by John Bayley
Category: Language & Literature / Literature History
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Publication date: 9 September 1999
Number of pages: 304
John Bayley's account of his long and loving marriage to the great novelist Iris Murdoch takes us on a journey, from their love affair's comically inauspicious beginnings in the Oxford of the early fifties (Bayley courted Iris on account of her unchallenging plain looks and their first date consisted of a revolting dinner followed by a disastrous dance when Iris sprained her ankle) to its slow and painful closure when the onset of Alzheimer's more than forty years later, which should be devastating. Yet as Bayley charts the gradual dissolution of Iris's remarkable intellect side by side with the detail of their gloriously eccentric and profoundly satisfying life together, what emerges is the complex portrait of an enigmatic and brilliant woman and of a marriage of quite extraordinary, unforced happiness, and some remarkable insight into the richly mysterious symbolism of Iris Murdoch's novels. Wry, intelligent, and unexpectedly hilarious, IRIS is an unforgettable inquiry into the nature of love and identity and a uniquely moving articulation of loss.
Bayleys touching memoir of his wife, the prolific novelist and academic Iris Murdoch, is full of good grace. He tries to slide into the background, chiding himself with gentle humour, as the life of these two intellectual eccentrics unfolds; but he is always there, caring for Iris, putting her centre stage. When he met Murdoch at Oxford, where she taught philosophy, he thought she would have no suitors because of her looks; but he was wrong. Murdoch was extremely popular, and Bayley admits to hopeless jealousy of her self-contained friendships, of her discrete world. When they married three years later their relationship was like that of two quaint children babbling together, rubbing noses, discovering the playful in each other. They lived in houses full of dust, never tidied, amid gardens long overgrown, sharing a love of swimming in rivers and child-like jokes. Murdoch hated foxhunting but was mildly in favour of country sports; she liked plants but was no gardener; she was formidably learned, but never showed it. And then there was the Alzheimers. Bayleys memoir is of the past interspersed with the present, drifting waterily in and out of memories as did Murdoch when the Alzheimers took hold. The book is a meandering river going slowly back to source, gently absorbing Murdochs perennial question, where are we going? The disease is quietly embraced by them both, surrounded and enclosed in the marriage. Murdoch won the Booker Prize in 1978; now they watched the Teletubbies together. She had a great unspeakable fear of trees, and said that she was sailing into the dark: going home. Murdoch had a calm luminescence about her even during her last years and her life with Bayley feels like a spiritual tone-poem, evoking our deepest humility and respect. (Kirkus UK)
What the papers say:
This is the greatest love story of our age. Incomparable OBSERVER A beautiful testament of love IRISH TIMES A joyous paean to his beloved... This is a brave and poignant portrait of a very English marriage between a brilliant couple...the heartbreaks here recoreded are balanced against the joys of a lifetime's companionship with a partner who has clearly never ceased to be an object of adoration. THE TIMES A unique glimpse into the alchemy of marriage ... a work of art Victoria Glendinning, DAILY TELEGRAPH
John Bayley is the author of ALICE, THE QUEER CAPTAIN, GEORGE'S LAIR and THE RED HAT. He was Warton Professor of English at the University of Oxford and is a fellow of St Catherine's College.
In Stock: 10 copies