Laura's Reviews > The Unicorn

The Unicorn by Iris Murdoch
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Feb 12, 12

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 de Unamuno. Kafka. It is the kind of novel written by an intellectual. It is highly cerebral, giving in to the philosophical. Its characters overthink emotions, dissect love, experience sex as something cosmic or teluric. D.H.Lawrence? Thomas Hardy?
The oppressive atmosphere is very effectively done. Marian arrives at an isolated house to act as a cultivated lady companion to Hannah, the lady of Gaze Castle. Hannah is kept as a prisoner in this house, watched over by an entourage of eccentric characters who adore her. She has been imprisoned by her husband, Peter, who now lives in America and is a kind of Godot that everybody waits for and never arrives. Hannah has learnt acceptance of this situation. So long she is calm, her gaolers are happy to carry on as they all are. Marian has just arrived and hasn´t fallen under the spell yet: she wants to set Hannah free. She finds it difficult to engage an accomplice: they all seem to foresee that if this difficult balance is upset, they will destroy one another.
Sometimes Murdoch makes her literary references a bit too explicit for my liking. If you pick up this novel, you are probably bound to "catch" them easily anyway. Courtly love. The belle dame sans merci. Sleeping Beauty. That sort of thing.
As for the meaning of this allegory, the thing that comes to my mind is the fear that cerebral people have of giving in to emotions, of losing control, forgetting themselves. Otherwise it doesn´t end like a Shakespearean comedy, like Marian was hoping, all lovers united; it ends up like Hamlet, a house strewn with corpses.
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Laura Having read other reviews, the idea is that Murdoch is a follower of Plato and a derider of Freud. In order to reach goodness and happiness, we must indeed forget ourselves, suppress our ego, like Hannah tries to do.

Cecily Yes, Murdoch is explicitly intellectual, as so are most of her characters, but I hadn't really thought of parallels with Kafka and some of the others you mention. Interesting.

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