Jo's Reviews > The Black Prince

The Black Prince by Iris Murdoch
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The Black Prince is a novel that is framed as the biography of one Bradley Pearson, beginning with a foreword by an editor whose identity is never revealed. Bradley is another of Iris Murdoch’s aging, male characters flawed in so many ways and he is particularly self-indulgent and self-obsessed while also insecure and anxious. He is constantly disparaging those around him whether it’s the female characters such as Christian his wealthy ex-wife, poor Priscilla his suffering sister or Rachel the deluded, occasionally manipulative wife of his friend Arnold. Bradley sees himself as a writer, or perhaps more as an ‘artist’, but it is Arnold who is the successful author and he too suffers from Bradley’s criticisms as does Julian, Rachel’s brother who has a masochistic desire to be close to him.

At the beginning of the novel Bradley is intending to go away for a while to write his great novel yet a series of events, one after the other, mean that this trip gets further and further delayed. These distractions begin in quite a serious fashion but become more and more farcical as the book progresses until love enters the picture and everything changes. This love is so pivotal that it would be cruel to give too much away and precipitates several serious events that make us question ideas of morality and truth and what we will do for love and art, or at least, what Bradley will do.

I kept expecting to despise Bradley for his misogyny, misanthropy, hypocrisy, superiority complex, cold heartedness, and disgust of anything that reeks too much of emotion or neediness – yet, unlike Julian, for example, in A Fairly Honourable Defeat, I never hated him, perhaps because we are privy to the weaknesses of his character as the narrator of the book, perhaps because of love and its outcome, perhaps because ultimately he is quite pathetic rather than manipulative. Who knows?

What we do know is that his reliability as a narrator is often under question and we only really know about other characters through his eyes. He even says, ‘I shall judge people, inadequately, perhaps even unjustly’ and is obsessed with the idea of showing the world his ‘art’. When these other characters get their say at the end of the novel, this unreliability becomes even more apparent, yet again, perhaps because his is the voice we have heard throughout the majority of the novel, there is the tendency to believe him.

A vague review but I think this is one of those books its best to experience knowing as little as possible; unusually for once even the blurb doesn’t give too much away. The dialogue is snappy and smart as always, interlaced with pages of Bradley’s philosophical musings on art, love and truth that require some concentration, while at the same time there are detailed and often touching physical descriptions of characters and landscape. Murdoch satirizes what it is to be an ‘artist’ in a very meta way, - the ‘publisher’ of the book writes, ‘I hear it has even been suggested that Bradley Pearson and myself are both simply fictions, the invention of a minor novelist.’ She pokes fun at psychology and its explanations for our behavior while investigating morality and the nature of marriage. As so often happens with her novels, despite disliking the majority of the characters the book is still eminently readable and so well written, so many lines that just make you pause and as such, although not my favorite of my novels, still a very positive reading experience.

Some favorite lines
‘Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one’s luck.’

‘Beyond glass doors and a veranda was the equally fussy garden, horribly green in the sunless oppressive light, where a great many birds were singing competitive nonsense lyrics in the small decorative suburban trees.’

‘The wind carried no flowery smells, but rather laid a moist healthless humor upon the flesh which it then attempted to flay.’

‘Arnold was always trying, as it were, to take over the world by emptying himself over it like scented bath water.’

‘The division of one day from the next must be one of the most profound peculiarities of life on this planet. It is on the whole, a merciful arrangement. We are not condemned to sustained flights of being, but are constantly refreshed by little holidays from ourselves.’
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Reading Progress

January 18, 2019 – Started Reading
January 24, 2019 – Finished Reading
January 30, 2019 – Shelved

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