***Group Read, October 2013: The Bell by Iris Murdoch

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***Group Read, October 2013: The Bell by Iris Murdoch

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okt 4, 2013, 9:12 am

I started The Bell yesterday and am finding it a page turner. I have absolutely no idea what to expect as I know nothing about the book or author except that it's on the 1001 books list. So far I'm finding the book a little creepy (it has a Daphne DuMaurier's Rebecca feel to me), though I'm so early in the book that it could also go a completely different direction. Curious to see!

Anyone else reading yet?

okt 4, 2013, 7:26 pm

Planning to start as soon as I finish my current book. I've read three other Murdoch books and liked them all... hoping to continue the trend with this one!

Redigeret: okt 8, 2013, 9:14 am

Am enjoying this book, though only 50 pages in. At first the writing style seemed so strange, so resolutely un-modern, all telling and no showing. Then I realized that it was similar in style, tone, themes, and even characterization, to the very favorite book of my childhood which I think was written in the same year (1958?). Although I expect that it will eventually take a more complex turn, at the moment I am enjoying The Bell as a kind of adult return to the world of End of Term! I like how wifty (but not wifely) the main character is, losing her shoes as well as all her husband's hat.

okt 7, 2013, 11:49 am

I just finished it. I know what you mean about the straight ahead writing style. I was impressed with the complexity of relationships presented later in the book, though I thought Dora's development was a little too neatly tied up.

I'm looking forward to more books by Murdoch and will be around for more discussion about this one.

okt 8, 2013, 2:55 am

Started reading today on my Kindle.

okt 9, 2013, 4:17 pm

I just finished Under the Net also by Iris Murdoch. It was an easy read, a page turner, and rather farsical. I am just starting The Bell.

As #1 said, I was totally unfamiliar with Iris until this moment. I was surprised by Under the Net and I am intrigued by The Bell.

Redigeret: okt 9, 2013, 11:41 pm

A thought about this book. What was it with the English and Catholicism in the 1930s-1950s or so? I ask this as an honest question. Was something going on? Because you don't hear a lot about the Catholics in books from the 19th century, or the early 20th. And then in these decades you have Graham Greene and Muriel Spark and Antonia White and clearly Iris Murdoch (plus my favorite children's author in the same years) really fascinated by Catholicism, conversion, nuns, and what have you.
OK, these people are supposedly Anglican but -- Anglican Benedictine nuns in a completely closed convent, who say mass in Latin?
I can't tell what is going on with Catherine and Nick. At this point I am a bit puzzled.
Another thing that is puzzling me here is the lay-out of the place. There is so much description and yet I wish there were a map or something to get me oriented. It seems as if the geography of the site is very important to Murdoch but I'm having trouble following her descriptions.

okt 10, 2013, 9:43 am

annamorphic - I'm not sure about the Catholic question, but I'm definitely interested in any responses. I haven't read enough from british authors in that time period to have noticed the trend.

The drama between Catherine and Nick becomes clearer at the end, but I still thought it was a bit muddled and not built up in the story as well as it could have been. That will be a discussion for when we're all done so as not to give away any plot!

I agree that a map would have been a nice addition.

okt 12, 2013, 5:13 am

I finished it last night. It was a much easier read than The Sea, The Sea, but I am not sure what to think of it. I didn't feel drawn into the story at all, yet I enjoyed it and thought it was well-written.

It was my second Murdoch and I read some reviews complaining about her "repetitiveness". I saw some similarities between this one and TSTS although the plots are much different. It is obvious that The Bell was written much earlier, there are ideas of individualism, personal liberation vs. tradition, etc. which must have been still new at that time, at least in more traditional circles. The question if a wife should stay with a possibly violent aggressive husband is viewed from different angles in both books.
Then there's again water, youth, youth in the water... I wonder if I will meet those images also in other Murdoch books.

I found the religious part confusing as well. At first I thought I had missed a mention that Paul was Catholic. Closed convents, crossing yourself, mass in Latin - I'd always thought those elements were strictly Catholic.

okt 12, 2013, 8:54 am

Deern: I've also read that Murdoch's books get repetitive.... and it's funny to me because that's been the opposite of what I've found. Granted, I've only read three of her books-- The Sea, The Sea, Under the Net, and The Black Prince-- and have been impressed by how different they were in terms of both voice and story. Maybe I just haven't read enough of her work yet to see it.

I'm just starting on The Bell today and was interested to read that it has similarities to The Sea, The Sea, which I adored and would say was my favorite Murdoch so far.

okt 12, 2013, 1:27 pm

I am sort of stunned by the Michael/Nick backstory. On the one hand the voice it's recounted in is completely 1950s and on the other the subject matter seems so contemporary.

The whole book is reminding me of the amazing children's writer William Mayne, especially A Swarm in May which I notice was written just a few years before Murdoch's book. It's set in a Cathedral school and brings me back to this fascination with religion and the religious life, whether actually or only inclinationally Catholic.

okt 15, 2013, 1:06 pm

Is anybody else still reading this? Can we discuss with spoilers? Because there are a lot of unexpected twists in this plot! I'm about 2/3 though and am really enjoying it.

okt 15, 2013, 8:53 pm

I'm ready to discuss whenever!

Redigeret: okt 16, 2013, 7:34 am

I finished the book today, so I'm also ready to discuss it too. Overall, I enjoyed it.

okt 16, 2013, 10:52 pm

I had just read Disgrace before this which is also about an older man who has become involved with a student. I find Murdoch's depiction of this infinitely more nuanced and subtle. It is in fact so subtle that I cannot, at this point, figure Nick out -- is he a victim, or is he a manipulator? I know how Michael feels about him but I don't know if his feelings are misguided. And I think this is great! Situations like this are rarely as obvious as the one Coetzee gives us. I'm impressed by Murdoch's ability, as a female author, to give us the viewpoints of both Michael and Toby. Toby strikes me as slightly implausible -- a kind of creation of the 1950s -- but maybe he was more plausible in that period.

okt 17, 2013, 9:50 am

I was also confused by Nick, but even more so by Catherine. When you're done with the book, I'd like to discuss that.

I also thought Toby was a bit implausible, but when I consider the book was written by a woman in the 1950s, I actually think the whole story was handled with a lot of truth and also daring.

okt 19, 2013, 11:00 am

I am done with the book and I too am still confused by Nick. Is he supposed to be Michael's victim or is he a psychopath? Honestly, why does Michael love him and read his actions as revenge? Was Nick just there looking for Michael's love, as Michael thinks at the end? It seems so, so unlikely.

I have a feeling that Murdoch had an answer here about which she failed to be clear. I read an interview with her where she said that she hadn't intended Paul to be so awful; that is, I think she meant Dora's leaving of him not to seem like an unambiguously good thing. So what did she mean with Nick? His sister is mentally unbalanced and apparently he has been too; but is this in any way Michael's fault?

okt 19, 2013, 1:15 pm

Well, Michael certainly has some guilt about his relationship with Nick. I found it hard to decipher how much of it was simply guilt about being homosexual vs. how much of it was guilt about it being an abusive relationship. I seem to remember at least one instance where Michael's thoughts led me to believe Nick had been a child when their relationship started. If so, how does Catherine fit in? Did she not understand Michael's preferences? I found the whole thing rather confusing.

okt 19, 2013, 3:25 pm

IIRC, Nick was a teen-ager, maybe 16 or something when this happened, and I think Michael remembers Nick as being deliberately flirtatious. Not that this excuses Michael, it's more complicated than that. Does he even remember correctly? Or is he trying to excuse himself because he feels so guilty? Did he in some sense mess Nick up, or was Nick already a mess and was he manipulating Michael from the beginning, as teen-aged boys are perfectly capable of doing? The question continues with how Catherine ever got obsessed with Michael, and what was actually her relationship with Nick? Has Nick just been finding ways to torment Michael all along -- and did this begin before their original relationship (which was barely an affair at all) or was it the relationship that caused his desire to hurt Michael?

I read through all the reviews on Amazon and nobody seemed as bothered about this as I am!

okt 21, 2013, 5:13 am

Started the Group Read at last. I'm about half way through - some interesting personalities and I'm interested to see where this all heads. I've read some later Murdochs on the list and events in those tend to spiral out of control so I assume there will be increasing drama.

Like others mentioned I find it hard to follow the geography of the place even though Murdoch describes it in detail - the Abbey, the Court, the lake, the walls are confusingly situated to my mind. As two others have mentioned this also, I'm wondering whether Murdoch was using this as a deliberate devise to reflect the confusion in the lives of the residents. Or maybe I'm just being thick!

okt 22, 2013, 4:06 pm

Finished the book this morning. After a slow start I found it to be a bit of a page-turner. Some of the relationships could have been explored more (e.g. "the Marks") and as others have said Catherine's motivations are left largely to the readers speculation as she is silent for most of the book before bursting dramatically into the foreground.

Anyway, I enjoyed this novel. 3.5/5