This was my first Iris Murdoch which is ridiculous as I have about four or five of her books on my bookshelf! I have been drawn to her as her books so...moreThis was my first Iris Murdoch which is ridiculous as I have about four or five of her books on my bookshelf! I have been drawn to her as her books sound fascinating and I am interested in her personal story. The Unicorn was certainly fascinating. It is intriguing throughout, as each layer is overturned to reveal the opposite of what you expect from the storyline. Marian is bored with her easy and uninspiring existence and so she answers an advertisement for a live-in teaching position in a remote place which is unnamed but I imagined to be possibly somewhere in Northern Ireland.
On arriving at her destination she discovers that the children or child she was expected to teach does not actually exist but in reality the advert was skewed in order to obtain a more intelligent companion for the lady of the house, Hannah Crean-Smith who also would like to learn languages. After getting over her initial surprise, Marian doesn't actually mind and grows to love her employer although she can see that things are not quite right about her situation.
The longer Marian spends in this remote place and as she meets the occupants of the house and the distant neighbouring house, dark and strange and certainly unexpected mysteries begin to arise. Marian even begins to question her own feelings.
On the other hand, the wonderfully named Effingham Cooper provides our thoughts for juxtaposing parts of the book. A long time friend of the family that lives in the other house and frequent visitor, Effingham is in love with Hannah but thought of by her fondly as a friend. As he forms an alliance with Marian, they begin to realise that things are not right with Hannah's surroundings. Effingham is quite an awful character, egotistical and bumbling at the same time. He is very well drawn but at times almost unbearable. Marian is entirely more likable but frustrating in her lack of vision.
The rest of the characters essentially are the components involved in weaving a web around the three central, whether intentionally or not. Some of the characters are intriguing and produce some quite gripping twists to this story.
The book is often described as I have, as a dark, mysterious and slightly chilling tale, a psychological thriller of sorts and a Gothic romance which I object to. I felt that essentially the book is often misinterpreted. I'm not sure how often this was true of Iris Murdoch in fact. I felt the book to be a very philosophical story, balancing issues of suffering and of living a pure existence. In mythology, the Unicorn is thought to be a creature of the up most purity, absorbing the suffering of those around it in a way that causes them to allow it to be so. It is this purity that would make a mere mortal fall to their knees in love and heartache. The Unicorn would allow them to do so and would show them only mercy. The core of this book is that Hannah Crean-Smith is the representative of the Unicorn, possibly this is what she is striving for.
At the head of the family living in the other house, Max Lejour is a famous Professor of Philosophy, using his retiring years to write his life's work. Conversations he has with Effingham, his past pupil, show a deep understanding of Hannah's plight on Max's part. Effingham however is desperate to keep them apart. Max considers that when his book is finished he will go and see Hannah but Effingham wants to jealously guard her for himself, perhaps realising that Max understands her more deeply than he ever could. Effingham needs to keep his own face away from any kind of truthful mirror as he could possibly not handle the truth about his lack of honour in almost any situation and deep down he knows it and does anything to save himself from this awful truth.
So, pretty in depth. As I said, it is fascinating. However, I did feel that after a while we were rolling on and on in some kind of strange analogy for ideas that could have been tidied up some what. It all became rather a heavy bashing over the head, but an interesting one. I was relieved when it was over and I felt a little bemused, a little unsure entirely of what I had just gone through but I think I liked it. I may need to work myself up to my next Iris Murdoch.
I really enjoyed this book but found it uncomfortable at the same time. I didn't know what to think and sometimes found myself feeling guilty for thin...moreI really enjoyed this book but found it uncomfortable at the same time. I didn't know what to think and sometimes found myself feeling guilty for thinking that I didn't know what to think! It was a really interesting and clever way at looking at a subject from a completely different angle.(less)