Cecily's book reviews

In general I've written reviews of every book I've read since I joined GoodReads (RIP) in May 08, along with one or two I read prior to that. More recent reviews tend to be longer (sometimes a tad too long?). I always carry a book, though I don't get as much time as I'd like to get engrossed - life is busy, but in a good way. Too many of my favourite authors died without writing enough! Apart from reading, and writing about reading, I enjoy Scrabble, good restaurants, woodland, and attending the theatre.

The Italian Girl

The Italian Girl - Iris Murdoch 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.

Currently reading

The Illustrated Gormenghast Trilogy
Sebastian Peake, China MiƩville, Mervyn Peake
Gormenghast
Mervyn Peake