Well it was a delight to revel in Iris Murdoch’s writing again, so shortly after finishing “The Nice and the Good”, and what a huge leap was made from reading “A.L. Barker’s “John Brown’s Body”. As soon as I was a couple of pages into this I was hooked. The writing was a breeze to read, the complex characters, their lamentations on love and loss all so familiar to her shortlisted novel of the year before.
The novel opens with Bruno on his death bed, reflecting on his life, the women he loved, his children and his love of spiders and his stamp collection. Whilst the spiders are a small theme throughout, the complex web of interconnected characters is most definitely a reference to the web spinning of the arachnid kind.
Themes of death and love so prevalent in “The Nice and the Good” are also to the fore here with sentences and passages of great power leaping out every now and again:
“Brooding about the past is so often fantasy of how one might have won and resentment that one didn’t. It is resentment which one so often mistakes for repentance.”
We have twins again, we have unrequited love, we have loves lost, loves that may be – like “The Nice and the Good” we have numerous characters but none shallow, none under or even over explored. Bruno hasn’t seen his son Miles in years; Miles is married to Diana and lives with her and her sister Lisa, Bruno lives with Danby, his son-in-law, who is having an affair with the hired help Adelaide. Adelaide grew up with twins, one of whom is Bruno’s male nurse Nigel, the other his brother Will. Bruno, Danby and Miles have lost their loves of their lives, their wives. Lisa is the image of Danby’s deceased wife (and Bruno’s daughter) Gwen …..sounds complex, but it didn’t feel at all that way as I became further and further entrapped by the web.
I suppose it could be dismissed as over romantic, or slightly like a soap opera, and sometimes all too neat to be true, the power is in the exploration and depth as well as the individual voices of each of the characters. A great read and one that I’d highly recommend.