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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Nice and the Good (1968) by Iris Murdoch

Book Review
The Nice and the Good (1968)
by Iris Murdoch

    So much Iris Murdoch on the 1001 Books list.  The Nice and the Good is her fourth novel on the list, following Under the Net (1954), The Bell (1958) and A Severed Head (1961).   As her excellent wikipedia entry says she is, "best known for her novels about good and evil, sexual relationships, morality, and the power of the unconscious."  She also fits the classic profile of an author who was over represented in the first edition of 1001 Books.   She landed six titles in that first edition, cut to four in the second edition.  The Nice and the Good was one of the two books to get the ax.

   That is a decision that makes sense to me.  My sense is that The Nice and the Good made the list in the first place because it represents a thematic departure for Murdoch.  The Nice and the Good is part relationship drama and part spy/detective novel.  It's almost like she had been reading a lot of Graham Greene right before she sat down to write this book.   The protagonist is called John Ducane or "Ducane," a 40ish single guy, carrying on a relationship with a young art teacher in London and a strange, platonic relationship with the wife of his best friend and boss.  Working for the government in London, a colleague mysteriously commits suicide.

   The investigation quickly leads to exotic topics like black mail and Satanism and The Nice and the Good even includes a brief appearance by a flying saucer.  All of this is essentially window dressing for what is at heart a classic Murdochian tale about "sexual relationships, morality and the power of the unconscious."  

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