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The Unicorn

3.65 of 5 stars 3.65  ·  rating details  ·  1,251 ratings  ·  105 reviews
When Marian Taylor takes a post as governess at Gaze Castle, a remote house on a desolate coast, she finds herself confronted with a number of weird mysteries and involved in a drama she only partly understands.
Paperback, 269 pages
Published January 6th 1987 by Penguin Books (first published 1963)
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The Sea, the Sea by Iris MurdochThe Bell by Iris MurdochThe Black Prince by Iris MurdochA Severed Head by Iris MurdochUnder the Net by Iris Murdoch
Best of Iris Murdoch
6th out of 29 books — 35 voters
Pride and Prejudice by Jane AustenTo Kill a Mockingbird by Harper LeeJane Eyre by Charlotte BrontëWuthering Heights by Emily BrontëMrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
Great Women Authors
189th out of 667 books — 131 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,217)
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Rachel Hartman
I love this book so much, but don't know what to make of it at all. It really is very like a unicorn itself: you try to explain it and you just sound crazy. How seriously should you take it? And yet is it not the very most serious thing that ever was?

This is my first Murdoch. I'm reading her because I read an interesting article recently that suggested that she and I have some overlapping ideas about morality. Reading this book, I suspect it's more than that. We have some overlapping and interse...more
The Hermit
Feb 06, 2010 The Hermit rated it 1 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Nobody
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
I couldn't put this one down - read it all Thanksgiving weekend. I'm kicking myself for not picking up Murdoch until now. She's a genius!! Heck, who can deny an author w/ a unifying theme across her works? She's similar to D.H. Lawrence in this respect (or Ayn Rand or Walker Percy); according to a paper I read, Murdoch is a follower of Plato (and a rejector of many Freudian theories), and there are many references to both Plato and Freud in this book. She's especially interested in morality, in...more
The Unicorn by Iris Murdoch (1963)

“Everyone here is involved in guilt.”

The Unicorn is the first novel by Iris Murdoch that I have read. The narrative weaves in elements of the Gothic, the allegorical, and the mythical, and it does so within the framework of suspense. There’s a lot going on in this novel, and by the end, Murdoch leaves it up to the reader to determine what it all means. Some readers will be frustrated by Murdoch’s ambiguity and that the meaning of the story is open to a wide vari...more
Helen Kitson
It's hard to know how seriously to take this deeply Gothic novel, and I'm still not sure if Murdoch's novel is meant to be read 'straight' or slightly tongue in cheek. Her characters often behave in bizarre, excessive ways, but they go a few steps further in this novel. Characters like sinister Violet Evercreech are like something out of Cold Comfort Farm and impossible to take at all seriously.

The central puzzle is whether Hannah is really a prisoner, or simply frightened to leave her home. The...more
Cindy C
My theory is that anyone who reads this novel without first seeing the name of the author, would recognise just how bad it is.

Did anyone get anything out of this book about power, guilt or captivity? This book failed not only in capturing truth about any of these subjects, but also in producing convincing character studies. Marian is a husk, and while Effingham is more complicated, the author doesn't place him in a setting where his character can be examined.

The second half of the book dissolve...more
Moira Russell
Jun 19, 2013 Moira Russell marked it as to-read
You gotta love the seventies. The blurb on the back of my used Avon paperback:

"ONLY IRIS MURDOCH" (in super-ugly font) "could combine the popular Gothic tale with modern psychological insights to make a story which terrifies as it reveals the secret agonies of desire. In this remarkable novel, a young woman takes a governess' position because she is intrigued by the name of Castle Gaze. As she probes the" (what are secrets?*) "dark secrets of the castle's" (what are the residents?) "tortured res...more
I hadn´t borrowed a book for yonks! A friend was reading Iris Murdoch in the school playground while we were waiting for the kids, and when I mentioned I had never read any of her books, she lent me this one. It is an old dog-eared copy: I cannot find the edition in goodreads. It appears she has read it several times: she noted the years on the flyleaf.
I remember reading books like this one when I was a teenager. Lots of names come to mind. Marguerite Duras. Milan Kundera. Herman Hesse. Miguel d...more
I ended up in the Iris Murdoch section of the library quite by accident, and her name was so familiar to me but I couldn't think of much of anything about her, so I decided to give one of her books a try. I picked The Unicorn because it was small enough to carry with me back and forth on the train and because the one-sentence synopsis pasted inside the otherwise completely blank cover sounded interesting enough: "A London girl, hired as a companion and tutor, attempts to rescue her mistress who...more
Доста ме обърква Мърдок и макар че нямам почти никакъв опит с нейните романи, в известна степен се повториха усещанията ми от "Италианското момиче". Смесването на мистицизъм, философия, самоанализ, наблюдение, истина и измислица е опасна плоскост, в която - мисля си - мярката е онова, което липсва на "Еднорогът".
Интересно е рамкирането на действието. Сюжетът започва с пристигането в ново, непознато, любопитно пространство и приключва с напускането му. Историята обаче, започва много по-рано и дей...more
When Marian heads out to Gaze Castle to work, she assumes she will be teaching children. When she arrives, however, she finds that she is going to be a companion to the young woman of the household, Hannah. Marian quickly sees that there is something very odd going on at the castle.

The start of the book actually really drew me in. It felt a bit creepy, kind of gothic, and I was curious to find out what was going on. But, the execution of the book fell a little flat for me. I think I wasn't as i...more
Like a mix of PG Wodehouse and English country house mystery on West End stage, with religious symbolism (unicorn=purity) thrown in. Unsettlingly creepy, but subtle and thought-provoking.

This review isn’t going to be long, as I finished this book a few weeks ago and never got around to writing the review. Perhaps because I thought I couldn’t do it justice, because I wasn’t sure I would be able to properly explain why I am rating it 5 stars.

I guess, simplest answer, is that it had almost everything I like in a novel; desolate setting, weird characters, tragedy/tragic romance, and it makes you think about it when you’re done. This novel, just from the title evokes symbolism and t...more
Nov 08, 2012 Kathy rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2012
Excuse me, Ms. Murdoch, but your philosophy slip is showing :-) I found this slim novel pretty delightful, although I’m pretty sure I didn’t really understand a lot of the existential philosophy getting bandied about. However, that didn’t detract at all from the storyline for me—I knew it was making my poor brain work a little harder to find clarity.

Murdoch has created quite the allegorical and mythological gothic story, full of allusions to unicorns, vampires, mermaids, Maid Marian, Christ, a c...more
About 3/4rd through this book, I would've written a raving review bursting with exclamation marks and superlatives. However, the tragic occurrences and incidents just kept piling up and started to flood the pages, spilling across the paper, nearly drowning the reader in their (melo)drama. Although I appreciate the death of one of your characters as a dramatic tool, it can also be quite exhausting (and even tedious!) for the reader to have nearly each chapter introduce a new death. Nevertheless,...more
Phew, I finally made it to the very last page! But, honestly speaking, I don't know what to make of it, really. At the beginning I really enjoyed reading this book and felt utterly mesmerised by its Gothic setting and mysterious plot, but the further I got the less I understood (or so it felt) and the more annoyed I became with the main characters' erratic and inadequate behavior. The book left too many questions and not a single answer or at least a clue! At one point it felt as if I could neve...more
Sangita Mazumder
This book is perfectly named, after the Unicorn - a mythical creature symbolizing deep spiritual and philosophical theories; something that makes perfect sense when you feel it but seems too surreal when you try to talk about it. A treat for classic Gothic/horror lovers, although it's not a book for everyone. There are disturbing characters, confused some of them, and they manage to leave a mark at the end. The central character of Hanna seemed to be a misunderstood angel, though at some point s...more
Billy Kelly
The first two thirds of the book are intriguing and there is the exact minimum amount of action and revelations that will just about keep you interested. This section passes as an interesting read, which is why i have given 2 stars.

However, you are left feeling as though something is about to happen, though little in fact ever does. We are left with unanswered questions and disappointment.

The book tries to make the reader contemplate morality and other elements of philosophy, but is on the whole...more
If claustrophobic Gothic lit is your bag, then quickly to the nearest book dealer! If not, you might want to come for the lush details for which Murdoch is well known.

I still have to rate The Sea, The Sea higher based on my feeling that it was better written. The first two parts were creepy suspenseful, a real page turner. Unfortunately, the last part felt incredibly rushed and forced, as if Murdoch just wanted to be done with the story or distracted by something else.

Not the first Murdoch I wou...more
This was supposed to be a sort of ghost story, I think? Love and longing and misconception and a literal lady locked in a tower and metaphor all over the place and mystery and a young woman! traveling! who encounters a strange village! annnnnnnnnnd whoops, everybody dies!
Whatever. It did not rise and it did not converge. The characters were despicable -- in a dull way -- and the mysteries were nowhere near mysterious, and it was a hot mess. I don't even KNOW.
i can't say i loved it but i will say i read it months ago, and it has stayed with me. while i read it, it haunted me. yes, the characters are for the most part preposterous, and yet... i love the old professor.


it's now been years, and it's still haunting me. i think i will re-read this again in 2013, and re-assess -- i suspect it will receive a higher rating now that i have a better understanding of murdoch's writing.
Very few books combine psychological insight, an understanding of both external social interactions and the internal mechanics of emotion, and metaphysics / existential philosophy. This one does it, is equally strong in all of the above arenas, and is well-written on top of all that. Shallow readers will be bored. Those who are patient and receptive to these things will be captivated. A real thinker's book.
This was a perfect vacation book: a gothic novel on the soppy peaty moors that just starts out as a mystery and turns outrageous when you find out everyone has slept with each other. And then comes the body count. Wow, Iris Murdoch, this was something.
Kate recommended this one to me as a starter Iris Mudoch. So far, I'm really enjoying it.

In the end, I'm glad I read it, but I'm not sure I'm in an Iris Murdoch place in my life right now.
Laura Leidner
For a book called the Unicorn, there was nary a unicorn and that was quite disappointing. Of course, the unicorn is the allegory for Hannah, a very mysterious spiritual character who also happens to be murderous/suicidal. I was not into the Plato tangents, but i did love the description of the bog, castle and a desolate Scottish-ish landscape. The best scene, which in some ways is worth reading the whole book for, was when Effingham has a terrifying experience getting lost and stuck in the bog.

Kristín Vilhjálmsdóttir
The suspense was killing me, couldn't put it down. Superb storytelling.
Dice en el prólogo que El Unicornio es la novela menos representativa del estilo de su autora así que probablemente no haya sido una buena idea escogerla como mi primera lectura de Iris Murdoch. La verdad es que su forma de escribir me ha gustado, describe las cosas tan bien que es facilísimo meterse en la historia. Y eso que la historia es bastante peculiar; me ha quedado la sensación de que no he llegado a entenderla del todo, o puede que no haya mucho que entender y no sea más que un homenaje...more
The last 50 or so pages was just an absolute slaughter.
May 14, 2008 Anselm added it
Crikey. I have no idea how to rate this.
Damned weird. Yet strangely compelling.
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Goodreads Librari...: New edition not added 3 13 Apr 07, 2014 01:47AM  
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Dame Jean Iris Murdoch

Irish-born British writer, university lecturer and prolific and highly professional novelist, Iris Murdoch dealt with everyday ethical or moral issues, sometimes in the light of myths. As a writer, she was a perfectionist who did not allow editors to change her text. Murdoch produced 26 novels in 40 years, the last written while she was suffering from Alzheimer disease.

"She w...more
More about Iris Murdoch...
The Sea, the Sea Under the Net The Bell A Severed Head The Black Prince

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