Nuns and Soldiers
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Nuns and Soldiers

3.89 of 5 stars 3.89  ·  rating details  ·  365 ratings  ·  27 reviews
Set in London and in the South of France, this brilliantly structured novel centers on two women: Gertrude Openshaw, bereft from the recent death of her husband, yet awakening to passion; and Anne Cavidge, who has returned in doubt from many years in a nunnery, only to encounter her personal Christ. A fascinating array of men and women hover in urgent orbit around them: th...more
Paperback, 512 pages
Published 1981 by Penguin Books (first published 1980)
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I find Iris Murdoch novels as hard to keep separated in my head as Bond movies. Usually, though, there is at least one memorable incident which I clearly associate with the book.

Here, the scene I remember involves Gertrude and the odd, slightly geeky character that everyone calls the Count. Gertrude asks him whether he'd like to play chess. She's a complete beginner. He's very good, though she isn't aware of this. She's surprised when he refuses. "Why not?" she asks. He says, "Because it would b...more
The reviews on the bookjacket said this novel was about deceptions- deliberate and unconscious, inward and outward, but I felt it was more about the very different impulses that motivate people, paradoxically and overlapping, and an exploration of how four fundementally decent people attempt to navigate and make sense of the mysterious, inexplicable things that motivate them. And Iris Murdoch writes some exceptional sentences.
I first read this novel when I was in art school from the pov of a young budding artist. I am now enjoying it from an entirely different pov as an accomplished artist faced by the pains and struggle of social etiquette. Iris Murdoch is a relationship writer, sort of like Jane Austen, but British, semi-modern, I would also compare her human insights on feminine issues to those of Erica Jong, albeit more tame, almost in spite of her British modality. I really enjoy the picaresque descriptive writi...more
When I finally reached the end of Nuns and Soldiers, all I felt was relief. I took quite a bit of time to make it to the end, 6 weeks. The book is very much Iris Murdoch, examining the philosophy of life, love, religion.

The story's central figure, Gertrude went through her own personal turmoil, falling in love with a being who was considered to be morally and socially inferior after the passing of her husband. The web of lies spun, deceits thrown and emotional upheavals of the characters around...more
Simon Mcleish
Originally published on my blog here in April 2005.

The Sea, the Sea is one of my favourite Murdoch novels and one of her most famous; its follow-up is much less well known. It doesn't quite equal its predecessor, but it is well worth reading, more so than her later novels.

Nuns and Soldiers begins on a deathbed; Guy Openshaw tells his wife that she should marry again. She is reluctant to do this, feeling that it would be a betrayal, but then, quite soon after Guy's death, Gertrude falls unexpecte...more
Certainly, a gripping story, with its typical Murdochian twists and turns; its intriguing, romantic, intertwined, magical, and intellectual plot that make it the more entertaining and exciting. For Murdoch’s books are unforgiving, just like their creator: you either love them or hate them, no shades of grey in between. What can one say after reading Nuns and Soldiers—a novel humming (or rather screaming) with ideas that become larger than the characters themselves— that hasn’t been said of her o...more
Nathan James
Sep 20, 2010 Nathan James rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Nathan by: Steve
Shelves: 2010
My jury is still out on this one. Honestly, I'm not sure if I really liked it or really hated it.


The unrequited love story lines felt genuine. But there were instances where I didn't fully understand a character's motivations: Gertrude and Tim's break-up and their lack of communication, Manfred and Veronica's doings at the end there, pretty much anything Gertrude did of her own volition.

I didn't care as much for the characters individually as I did for their relationships. The...more
Allison P
Aug 23, 2014 Allison P rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Allison by: Lorry
Interestingly written. The characters' motives were intriguing. The plot line was unique. I got bogged down by the author's penchant for backtracking, however. I am a very easily distracted reader. So I had a hard time following the lines of thought, and kept looking back to see if I had missed something, but I hadn't.
Nuns and Soldiers is the latest book to be tackled by us Murdoch a monthians - (or every other monthians as we are now). I enjoyed it very much, however it doesn't quite have the impact and scope of The Sea, the sea, which we last read. A good many familiar Murdoch themes are present in this novel, goodness, religion, philosophy among them, there are some complicated relationships and motivations among the characters. What is fascinating with IM is how often those characters who you imagine woul...more
I love Iris Murdoch. I am working my way through her entire catalog.

A novel of two women: Gertrude Openshaw, bereft from the recent death of her husband, yet awakening to passion; and Anne Cavidge, who has returned in doubt from many years in a nunnery, only to encounter her personal Christ. A fascinating array of men and women hover in urgent orbit around them: the "Count," a lonely Pole obsessively reliving his émigré father's patriotic anguish; Tim Reede, a seedy yet appealing artist, and Da...more
Faith Bradham
Ahhh, I didn't really like this one. I don't know why I'm even giving it 3 stars ... maybe because I feel like it should deserve 3 stars but I'm too uncharitable to give it that many? Whatever.
The main reason I didn't like Nuns and Soldiers was that I hated the ending. Ugh, what a horrible ending. It made me hate everyone; I ended up not liking any of the characters ... except maybe Manfred, which is so weird, because I didn't like him at all until the end. Even the Count lost his charm for me....more
Lacks a convincing intellectual core crucial to her large, later works and untethered from a strong central theme, drifts into rambling melodrama. Very well written and cleverly structured melodrama and certainly entertaining, but ultimately, barren, unsatisfactory.

Redeeming quote:
We are all the judges and the judged, victims of the casual malice and fantasy of others, and ready sources of fantasy and malice in our turn. And if we are sometimes accused of sins of which we are innocent, are ther...more
I once characterized the typical Iris Murdoch plot as A loves B, who is involved with C, who wants to give his/her life to a Great Ideal.

Well, that's symplistic, of course. But I love Murdoch nonetheless, even though reading all her novels in the space of a summer of romance (I being in love with A, who loved B, and so on) I did find myself making bets with myself as to which page the black dog would appear upon, and where the stones would figure. She's unique. You will love her or you will be w...more
Early on in Nuns and Soldiers, one character reminds another that it is their duty to resist despair. I actually was taken aback at that. Of all the reasons to resist despair somehow duty had never presented itself to me. And I'll tell you: it sounded good. There is something so appealing about that kind of simple moral authority. Unfortunately for our ability to gain consolation, but fortunately, I guess, for the quality of the novel, things don't remain so simple.
Lauren Albert
Like another reviewer said, it is easy for Murdoch's books to blend together. I was thinking about it last night--a Murdoch novel is a thinking person's melodrama. But the melodrama can start to wear on one after reading a lot of her books. I still think that everyone should give her books a try--I loved them all the first time I read them 20 years ago. Perhaps I have just overdosed?
It is clearly the year of Iris Murdoch in my fiction reading. I really liked this book. I'm realising I enjoy reading Murdoch because her novels rattle along like a soap-opera peopled by extremely intelligent/interesting/attractive characters with a generally very human and intriguing tale. However you always come away with a greater understanding of the human condition.
I'd read plenty of Murdoch books before but this one was a little slow to get going but after a chapter or so I really couldn't put it down. The all-pervasive spectre of the dying husband and the other eccentric characters make it especially memorable and Nuns and Soldiers is now one of my favourite novels of Murdochs. It may even have to be in my 'desert island books' list!
Took me a few try's to start this one, but Iris did not disappoint. Starting with a scene what I thought at first was in a hospital, but actually a Winter's evening at Guy's Home.Guy not having long to live starts off the read with philosophical meanderings, but soon moves quickly into the story of many loves in many directions.
Iris is one author I wish were still alive and writing. Fantastic Author and books.
Dianne Taimsalu
Not to everyone's taste - said to be one of Iris Murdoch's weakest books. But the more you read it, the more fascinating it gets. Have read it at least four times and am reading it as our current bookclub book this month. Waiting to hear if everyone has hated it - sure to be controversial.
As always Iris was a excellent writer. However, I doubt the average person thinks as much as her characters do, but the novel was interesting and gave me a lot to think about.
Somewhat melodramatic and a touch formulaic, but still enjoyable. It's one of those "philsophical novels" that read like cheap romances. See also: Ayn Rand.
Quite good. My first reaction was to be extremely happy for good, complex, differentiable characterization. The plot and pacing are also good. Read it.
Kathryn Pratt
This book is fantastic intellectual beach-reading. It is also very good--I don't mean to take a swipe at it by classifying it as entertaining!
Angela Mcpherson
Excellent book. Excellent characterisation and examination of the dilemmas people create for themselves.
Boring, boring, boring. I read to page 450 of 500 and just couldn't go on.
Jul 23, 2012 Laurel marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Part of revisiting Murdoch summer 2012
Twl Newtown
Twl Newtown marked it as to-read
Aug 21, 2014
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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
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“As we live our precarious lives on the brink of the void, constantly coming closer to a state of nonbeing, we are all too often aware of our fragitlity.” 18 likes
“We are all the judges and the judged, victims of the casual malice and fantasy of others, and ready sources of fantasy and malice in our turn. And if we are sometimes accused of sins of which we are innocent, are there not also other sins of which we are guilty and of which the world knows nothing?” 11 likes
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