Monday, 23 August 2010

The Philosopher's Pupil by Iris Murdoch

Of the 20 or so major characters in Iris Murdoch's weighty new novel, the most closely described and, in a sense, most influential is a town. Ennistone, a smallish spa in southern England, is an appropriately beguiling place. Its hot baths provide a meeting place on Staturdays where people go to swim. Here one may encounter a virtuous Quaker or a doubting priest; a young bisexual in love or a world famous philosopher; an enchanted nymphet, an ageing courtesan or a gifted counter-tenor. Ennistone is big enough to have suburbs yet small enough for all its citizens to know each other. It is both idealised and mythic, and it bears no relation whatever to a real English provincial town which, as we know, is full of Tescos and car parks and people saying "Cheers".
At the centre of it is the McCaffrey family, all of whom we come to know closely, from the eldest of three brothers, George, a man driven by demons, down to his nephew's small dog; and even the dog, Zed, is characterised and given one brave little scene himself. The catalyst of events in Ennistone is John Robert Rozanov, a philosopher of international reknown who returns to his old home town with his granddaughter........

To read the rest of this excellent review by Sebastian Faulks you should buy the May, 1983 issue of "Books and Bookmen".