Murdoch met but not mastered

I think I may have mentioned here that some years ago I set myself the task of reading all twenty-six of Iris Murdoch’s novels in the order they were published. I recently completed that journey by finishing Jackson’s Dilemma (for the second time). I could search my paper journals to find the date I began this ambition, but suffice to say that I’ve been at it for the better part of a decade.

I hadn’t started reading her novels in sequence. I’d started with The Sea, The Sea, which had won her the Booker Prize. And then I’d read Jackson’s Dilemma for the first time. Somewhere in there I’d picked up The Sacred and Profane Love Machine. And my book discussion group took up two of her novels (as a favor to me, I think), before I settled into the plan. (When I came to the already-read novels, I read them again.)

I’ve always been fascinated and impressed by the fact that many people have devoted their professional careers (and even their whole adult lives) to understanding novels like Moby Dick. I respect the rigor and focus, and perhaps most of all, the purpose this gives such serious people. And so I decided I would devote myself to understanding the fiction of Iris Murdoch. (She’s also written a number of books about philosophy, and I’ve read one — and even understood parts of it — but I think that would be spreading myself a little too thin. Okay, a lot too thin.) I don’t expect to become a respected scholar who will publish insightful exegeses of her stories. I’m really only doing this for personal satisfaction and to keep myself out of the bars.

Although I got some of her novels from the library, through the years I had probably owned most of them, at least while I was reading them. But I eventually gave those away. (You will know from some of my older posts here that I donate my finished books to an underfunded rural library.) It was only late in the twenty-six novel read through that I realized I wanted to be a student of her works, so it was only in the last year or so that I began keeping my copies of her novels. I think that amounts to five of them. Thus I need to rebuild my collection.

And so I’m going to buy her first novel, Under the Net, now. And what will I do with it. Why read it again, of course. I think I’m on that twenty-six stop journey again. (Plus there are quite a few nonfiction works about Iris Murdoch and her novels. I’m rubbing my hands together with glee.)

Do you do anything like this? Or maybe you’re thinking that I need to get my medication adjusted.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Ramblings Off Topic, Rants and ruminations

3 Comments on “Murdoch met but not mastered”

  1. Averil Dean Says:

    I do read everything I can find by the authors I love. (No, I’m not going to tell you who they are, since you’re being all highbrow with the Iris Murdoch collection.) But that’s just me as a reader seeking entertainment, not with any intention of making a study of an author’s body of work. Maybe I should, though. If it will keep me out of the bars. . .

  2. Annam Says:

    Off topic — don’t know if you know that Amazon has opened up their breakthrough novel award for this year. So if your novel is in good shape, I’d definitely enter!

  3. Sonje Says:

    An experiment like this probably works best with a closed canon: the author is dead. I can’t say that I *love* many books written by dead authors. My favorite American author is John Irving, and I have read all of his books–and I own them all–and after he dies, I could see undertaking such an endeavor.

    I have meticulously bought all of Ali Smith’s novels since I fell in love with her first, “Like,” but I have to admit that her more recent work has been (in my opinion) de-emphasizing plot in exchange for “voice,” and…. I have to be in the mood for that and… I haven’t been. Maybe someday.

    I’m not ashamed to admit to my lowbrow obsessive reading, so I will talk about the Harry Potter series. I have read this series from book one to book seven probably five times now. For my birthday present this past fall, my partner bought me the British edition of the series, and I’m looking forward to reading that. Since I am currently working on a series, reading Rowling’s has been very valuable, and as I know the series so well, I can see where she lays clues, sometimes two or three books before they bear fruit. It’s also interesting seeing how much she changed about the world she created after book #1 which has many inconsistencies with the rest of the series. This is one of the reasons I’ve been determined to write all four books of my series before publishing any of them.


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