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Jackson's Dilemma

3.14  ·  Rating details ·  805 ratings  ·  94 reviews
On the eve of their wedding, Edward Lannion and Marian Berran are led away onto dark and strange paths, while their friends and lovers are forced to make new and surprising choices. Watching over all of them is Jackson, a mysterious and charismatic manservant who, in guiding all the young lovers into the light, has to make his own agonizing decisions.
Paperback, 256 pages
Published March 1st 1997 by Penguin Books (first published 1995)
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Average rating 3.14  · 
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May 30, 2008 rated it liked it
Her last book (published in '95). Apparently set in modern times (eg computers self-consciously mentioned in passing), but very old fashioned feel. A bride disappears on the eve of her wedding, leaving friends and family devastated and perplexed, with hurt and mysteries in their own past to face up to.

Doesn't flow quite as well as some of her earlier works; in particular, it is somewhat disjointed and, especially towards the end, rather rushed with sections of very theatrical dialogue, which do
No, I don’t recommend this. I was intrigued at the beginning, but by the end I thought it a total fizzle.

The eponymous Jackson is a mystical figure. He has a talent for bringing lovers together. By the novel’s end, a string of marriages has taken place and previously troubled relationships are back on track. Who Jackson is remains unclear but as a mender of hearts he is supreme! Don’t envision a happy, humorous figure. He is dreary.

Humor is not an element of the book!

Philosophical and religious
Feb 05, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read_2009
As he was walking towards Victoria Station Benet renewed his guilty misery (60).

That, in a nutshell, captures the affectless, unpunctuated tone *and* the sticky emotional content of this book.

This is such an odd book that I don't know what to say about it, let alone where to begin. There isn't a plot in any traditional sense of causality, but there is a sequence of events, though some of the most important ones (and their actors) remain untold. These events and their actors are, roughly, thus: a
May 16, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: big-white-square
Her last novel. Many seem to think that she wasn't very well. I found "Jackson's Dilemma" rather good fun but incredibly confusing. And not very well written. At times it felt that no one was able to hear the latest gossip or even open their front door without "almost fainting".

On the plot, I thought we'd established that Edward "liked Benet ... but he did not get on with Benet's friends"? And we know that Edward only visited Penndean once before Uncle Tim's death ... and yet suddenly he's a fir
May 12, 2011 rated it liked it
The last of Iris Murdoch's novels, Jackson's Dilemma was written while Iris Murdoch was beginning to suffer from Alzheimer's disease. This is not a novel to introduce someone to Iris Murdoch with, it is a weak example of her ability. This novel, for me - while certainly interesting, marks a sad end to a brilliant career. It is a tragedy that someone whose writing has been lauded by so many should finish their writing career with a whimper rather than going out in a blaze of literary glory. There ...more
Nov 20, 2018 rated it it was ok
If this had been a book by a debut author, I would have set it aside after the first chapter. But the chance to read Dame Iris Murdoch’s last novel was too tempting, so I kept ploughing through. I ended up with mixed feelings.

On the positive side, this book is termed a social comedy, and that it is, peopled by fragile, self-absorbed, trust-fund babies who will never do any good in the world but roam around navel gazing—except for Jackson, that is. Their sexuality and sexual orientation are also
May 25, 2020 rated it liked it
3.5 stars. I enjoyed this character based novel. There are a number of interesting characters that Iris Murdoch richly describes.

Readers new to Iris Murdoch should firstly read ‘The Bell’, ‘The Black Prince’ or ‘The Sea, the Sea’.

This was Iris Murdoch’s last novel.
Dec 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
It was with some sadness that I picked up this, Iris Murdoch’s twenty sixth and final novel after spending the past 25 months reading one novel a month. It is far shorter than most of the dozen or so novels that came before it and I had to wonder if this had something to do with it being her last published book before her Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Initially the novel did indeed feel different, the sentences were shorter, there were less descriptive passages with beautiful language and I began to ha ...more
Feb 07, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: did-not-finish
Usually I give it 50 pages or more, before I give up. I tossed this after 20 pages, it was just not working for me. I found the writing style so distracting, that I could not develop any interest for the story. Just too quaint. Or too unrealistic for the setting. I am not sure, I am still trying to decide, why this book put me off so quickly. Trying to be Jane Austen, just without being funny and witty?
This is my first Iris Murdoch. Perhaps I should have tried an earlier one. I am wondering, if
Stephen Brody
Sep 14, 2016 rated it liked it

A characteristically improbable assortment of fearfully proper endlessly-talking muddlers, ninnies and drunks have gathered in and out of a pair of grand-sounding country houses for the occasion of a wedding between an excessively tight-lipped young man and a flighty Canadian young woman, neither of whom appear really to know much about the other nor indeed why they are marrying at all. On the eve of the event a note is delivered anonymously to announce that the bride-to-be has called it all off
Italo  Perazzoli
Mar 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
I am writing this essay with some tears on my cheeks.

This novel was the last one of Iris. According to some literary critics and fervent readers, here there are the traces of her illness, I won't argue about this thing.
The most philosophical phrases are:
"This was religion, the giving away of oneself, the realization of how small, like to a grain of dust, one was in the vast misery of the world - and yet how vast the power of goodness, of love, like a great cloud, lifting one up out of the meanne
Dec 01, 2008 rated it it was amazing
A tellingly Murdochian tale of a somewhat moneyed and intelligent engaged couple (Edward and Marian)whose wedding preparations are torn apart the morning before the wedding, and how this affects both the couple and the entangled relationships of those around them. All is mended by a mysterious manservant/friend named Jackson...
Jan 23, 2012 rated it liked it
Jackson is not the only one with a dilemma. Since I put it down I've been mulling over how I feel and what I want to say about this book. Like the other four or five Iris Murdoch books that I've read, this story has haunted me a bit, perplexed me alot, and made me think about alot of different things.

After reading an Iris Murdoch novel, I generally wake up in the morning thinking about some aspect of the book. The image I can't escape from is that of an intricate line of dominoes---when the firs
Jan 23, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
As I understand it, this was Iris Murdoch's last novel, written while she was in the early stages of Alzheimer's and it shows. Many writers in their later years stop writing complicated novels because it needs a lot of energy and is too hard to do at that point in life. This book is very similar to her earlier "Bruno's Dream" in that it involves a group of people coming together for an event - a wedding in this case - and leaving with an unintended and unforeseen partner. However, there is no le ...more
Aug 26, 2009 rated it really liked it
As my first book by Iris Murdoch, I approached this book with high expectations in terms of style, story, character, and intellectual fortitude. Murdoch does not disappoint, and instead crafts a story with shifting points of view, morphing relationships, and surprising characters. While several of them take a rather unprecedented interest in philosophy which leads to some didactic passages, what else are we to expect from a philosophy don turned novelist? In all, I was entertained by this book a ...more
Paul Wilner
Nov 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
There are mentions of "The Tempest'' scattered throughout, and it's tempting to see this as Murdoch's final attempt, Prospero-like, to put the people, places and characters she has dealt with in her work to rest, even in a work that may seem "minor'' in comparison.
Futile to argue with the other comments - it's like responding to ratings on YouTube - but those who claim this shows the deterioration of her mental state clearly didn't notice the explorations of Heidegger, or the loving portrayals o
Feb 17, 2018 rated it did not like it
An unintentional call to arms against the landed gentry. If you find yourself hoping the bourgeois histrionics will abate or otherwise serve a greater purpose, you can just return this godawful book to the library unfinished.
John Cairns
Mar 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library
Why all that about Jackson? I asked myself. To establish him, of course, after a late entry, but would dinner guests spend all that time talking of a servant? The host character is working on Heidegger who quotes from Heraclitus, ‘How can one hide from that which never sets?” and the wannabe philosopher wonders what it all means. The question evokes a sun, one which doesn’t set, but what might Heraclitus think such a sun might be symbol of? A god of light? Of truth? Of life? Not Christ anyway. M ...more
Jul 26, 2020 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Personally, I don't think I'd bother. I can only read so many books where every romantic problem is resolved by having characters confess a secret, unexpected love and then scheduling yet another weddings. The whole plot could be solved in a few pages - and is - by having the characters gird their loins with courage and talk to each other like adults instead of hiding in bedrooms and wailing about how they've ruined their lives and everyone hates them. It gets very old very fast.
So, the actual
Barksdale Penick
Dec 20, 2017 rated it it was ok
I walk to work every day and listen to books. I had finished one and was casting about for another from the DC public library and in my desperation consulted a couple of sites with best 100 books of all time but still couldn't connect with an available book (yes I could buy it but I was on a quest). I saw an Iris Murdoch book on one of the lists and when I found her book Jackson's dilemma available I snapped it up. Big mistake. In some ways the world of this boo reminds me of a Jane Austen or ot ...more
Sep 18, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
I think I started this book 3 times before I finished it - it's been on my shelf since the late 90's. It's pages were yellowed. I wish I had known before starting it that this was her last book, written while she suffered from Alzheimer's. In hindsight, it probably should not have been my first foray into the works of Iris Murdoch.

That said, I can't say I really enjoyed it much.

Who is the main character? If Jackson, he's been relegated to the background. Yes, he's mysterious but not all that c
Mar 04, 2020 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Vel Veeter
Dec 12, 2017 rated it it was ok
This one pains me to write for a few reasons. One, I really like Iris Murdoch in general, and while I have no particularly liked some of her writing or thought it wasn't as good as some of her other books, this is the first time I really felt like a book of hers should not have been published. It's not uncommon for older writers to lose their edge a little, and while that might have been true for Murdoch, she was not simply getting older but becoming more and more afflicted with Alzheimer's, whi ...more
May 30, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
A big caveat here is that it was probably a poor choice to listen to Jackson's Dilemma as an audiobook, given its many characters and digressions. I was occasionally gripped by the book's sense of mystery - in the left-at-the-alter opening sequence, the origins of the Jackson character, and various characters' hidden pasts - but overall I found it very hard to follow. My quick read of some reviews suggests that the book is not thought of as one of Murdoch's best, so maybe it's not just the audio ...more
Oct 11, 2020 rated it did not like it
Clearly published solely as a favor to a great author, a tribute to her past. It's unreadable, tragically affected by her Alzheimer's. I had read every Murdoch except this and it reads as worse than a caricature. There's no trace of amusing self-awareness. By the end it had totally deteriorated, information blatantly contradicting other information narrated earlier in the book. It has proved useful for studying the progression of the disease, but I regret some people may not know what it came ou ...more
Dec 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I enjoyed the story, found it consistently engaging. In spite of its length, I read this in one day. But I’m not sure I got it. I understood it as a story, and I identified with the protagonist’s understanding of Heidegger, but I don’t think I ever grasped what Jackson’s dilemma was or how/whether he resolved it.

The book jacket talked about the author going through early Alzheimer’s, and about the man character combating age. But at least three main characters fought that good fight, and the ho
Sep 22, 2020 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nick Gray
Jul 24, 2020 rated it it was ok
Very disappointed. There is a possible short story hidden in there somewhere, but as a novel it was, in parts, unreadable. Was it really set in the 1990's? If it wasn't for the odd words or phrases such as 'motorway' and 'word processor' I would have assumed it was set in the 1930's. Unbelievable and unlikeable characters who live in a time warp of of self indulgence, dress codes and superiority.
Vi Walker
May 24, 2017 rated it it was ok
I'd give this 2.5 stars. It would have been 3 stars but for a glaring "continuity" error which didn't affect the story but was sloppy. The story starts with a dinner party on the eve of a wedding but everything falls apart when the bride leaves a note calling off the wedding. The fallout is an interesting story but I found the characters and dialogue unnatural.
Jan 29, 2018 rated it did not like it
This was not a novel. This was a list of rich people marrying each other, and some rich people not marrying each other, and some people who we thought were poor marrying each other but it turns out they were rich all along. Also they had a creepy old friend obsessing over their every move. Also who tf was Jackson?
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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.


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“A less courageous person would have felt that it was too late, they would have felt ashamed, they would think wellI don't want this, I know I shall hate it, it's all wrong, but I'm so involved now I'll have to put up with it, and I know that later on I'll keep on wishing that I'd had the nerve to say no, even at the last minute....” 1 likes
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