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Nuns and Soldiers

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  503 Ratings  ·  36 Reviews
Gertrude has lost her husband and Anne, an ex-nun, her God. They plan to live together and do good works. Meanwhile a cohort of interested parties circle. The 'Count', a Polish man in exile watches over Gertrude with loving patience. Tim, a failed painter, plans with his punk girlfriend to live off his rich friends. Who will judge whom in this intricate pattern of love and ...more
Paperback, 544 pages
Published July 5th 2001 by Vintage Classics (first published 1980)
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N W James
Sep 09, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to N W 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
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
Jul 25, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Солдаты любви

С творчеством Айрис Мердок знакома не понаслышке, более того, отношу ее к разряду моих любимых, если не самых любимых, авторов. Если честно, я заметила, что я неохотно принимаюсь читать очередную ее книгу, но вовсе не по той причине, что вы наверняка подумали. Просто мне неимоверно нравится работы Айрис Мердок и первое время я читала их взахлеб, практически одну за другой, пока не наступил тот роковой момент, когда "нетронутых" осталась самая малость. Теперь же я оттягиваю удовольст
Jan 06, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

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
Dec 18, 2006 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: britlit, fiction
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
May 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
May 20, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
R. Lawrence
Jul 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Iris is one author I wish were still alive and writing. Fantastic Author and books.
Stephen Brody
Sep 05, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

I don’t know how many times I’ve read this because my paperback copy (1982) has fallen apart, it’s just a pile of loose pages. Iris Murdoch’s novels are like Bach’s fugues, no matter how many times they’re read or played there’s always something new. I started this one again in the middle of the recent edition of Murdoch’s letters, meaning with yet another light on it, because it exasperated a good many ‘critics’ who made it their business to infer from it usually unflattering and – as it turns
Sep 07, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Not my favorite Murdoch (understatement). The beginning, with Guy and les tantes, and loss and grief, was very well done. Then when live after Guy began... zzzzz.

The 4 main characters were just not interesting - widow Gertrude was self-serving and the epitome of ordinary, Tim the young lover was useless and ordinary, the Count was silly pretending to be a Pole when he was an ordinary English clerk - and even the "defrocked" nun was incapable of thinking anything new. Potentially extraordinary c
Jan 29, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: queer
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.
Bianca Borandă
Jul 02, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It starts slow, but then you get so intimate with the characters that you don't want to let the book down until you're done with it. There is a lot of drama in this book which manages to showcase how weak people are in the face of strong emotion. I was particularly a fan of the dialogue through which Murdoch manages to transcend the reader to the heat of the action, and less a fan of her prose, where she aimed at describing the surroundings thoroughly - which I did not find necessary. Has this b ...more
Sep 20, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I dont usually like iris murdoch , she has some interesting ideas here and there but her books are all the same and the plots are usually muddled , this one however is pretty entertaining even though the most interesting character ( the ex nun ) does not get enough action .
Lisa Dale
Aug 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
fini Aug 2017
Simon Mcleish
Feb 20, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Julieta Paradiso
Dec 18, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 01, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Daniel Polansky
So Iris Murdoch is a very well-regarded novelist, and I was excited to try her out, and she's got a pretty big oeuvre, and this isn't one of the more famous ones, and maybe I would have been better off starting somewhere else. Because this is kind of a crap book, I don't know what else to say. It's sappy and melodramatic but also really boring. There's a ton of description of how the characters are feeling, just page after page of exposition. The prose is not horrid, but it's not particularly no ...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.
Apr 07, 2013 rated it it was ok
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 methodical and plodding than usual Murdoch fare. But the philosophical discussions and the master/puppet relations are so well worked out and so beautifully and slowly revealed that they're actually a tad shocking. Plus for a very realist and secular novel this one makes an interesting case for religion or spirituality.

Extra points for the bitchy conversation at the end between two tertiary characters that brought me back to the Midsummer Night's Dream element of my favourite Murdoch novel,
Pam Strachan
Jun 04, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I don't know why I have never read iris Murdoch, but somehow she never appealed. I found this book extrodinary. Sometimes breathtaking, sometimes gripping, sometimes trivial and sometimes tedious. But always unpredictable. Sometimes I loved the character's, sometimes I found them irritating. Just like real-life. I understand and share other reviewers confusion. Nevertheless, I am really glad to have read this book and will certainly read more from Iris Murdoch.
Allison P
Aug 23, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  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.
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.
Jun 15, 2007 added it
Shelves: 2015
Rich, drawn out, evocative. I wouldn't have read this had not Murdoch been so heavily recommended at the Catholic university where I attended graduate school. I probably won't read more of her until I'm older, but I was glad to sink into this a bit. Themes of water, mysticism, nature and social structure spoke to me.
Feb 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites
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!
Oct 25, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Lauren Albert
Oct 31, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
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?
Dianne Taimsalu
Aug 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
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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 about Iris Murdoch...
“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.” 24 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?” 17 likes
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