The Bell

A long time ago I read the opening of Iris Murdoch’s novel The Sea, The Sea (1978), but something happened, and the book disappeared – or I did – before I came to the end of it.

The Bell (1958), which I have just put down, is therefore the first book by Murdoch that I have read, from first to last. My immediate comprehension of this novel is to see it as a mix of a farce and a moral tale – rather overwhelming, but not without charm. And it ends rather beautiful, in a cooled down last chapter where the main characters growth and development during the plot is presented in a calmer tone.

Here is a short presentation from Patrick Gale’s point of view:

As in most Murdoch novels, there’s an air of playful artificiality. On one level she knows a novel doesn’t matter – she writes for intelligent readers who should probably be doing better things with their time, like healing people or teaching Greek philosophy – and her dialogues exist on a bright, self-aware plane that’s not quite real, as though the characters were on stage. 

But on another level she’s writing about the only things that matter – love, goodness and how to be happy without hurting others – and, like her hero Plato, is using a seductively “easy” medium to bring us to deeper understanding.

Hm … , I must admit I really liked this novel, I might actually go and search for my old copy of The Sea, The Sea

9 Comments Add yours

  1. I’m glad you’re turning to Murdoch, I’m a mad mad mad fan. The Bell is among the favourites.

    1. Sigrun says:

      Which would you recommend me to read next?

      1. Black Prince, A Word Child, A Fairly Honourable Defeat, The Sea The Sea, her first Under the Net, any of those. Then if you hadn’t had enough, A Severed Head, The Time of the Angels, and on…

  2. I liked The Bell, but I cannot say I enjoyed A Word Child (though it was marvelously readable; I just didn’t like the plot). She revealed in several interviews how deeply she loved Dickens, and that’s evident in her characters and her plots with their mad coincidences. I think Murdoch was one of our most brilliant writers in English…and she doesn’t underestimate her readers. The reader has to want to work a bit at reading and puzzling, and be curious enough to enjoy the task Murdoch sets before us. Patrick Gale’s quote says as much–I agree with him!

    1. Sigrun says:

      I have just started reading Under the Net, it has a fantastic opening: funny, sarcastic and also a hint of melancholy. Really very good! Have you read it?

      1. No! I suppose I must…

  3. emilybooks says:

    Do read The Sea, The Sea! It’s so brilliant. I wrote about it here – – after a thrilling encounter with Jude Law, who, it transpires, is also a fan.

  4. laura morgan says:

    Dear Sigrun, I came across your post on The Sea, The Sea while doing a Google search about Iris Murdoch novels. I saw “Sub Rosa” and thought, “Hang on, I know this person” 🙂 So lovely to read your old archives and I’m stunned to think you’ve been blogging for four years. I only hope I have your staying power! Best regards, Laura

    1. Sigrun says:

      Thank you so much, Laura. I don’t think I ever thought about the future when writing my blog, it just feels very interesting in the moment. But really great to hear that some of “the old stuff” still can be of interest …
      Love, Sigrun

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