***Group Read, October 2013: The Bell by Iris Murdoch
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Anyone else reading yet?
I'm looking forward to more books by Murdoch and will be around for more discussion about this one.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
I read through all the reviews on Amazon and nobody seemed as bothered about this as I am!
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!
Anyway, I enjoyed this novel. 3.5/5