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An Accidental Man

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  692 ratings  ·  45 reviews
A scintillating novel of fate, accidents, and moral dilemmas

Set in the time of the Vietnam War, this story concerns the plight of a young American, happily installed in a perfect job in England, engaged to a wonderful girl, who is suddenly drafted to a war he disapproves of.

What is duty here, what is self-interest, what is cowardice? Austin Gibson Grey, the accidental man
Paperback, 448 pages
Published March 1st 1988 by Penguin Books Ltd (first published 1971)
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David Johannesen I've read all Iris Murdoch's novels, starting with "The Nice and the Good" (1968) and believe this beloved Oxford philosopher to be the greatest woman…moreI've read all Iris Murdoch's novels, starting with "The Nice and the Good" (1968) and believe this beloved Oxford philosopher to be the greatest woman writer of the era alongside Isabel Allende and Louise Erdrich. Her varied, intricate characterizations alongside taut narrative are sublime story-telling; "One should do simple separated things. Don't imagine you are that big complicated psychological buzz that travels around with you. Above all don't feel guilt or worry about doing right. That's all flummery."(less)

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May 30, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: modern-lit, read-2019
This is one of Murdoch's odder novels, and is not an easy one to love, though for the most part it is easy enough to read. It has a large cast of characters, none of whom is entirely likeable, and mixes farce and tragedy.

At its centre is Austin Gibson Grey, the Accidental Man of the title. Austin is the archetypal useless middle aged man. At the start of the book we see him losing his office job. His second wife Dorina has already taken refuge with her sister, and he decides to save money by
Jan 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Even better than the others I've read. Totally awesome writer. Amazingly well realised characters. I think she should be studied at university.
Dec 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
As so often happens with the blurbs on Iris Murdoch books, the one on The Accidental Man only conveys a small part of what the book is concerned with. This particular blurb speaks of Ludwig, a young American called up to the Vietnam War while living and loving in Britain and makes it seems as though he is going to be the main focus. In a book with a very large cast of characters, this can only be part of the story and in Iris Murdoch novels, where plot is often thin on the ground, it doesn't go ...more
A complex book with many characters, not one of whom is both sane and likeable, and many who are neither! There is no single main character or even a main plot, yet lots happens (which makes you keep reading), but in some ways, nothing does (which makes it frustrating).

An odd mixture of conventional narrative, sections of correspondence and quickfire unattributed and disjointed dialog at parties. The latter two styles felt like a shortcut to move the story along. I also found the repeated use of
Apr 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
Iris Murdoch novels are a known pleasure, but it had been so long since I read one that I'd forgotten how delicious they are. No other author has ever made such racing narratives out of moral muddles and doubts of the metaphysical kind, and puzzling over which philosophical rants are likely to represent the true Murdochian view is half the fun. Humor and tragedy both have their moments in this novel of the sixties, which revolves around a young American man's decision to stay in England to avoid ...more
Stephen Brody
Jan 30, 2017 rated it really liked it

“Dimly she learnt one of the most important of all lessons, how art can console.”

“Things that were relative once are absolute now. One feels it’s the end of the line. Politics and war used to retain some decencies….No nation could destroy another, governments couldn’t get at their subjects, and in the interstices of it all human beings could flourish…”

“It’s amazing what a lick of paint and some Regency wall-paper can do”.

“Love is not time’s fool, it takes no account of locks - or of Locke”

* * *
3.5. Heres the thing. This book is a workshop in literary craftsmanship. It is so well written that I swear I paused like 10 times to say outloud to myself, like a dumbass, 'wow this is well done'. That being said? I hated every single person in this book. And while I get that is half of the point, I am not immune to having enjoyment of a book and its characters affecting my rating.

This is story of a giant piece of shit named Austin who in the name of privilege literally gets away with murder.
Brooke Salaz
Oct 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Murdoch is perhaps my favorite author. Something about her unsentimental respect for ageing characters and how they are capable of sudden moral improvement strikes me as very hopeful. Nothing is easy but it is all as it needs to be. We should care how we behave but it should all be impersonal and free of any notion that we control anything. Beautiful and difficult to realize. Quite Buddhist it feels to me. You can feel somewhat infuriated with people but that doesn't mean you give up on them but ...more
Troy Alexander
Jun 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I’ve read most of Iris Murdoch’s fiction and I think this is among her top five.
Tariq Mahmood
Jan 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: british
Its a remarkeable how Iris manages to keep me captivated with a weak plot. I think her stength lies in character presentation and subtelity. The accidental man is man who is making mistakes but not living in guilt and regret for too long. He is a modern man, happy to live and feed off from the women in his life again without much shame attached. Iris shows how people can create an imagination in which they are never to blame for their own mistakes.

I love the book, as I saw too much of myself in
Kristine Morris
About 30 pages in, I thought, "Damn, this is going to be hard to get through" and yet I must because it's been chosen by my book club. And then it kind of grabbed me. Never have a read such a jumble of miserable characters. I liked how she alternated between prose, letters and the party one liners. Lots of stuff going on in the novel with no real plot. Looking forward to discussing with my book club.
Jan 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
A Murdoch treasure. A series of unfortunate events lead characters in a whirlwind of tragedy, humour, opportunity, absurdity, novel writing, bathtub suicide, dodging the draft, engagements, comas, and the like. A criticism on the common vanity we share and how our selves can only give so much sympathy to others - the letter writing sequences nail this sentiment and revelation. Plus the doubling within this novel was a delight - not expected, not necessary, but well timed. ...more
Aug 09, 2010 rated it liked it
Murdoch must be more of a misanthrope even than me if she takes this view of people. I'm not such a modernist that I need a hero but this is surely the most contemptible bunch of characters of any book I've read. The philosophy is thin and the dialogue artificial. Still it is hard to not be sucked into the drama. Between this book and the last I read by her if she uses the word uncanny one more time I'm going to scream.
May 15, 2009 rated it really liked it
I found this to be an excellent Iris Murdoch novel. Big complex ideas, typical cast of Murdochian characters all of whom are somehow connected to the others. This is actually a very readable, even gripping read. Many of Murdochs usual themes are present, although toned down a bit, from her earlier novels. Overall very enjoyable, although there were a couple of characters who irritated me.
Dec 18, 2006 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, britlit
The story of an incestuous upper middle class English family, their many friends, and one imposter, Ludwig. The scholarly American, accidentally born in Great Britain, is avoiding the draft for the Vietnam War by staying in his parent's adopted country.
Mar 30, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: book-discussion
The best I can say about this book made up of secondary characters is that it was an interesting experiment. None of these characters are very likeable, but there are enough "accidents" to keep the story moving along.
Feb 01, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: unfinished
Too many characters! Mitzi, Maisie, Clarice, Caroline... can't keep them or their houses straight.
This was my first encounter with Iris Murdoch. I think she's a bit too overwrought for me.
John Cairns
Aug 15, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library
I didn’t know what to make of it. There was no emotional effect from what had been most interesting throughout. I realised I had yet to read the introduction to An Accidental Man. I hadn’t wanted to read it beforehand, to avoid corrupting my innocent eye. I must’ve known which character failed the moral test on watching two strangers knife another when I was reading but by the time I’d finished I was attributing the failure to another character. I’ve done that before, conflating two characters, ...more
Symone Thomas
Mar 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Thankfully I already have read and loved books by Murdoch or I might have set this book down after the first third. The problems and relations of the large web of characters seemed frivolous. But in line with her other work, Murdoch's characters expand from an initial glimpse to become full of their own depth, charm, and reveal the mysticism, questions, and accidents that guide their lives. We slowly become absorbed into their world-much as we would if we were coming across a ...more
Daniel Pope
Dec 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
The characters in this book were so vividly realized, their emotional/philosophical entanglements so clearly and wholly etched, that reading it was seamless and oddly pleasant, despite how unpleasant the material could be at times. Austin is one of the most utterly despicable characters I have ever read. All too believable. Though Ludwig’s struggle of conscience over draft-dodging didn’t have any intrinsic interest to me (drafts should be dodged, every one of them), it made sense, I could ...more
Jul 01, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: murdoch
i don't believe i've read story one from this is a 1st, paperback version, 1971...dedicated to kreisel...

on the cover: "a scintillating novel of fate, accidents and moral dilemmas."

ummm. i'll read this, despite the cover blurb...

she has quite a list of stories...looks like 20 or more, couple works of non-fiction...story begins:

'gracie, darling, will you marry me?'
ludwig leferrier stared down into the small calm radiant unsmiling face of gracie tisbourne. was it
David Johannesen
Nov 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I have started to re-read Iris Murdoch, a philosopher at my beloved Oxford and favorite woman author of the last 50 years in addition to Isabele Allende and Louis Erdrich. Her fiction is precise and unites author, reader and character; and love and regret seem to be reconciled. I wish only to share a passage from "An Accidental Man"—: "One should do simple separated things. Don't imagine you are that big complicated psychological buzz that travels around with you. Above all don't feel guilty or ...more
Kent Hayden
Jul 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
This obscure book by Murdoch was brought to my attention from a NYT article about the 'funniest book I've read' and several responses from some writers. The usual choices were there but I had never heard of an Accidental Man and I had trouble even finding a copy. I went to Alibris and got a used copy complete with penciled notes in the margin, obviously a student's thoughts.

The book is funny! I found myself enjoying the quick blurbs as Murdoch exposes the relationships of 20 or so people in
This has gone down as the worst book I have ever read, and I have read some terrible books in my life! Nothing actually happens. I kept reading it thinking something was bound to happen at some point, but no.
Dan Honeywell
Aug 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Not my favorite Iris Murdoch book, but still a good one. Brilliantly crafted, it went a lot of places, built and explored the large cast of flawed characters quite well, but in the end it slightly missed the mark for me.
Jan 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A masterful contemplation of class through a wide range of characters. Superb novel!
Bernie Morris
Aug 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Enjoyed this very much
"Austin was a curious man. He inspired love. He inspired fear.",, 1 January 2015
sally tarbox (aylesbury bucks uk) - See all my reviews

This review is from: An Accidental Man (Paperback)
My first attempt at Iris Murdoch's work, and difficult to review, as although I recognise that the quality of writing, the deeper messages on morality etc, mean it's probably worth at least 4.5, I didn't desperately like it.
Opening with the breathless engagement of an American draft dodger and his rather
Sep 12, 2010 added it
Shelves: fiction
Pace, character, and stakes--Murdoch's mistress of 'em all. So much changes so quickly, for reasons we understand why, and effects such different characters in such different ways because she's given us insight into their quirks and circumstances. My favorite device of hers is how she alternates chapter formats: one long, meditative chapter from the perspective of a secondary character contemplating a momentary crisis, followed by a short, narrative chapter following a primary character through ...more
Sep 04, 2015 rated it liked it
I have say I found this book a little hard to get into. I have read other books by Murdoch that were easier reading than this one. Set in sixties London it follows the lives of a group of frankly dysfunctional characters, an american draft dodger and his fiance, her parents, her aunt, and a group of friends and acquaintances who are trying to find their way through lives that have dealt them poorly. It is amusing and when you get in to it is quite compelling.
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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.

“thinking about the misery of the world is a favourite contemporary occupation. and if you can't think the television set will think for you.” 6 likes
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