Saturday 6 December 2008

The Book and the Brotherhood

One of life's great delights is, for me, a good book. I hope to goodness that I never lose the joy in opening a new unread book - the smell of the pages, the feel of the paper, the look of the cover and most of all that delicious anticipation of stories and voices as yet untold and unheard...

At the moment I am nearing the end of my first "non-compulsory" read after the academic year officially ended in November. I've been reading Iris Murdoch's The Book and the Brotherhood. It was published in 1987, one of her later books although not her last. It was shortlisted for the 1987 Booker Prize, won by Penelope Lively for her novel Moon Tiger. It is, according to Wikipedia, considered to be her best novel. I can't really argue with that - I'm thoroughly enjoying it.

Personally I prefer to read something a bit more challenging. I love having a solid piece of literature to chew on rather than something lighter, fluffier, forgettable. It's the difference between a piece of good quality whole grain bread and a sandwich slice of cheap white bread. It's just more satisfying and fills you up for longer. Occasionally, of course, you just fancy a slice of something lighter. And of course, some people are white bread fans. Nothing wrong with that at all, I'm just expressing personal preference - so long as people are reading at all, the world is going to be OK.

Given that I'm only on page 445 of 600, I'm hardly in a position to be giving any account of this book as yet. I can, however, express that this is indeed a fantastic book. It is of the wholegrain variety - those who don't enjoy chewing might not thank me for recommending this kind of book to them - and even I'm finding that it is taking a good amount of time to complete. Normally I can rip through a book at a cracking pace but this one has slowed me down. It's not overly dense or hard going (although a knowlegde of philosophy, ancient history and literature will surely serve you well), I think it's more a function of the detailed characterisation and scene setting. You can't skip anything - every word adds value.

A few things I have noticed about Iris Murdoch's writing is that she is a Master of juggling a large number of characters on the pages - the lives and exploits of whom interweave into a fine web of intrigue which forms the basis for her plot. There seems to be a good vs evil structure, although the good is not entirely 'good' and the evil normally has some redeemable qualities. The two rivals in TBATB seems to be Duncan Cambus and David Crimond (sharing the same initials - surely intentional) with Duncan in the corner for Good and Crimond in the corner for Evil. At present there is a build up to what I imagine will be a final showdown between them both, which, gven their history, is likely to be explosive and have some dire consequences for one or the other.

In any case. I shall continue reading and post some more comment when I have finished.

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