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Monday, July 25, 2016

The Black Prince (1972) by Iris Murdoch

Book Review
The Black Prince (1972)
 by Iris Murdoch

  Iris Murdoch isn't an author I associate with post-modernism or metafictional technique, but there is no other way to describe her 1972 novel, The Black Prince, which combines traditional Murdochian themes:  sex, betrayal and psychology with un-Murdochian strategies like an unreliable narrator and four postscripts where several of the major characters weigh in with their thoughts on the events of the novel.

  Bradley Pearson is the narrator, we are told early on that he has written the manuscript from a prison cell, where he is serving a sentence for murder.  Pearson interrupts the narrative at several points to speak directly to the reader.  It's a technique familiar enough to any 21st century reader, but not something you expect from Iris Murdoch, who is known more for thematic creativity than invention in her narrative technique.

 Pearson is an unsuccessful writer and full-time agent, recently retired, so that he can focus on writing what he feels to be his "great novel."  In the opening chapters, he is packing his bags and getting ready to head on an extended holiday.  Fate intervenes in the form of his miserable sister, who has left her husband and appears near suicidal.  Her arrival is compounded by the arrival of his hated ex-wife, her brother, looking for help from Pearson to ingratiate himself with his sister and the continuous presence of Arnold Baffin, Pearson's frenemy- a more successful author, his unhappy wife Rachel and their 20 year old daughter Julian.

 Readers with even a cursory understanding of Murdoch know what to expect, furtive, unsatisfying sex, allegations of homosexuality, and complicated human emotions.  Murdoch does not disappoint, and when it was published, The Black Prince was hailed as her best book in a decade.

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