Sunday, 5 January 2014

Dress Down Sunday: The Nice and the Good by Iris Murdoch

published 1968


LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES





He buttoned his pyjamas and emerged into his bedroom, switching the lights on. As he approached his bed he saw there was already somebody in it.

‘I thought you were never coming up!’ said Judy McGrath…

She rearranged herself, reclining on her side, and held out a glass towards him.

The movement disturbed Ducane intensely. Judy, seen in the haze of the room, which cast a sort of silver-gilt shdow over her long body, had seemed like something in a picture. Possibly she had actually reminded him of some picture by Goya or Velazquez. But that rolling movement with its awkwardness, its glimpse of buttocks, the grotesque bracing of her knees, momentarily wide apart, brought with it the pathetic ugliness of real flesh and also its attractiveness…

Her body extended in a long gilded blur. Goya, Velazquez, aid me, he prayed.


observations: More on this book in an earlier entry to mark its Booker Prize shortlist status in 1969.

The Nice and the Good has a strange resemblance to Michael Frayn’s Towards the End of the Morning – in both there is a married woman strongly coming on to one of the male characters, although Mrs Mounce in the Frayn book doesn’t go this far. And although most of the Murdoch book is set in rather grand London houses and country places, there are also glimpses of the bedsit houses of the Frayn book.

Ducane manages to resist Judy, showing more virtue than we have seen in his character in the first two-thirds of the story. There is a very typical Murdoch-ian sentence about him earlier on:
Ducane had dreamed last night that he had killed some woman, whose identity he could not discover, and was attempting to hide the body under a heap of dead pigeons when he was detected by a terrifying intruder.
His turning down Judy is the start of a rise in his fortunes, and in his overall goodness - so he will be rewarded. As are most of the characters by the end of the book.

Murdoch has some strange and vague ideas about children – in this one young Barbara is back from a Swiss Finishing School at the age of 14, and is going to go to Oxford later, all rather hard to imagine.

Rather like the Nicholas Mosley book also on the Booker Prize list – Impossible Object, see entries here and here – the book is about the horrors of loving the wrong person, and the La Ronde-like chain of who fancies whom, with some black magic and blackmail thrown in. About 100 pages before the end I thought she had run out of plot and the book could perfectly well end there. But on we went, writer and reader, and she thought of a lot more to happen, though the book is a bit unbalanced, and unlikely. However, a very entertaining read.

The picture is by Goya from the Prado in Madrid via Wikimedia Commons.

8 comments:

  1. Moira - I love that sentence you chose to describe Ducane! Interesting that you would mention that for you, the story ended before the novel did. I wonder if that's just a bit of the reason Murdoch's work fell out of favour? Could be just me...

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    1. I think you might be right - she certainly has fallen out of favour since her death, I don't believe she is much read these days.

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  2. I need to call trading standards.....where's the clothing? (I'm shocked!)

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    1. I should have printed a warning at the top shouldn't I? I'll try to ensure future entries have long sleeves, full-length skirts and high collars...

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  3. Moira: Are there any clothes in that painting? Even when I closely examined an enlarged copy I did not detect any apparel.

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    1. Bill, you made me laugh so much with this, you and Col have made my day...

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  4. These men, obsessed with clothes. I think I have said before, I have to try some Iris Murdoch. Don't know when, but someday.

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    1. There's too many authors really isn't there? I liked some of Murdoch's a lot more than others - I would recommend this one, or The Bell.

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