I have just started this book having finished Love for Lydia by H.E. Bates only yesterday. Although the two novels are very different, both language and story, they were both written in the mid 20th century. This may seem daft, I am no great expert on literature, but they do have the same feel about them. It was obvious from the very beginning of the novels that neither of them were modern novels and yet they do not contain the type of language or are written in the style of most of the 19th century literature that I have read. It seems that no matter how different the style or language used any novel carries a flavour of the time in which it is written as much as the time in which it is set.
That all said I am beginning to enjoy the book. It is not going to be an easy read as Murdoch seems to like to explore the thoughts and feelings of each character as well as telling the story. The story has taken place in two places so far, Whitehall and Dorset. Although some of the characters are different in each setting some do appear in both settings but the main character appears to be John Ducane a Whitehall civil servant. He is a complicated character and a deep thinker and has been given the task of heading an internal enquiry into a suicide of a colleague.
So far there has been a real feeling off the sixties about the book when I blieve it to have been set. This has not been stated that is just my guess. Although seemingly quite light-heartedly written so far I suspect that the story will take a sinister turn at some stage.
I've just come to the end of the Pre-History section of the book.
Maybe not a very literary question - but, do you like the narrator, Charles Arrowby?
I guess there's two aspects of that. Do you think you would warm to him as a person, if he was real, and you met him?
And, how well does he work, within the book, at making you want to keep reading? Is he an effective "voice"?
In most books told in the first person, I tend to warm to the narrator, whoever they are, it's just my natural reaction - (do other people find that too?) - but it's been quite an interesting experience to read the first section of this book, with really mixed feelings about the narrator. I found myself trying to like him - I appreciated his attempts at honesty about himself and his own awareness that he was unreliable narrator, even while he tried not to be.
But having read Lizzie's letter, which moved me by it's struggle to be truthful about her love - his reaction to it as being from a "silly inconsistent woman" made me want to slap him and I was much more ambivalent about him from that point onwards.
(He certainly works well, to make me want to keep reading, by the way - I'm really enjoying this book )
What does anyone else think of him?
These questions are taken from the Reading Guides site.
1. Charles's house, Shruff End, is in many ways a character in its own right. Intricately described, the house is explicitly referred to as gloomy and cave-like and can in many ways stand as a metaphor for Charles's own mind.
What are some of the ways that events and features in Shruff End indicate Charles's mental state?
Anyone interested in giving this question a go....(borrowed by Winterwren from an online readers guide, I think)
Likely to be spoilers, I suspect, if anyone hasn't finished reading the book yet
A very daunting set of questions, I think, but maybe we could nibble away at different aspects of them, between us.
I actually felt the book was more focussed on the nature of marriage, rather than the nature of women. There was a lot of small comments here and there from different characters about how marriage is a mystery, and no-one can tell from the outside whether it works or not, or whether it is happy or not. Charles on his drunken night out with Peregrine in London spent some time discussing the marriages of certain friends and speculating on how happy or otherwise they were. He seemed to take great satisfaction in deciding that most of them weren't.
Plus his apparently very deliberate acts to break up Peregrine's marriage with Rosina - the impression I got was that he did that much more because he resented their relationship, rather than because he actually wanted Rosina for himself.
And Hartley, somehow, mysteriously, wanting to stay in her marriage, despite it's apparent misery (in Charles judgement, as least) - a very mysterious marriage, and yet somehow it seemed to work for the two of them within it. Is Hartley free?? I guess so, yes. Free to choose to remain with Ben, despite Charles efforts....
(I'm not really answering the original questions at all am I! Never mind - I'm interested in any comments the rest of you have, all the same)
Just wondering what you think of Charles' method of 'convincing' Heartley to leave her husband for him.
I was extremely annoyed about how he went about it. I felt he didn't give her enough time, forcing himself on her and saying things like 'you belong to me now'. He never listened to what she had to say, when she said he didn't understand he talked over it and he ignored her saying she wanted to return to Ben.
It seems to me that this behaviour is an illustration of Charles' arrogance. He may truly love Heartley, but he is also driven by a desire for power and to get what he wants. If he loved Heartley in a true, altruistic way, he would allow her to follow her own course.
On the other hand it may be argued (as Charles does himself) that Heartley would never leave Ben if she was only shown the door, she had to be dragged through it if she was ever going to leave.