and daughter Flora, now a teenager.In Murdoch s usual way, the details of the family come into focus like a developing photograph until you have a distressing picture of psychological disturbance and broken relationships Edmund, no surprise, has trouble with females, never married, and is possibly still a virgin Otto drinks, is vegetarian, and works unsuccessfully as an engraver, mostly making tombstones He has always had criminal type assistants who cause trouble and are then replaced.Otto s wife, it turns out, is having an affair with the current assistant, David, who has also been sleeping with the daughter and gotten her pregnant Otto is sleeping with David s mysterious and troubled sister Quite a mess but this is one of Murdoch s typical families Edmund s pathetic attempts to help these people all go awry, almost to the point of comedy Dark comedy is another facet of Murdoch s fiction The title is the key to this fractured family, but you don t find out the full significance of the Italian girl until the very end All you know until then is that the family has had a series of Italian girls as servants These girls do all the housework, raised the boys when the mother needed a break, and served as companion to mother The mystery of this arrangement is the big reveal at the end.I found the novel to be one of her most exquisitely written books Each scene is carefully drawn with lovely descriptions that create atmosphere and allow you to see ever deeply into the characters In fact, it was adapted for the stage by James Saunders and originally performed in 1968.In spite of there being not a single likeable character, I felt for them all Murdoch seems to be telling us that in any family there are secrets Secrets of the heart due to failures to connect, unawareness of what goes on, a lack of perspective caused by the claustrophobia of family I have found that to be true in most families I know, even the good ones. Iris Murdoch s The Italian Girl reads like a cross between a Victoria Holt Gothic romance and a glimpse of a Holden Caulfield, still clueless, self centered, and easily offended at forty something The protagonist and narrator, Edmund Narraway, returns home for the funeral of his domineering and destructive mother, Lydia, after years away Still living at the dark, gloomy family mansion are Edmund s alcoholic, philandering brother Otto, Otto s neurotic wife Isabel, their beautiful but reckless teenage daughter Flora, and the Italian au pair Maggie, who stayed on even as Flora outgrew her the eponymous Italian girl In the novel s 171 pages, the Narraway family seeks fulfillment both sexual and emotional in the absolutely most destructive ways I don t want to give too much away, but let s just say that Otto s Russian twenty something apprentice, David Levkin, and Levkin s promiscuous sister Elsa don t make matters any better for the dysfunctional Narraway clan While their famous father was an artist, Edmund is an engraver and Otto is a stone mason Published in 1964, The Italian Girl seems dated even for that time period the effete Edmund reminds me of an over refined English mama s boy in a 1920s P.G Wodehouse novel, while his monstrous brother could play the murder victim who s begging to be killed in a Dorothy L Sayers or Agatha Christie novel From this book, while atmospheric and containing some beautifully turned phrases, I just don t get what led millions to love Murdoch s novels The Italian Girl reminded me of the 1960s cult classic Dark Shadows all dark, oppressive atmosphere and melodrama but the Narraway family has none of the fun in its dysfunction Despite some emotional fireworks, an unconvincing ending and long stretches of tedium make The Italian Girl a three star read. A short Gothic drama about hedonism versus the ethical life, this was my seventh Murdoch novel, and, alas, one of the less memorable ones along with An Unofficial Rose and The Black Prince Narrator Edmund Narraway, an engraver in his forties, arrives at the family home, a Victorian rectory in the North, one moonlit night shortly after his mother s death He s locked out, but fortunately there s another night prowler about who can let him in David Levkin, the apprentice to Edmund s drunken stonemason brother, Otto.Edmund finds his mother Lydia s body laid out on her bed and recalls the almost Oedipal relationships she had with him and his brother Hints of incest are also there in Edmund s infatuation with his niece, Flora, while various characters are in love or lust with David and his peculiar sister, Elsa, who both live in the property s summer house As in A Severed Head, the language of possession marks these shifting bonds as unhealthy and obsessive.Murdoch often sets up stark dichotomies between characters and situations, and here Otto and Edmund serve as the two poles Otto s Gothic, you know, his wife Isabel says to Edmund He is the north He s primitive, gross In contrast, Edmund clings to the narrow way as his surname suggests of morality, taking a hard line on his niece s ethical dilemma and largely avoiding the sexual temptations that come his way You are a good man, Isabel tells him You are the assessor, the judge, the inspector, the liberator You will clear us all up I found this setup a little too simplistic the brothers are also referred to by the shorthand of wet lipped and dry lipped , and the generalizing about Jews that bothered me in A Severed Head is worse here there s a whole chapter entitled Two Kinds of Jew Given the title, I was unsure what role Maggie, the latest in Lydia s series of Italian servants, is meant to play She s virtually speechless until the final chapter, and seems most like a nun.A surprise will, a fire, and an interlude in an enchanted wood keep things moving along quickly, and it s Murdoch s shortest novel, almost what you d call novella length But this mostly felt to me like an unnecessary reprise of A Severed Head and perhaps The Unicorn, which I haven t read but know has a very Gothic atmosphere.Originally published on my blog, Bookish Beck. What this book needs is orcs Or any orcs at all, really, but preferably a great horde of slavering, rampaging, hell bent on destruction orcs Failing that, zombies would do the trick Or perhaps we could push swords into the characters hands and toss them into the gladiator arena Frankly, they need something of the sort A post apocalypse world to shake them out of their fairyland and give them something serious to worry about Because I ve never come across such a snivelling bunch of whiny, self absorbed morons who so badly need to just get over themselves Here s the plot, such as it is Matriarch Lydia has just died, and son Edmund returns to the family home wherein reside his brother Otto and his wife Isabel, along with Otto s apprentice and his sister, and the resident nanny turned housekeeper, the eponymous Italian girl The story then unfolds with one melodramatic revelation after another, accompanied by much shouting, gesturing, grand speech making, falling down, weeping and wailing, and running about in the rain There isn t one of them who seems to have an ounce of common sense, or any idea of just how lucky they are not to be working in a factory or down the mines.OK, OK, so I don t get it I probably lack the right receptors in my brain to get the point of a book like this No doubt there are complex nuances of language or literature or philosophy or metaphor that simply whizzed over my head I m missing the point, I accept that But it was short, and I finished it, so I gave it two stars In future I shall leave Iris Murdoch to those better suited to appreciate the qualities of her writing. My first Iris Murdoch book and boy can she write beautifully I was transported into the book and lost myself in it For some reason, I have always been put off her writing because I thought it would be too cerebral and I would become bored but if this is anything to go by, I will be reading of her stuff.At 160 pages this can easily be read in one day. A Family Struggles For Redemption After A Funeral Brings Dark Secrets To The Surface In This Novel From The Man Booker Prize Winning Author Of The Sea, The SeaThe Funeral Of Edward S Mother Brings Him Home For The First Time In Years Though His Return Rekindles His Affection For His Childhood Home, It Also Triggers A Resurgence Of The Family Tensions That Caused Him To Leave In The First Place As Edward Becomes Tangled In His Family S Web Of Corrosive Secrets, His Homecoming Tips A Precariously Balanced Dynamic Into Sudden Chaos The Italian Girl Is Murdoch S Compelling Story Of A Man S Reunion With His Estranged Family, And Of The Tragedy That Shocks Them All Into Confronting Their Dark Past The Italian Girl is the eighth in the chronological readalong of Iris Murdoch s novels I m participating in and one that is reminiscent of several of her earlier novels including The Unicorn and A Severed Head Once again we have a collection of characters that are either thoroughly dislikable or unsympathetic, we have affairs, we have a teenager left to their own devices and its consequences, beautiful countryside, a country house, dramatic scenes and enchantment Edward, the narrator who arrives at the family home for the funeral of his mother Lydia, is an insipid, naive and moralistic man who denies he is judging the rest of the family while doing just that and whose behavior is, morally, no better than theirs his response to Flora, in particular, borders on incestuous Although Otto and Isabel, his brother and sister in law, are flawed fairytale like figures, Otto the hulking simple giant and Isabel the princess locked away in her castle like Hannah in The Unicorn, they are honest in giving in to and accepting their passions whereas Edward is hypocritical and uptight, especially at the beginning of the novel where he tries to distance himself from the family saying he is only a passer by Edward s own intimate relationships seem to have been pretty disastrous and he appears to view women as types Despite mourning at the fact that he wasn t brought up with religion, he has an often puritanical attitude to the behavior of others which is ironic seeing as they are expecting him to assess, liberate and heal them Edward s instinct is to shy away from emotion and pistol shots which are reminiscent of his controlling mother while Isabel, Otto and Flora all crave excitement and passion Eventually he too falls under some kind of spell that forces him to stay, yet is continually being shocked by everyone around him like some repressed priest, even women fighting makes him nauseated Although the title of the novel is The Italian girl, Maggie, who is the last in a line of Italian nannies for the brothers, seems to quietly inhabit the background of the novel, it is the other female characters who move across the emotional scale from one extreme to the other and fall victim to Edward s stereotypical views on women He describes Isabel as a distraught nymph and a harlot and David s sister Elsa as both beautiful as a veiled girl as, a sorceress and a prostitute and a greasy enchantress For the reader she reminds veiled, we don t get a sense of her like we do Flora or Isabel and she seems simply a catalyst for change in the novel Flora meanwhile is one of Murdoch s disturbed and neglected teenagers who flits in and out of the novel and has to fend for herself while her mother Isabel surrounds herself with possessions and fire as a form of self sacrifice or protection from Lydia and Otto Along with Elsa, these two are colorful and vibrant in their hair and their clothes while Maggie is plain and anonymous , only when her hair is cut like Samson, does she conversely gain power and a voice Apart from the four women and Edward, there are only two other characters, Otto who stands in stark contrast to Edward as a passionate and ID driven hulk with his stained clothes, animal like eating habits and persistent dreams of persecution, which provide moments of humor and David his apprentice who is a strange and creepy young man who calls Otto his Lord and seems one minute to be his Lords fool and another his pimp There are several dramatic scenes in the book which often occur in Murdoch novels, several of which involve the garden and the Henri Rousseau like jungle which I m sure whole essays could be written about There is a chase and several plans that fail, and Edward even manages to behave honorably and honestly by the end, apparently he has had his eyes opened to the realities of the world although the ending of the novel with him and Maggie has an almost fairytale element to it Although this novel isn t as entrenched in the gothic or fairy tale atmosphere of The Unicorn, there is the impression that Otto, Flora and Isabel were enchanted by David and his sister the changelings , who have taken the place of Lydia who had the entire household in her grip The novel seems over and done with very quickly this is one of Murdoch s shorter novels Lydia seems to have been thoroughly exorcised from the house and family, everyone is moving on with their lives as the veil has been lifted and the drama is over and although this is one of her slighter books, there is still that indelible Murdoch writing and the spot on characterization that makes this, though not one of the strongest of her books I ve read so far, still an enjoyable read Some Murdochian lines her face has aged in that imperceptible way, becoming yellower or greyer, as if a fine gauze of frowning and anxiety had been pressed upon it there are, I suppose, always for unhappy women many good reasons for bearing the devil they know rather than seeking the other one I felt for a second some sympathy with Otto s view that irony ought to be grounds for divorce.
Dame Jean Iris MurdochIrish born British writer, university lecturer and prolific and highly professional novelist, Iris Murdoch dealt with everyday ethical or moral issues, sometimes in the light of myths As a writer, she was a perfectionist who did not allow editors to change her text Murdoch produced 26 novels in 40 years, the last written while she was suffering from Alzheimer disease She w
- 176 pages
- The Italian Girl
- Iris Murdoch
- 01 July 2017 Iris Murdoch