Jo's Reviews > The Green Knight

The Green Knight by Iris Murdoch
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4.5 stars

Central to the drama of The Green Knight are a family of three girls and a mysterious stranger. One of the girls is beautiful and two are highly intelligent, while the youngest is creative, has an affinity with animals and a touch of magic. There is a fairy tale like aura to this novel, or perhaps one more akin to ancient myths, after all the title does come from the story of Sir Gawain belonging to the time of Arthur and the round table. The Green Knight himself is Peter Mir, a man who suffers an injury while performing an heroic action and who becomes central to the lives of the other characters in the novel.

Peter is not the only character described as a knight while others are described as angels, magicians or fey, and we even have a courageous and anthropomorphized animal. The older sister Aleph even says at one point, “You mean it’s as if we are in a fairy tale, and there’s something we can’t say, some word we can’t utter, some riddle we can’t answer –and if we did say it or answer it we would die, or be in paradise together.” Even if you disregard all these fairytale allusions, this is still a novel filled with secrets, usually involving unrequited love, there is soul searching, loss of faith, anguish and injury - a typical Iris Murdoch novel then but one of her more enchanting ones.

The three girls are all of interest but the most engaging for me is Moy who is compared to a ‘silky’ or fairy like creature. Moy has a kinship with all things, living and otherwise including stones and rocks in particular,and goes through torture imagining how two rocks have been separated from one another or what has happened to the creatures she encounters. She has a wildness to her yet primarily stays enclosed in the “enchanted circle” of the Anderson family a place of which her sister says, “I feel as if we leave this place, we shall crumble to pieces,” there is almost “a barrier between us and the world like a wall of rays.”

Sefton and Aleph, her older sisters play different roles in the romantic entanglements that take place in the novel while their mother Louise often seems mystified by her offspring and lost in her own dreams and illusions. Orbiting this family unit are Harvey, a young man who has to go through his own particular challenge and Clement, the actor friend of Louise’s dead husband who runs around in utter confusion most of the time as to what he should do and where his loyalty should be. Rounding out the list of major players are Bellamy, whose correspondence with the head of a religious order in an attempt to obtain entrance provides some amusement, if only from Father Damien’s responses. We have Lucas, Clements older brother who at the beginning of the novel has disappeared to escape the shame of accidentally killing a man, and who is himself a mysterious enigmatic figure and of course Peter who seems to entrance them all.

Peter is fascinating both in his desires to be a part of this circle and his actions in regard to Clement and Lucas. He manages to touch the lives of everyone and bewitches them with compassion, gifts and a grand dinner party at the ‘enchanters palace’ which makes up one of the great set pieces in the book. Lucas also is an enchanter but Lucas and Peter seem two sides of one coin, one dark, one light although that differentiation is probably simplistic. Clement sees Peter and Lucas as “two mad magicians” or “two archangels” who are in some kind of battle and much of the drama of the novel is concerned with how this ‘battle’ might play out. Both Bellamy and Clement are torn between the two acting as go-betweens like seconds in a mighty duel and both excite our empathy in the conundrums they face.

It is not only the men who engage our empathy and interest, as with several of Murdoch’s later novels, this one is filled with women of all types, not only the noble Louise and her girls on the brink of life but Harry’s mother Joan, a vamp down on her luck whose dry humour hides her despair, Tessa, the wise woman, who might or might not be rich but runs a women’s shelter and Cora, the maternal figure who tries to make everyone happy. Everyone in the novel, seems to care deeply about at least one person even if they are mired in their own existential crisis and there is a real sense of family in the broader sense that helps to explain Peter and his desires.

By the end of the novel the enchanted circle has been severed as love and death have pulled the familial group apart and for Moy especially there is a kind of rebirth. As befits a fairy tale ending, everyone seems to be in the place they should be or at least on the path to it and we the reader are left entirely satisfied with this realistically enchanting tale.

Some favorite Lines

“You say he’s kind, you say Bellamy is generous and you refuse to call him a fool, you think Harvey is a sweet good boy, you think Clement is a parfit gentle knight, you see Aleph as an angel who will never turn into a Valkyrie.’

“Like what we’ve been saying, it’s the future, it’s so near and so secret and so difficult and so awful and so unavoidable and so crammed.”

‘Bellamy found simply living a task of amazing difficulty. It was as if ordinary human life were a mobile machine full of holes, crannies, spaces, apertures, fissures, cavities, lairs, into one of which Bellamy was required to (and indeed desired to) fit himself.’

“You don’t realize you’re in clover. Relax, Work, think, learn languages, read books, read poetry, write poetry, attract people, make lots of eternal friendships, parade your beauty. Youth is a great green field. Romp in it.”
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Reading Progress

November 1, 2019 – Started Reading
November 10, 2019 – Finished Reading
November 25, 2019 – Shelved

Comments Showing 1-2 of 2 (2 new)

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message 1: by Fran (new)

Fran A most excellent review, Jo!

message 2: by Jo (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jo Fran wrote: "A most excellent review, Jo!"

Thanks Fran!

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