Monday, August 09, 2004

I just finished reading a really, really weird book. I’d read a few of Iris Murdoch’s novels previously, which were good but mostly unmemorable–The Nice and the Good, Under the Net, and I think one other. The Unicorn is really not in the same category. The best genre to which I can assign it is that of the Gothic novel, only in the 1960's instead of the 1800's. I’m not sure how much I want to describe it, partly because I still have to think about the sort of symbolism and metaphor of the situation and figure out exactly what happened, but I’ll do my best. The "unicorn" is a woman imprisoned by her husband in an incredibly remote house on the Scottish (I believe) coast, who has in turn imprisoned the group of people who care for her, keeping them under a mysterious spell. They are all enchanted by her in various ways, yet at the end of the book, when at last the spell is broken, it’s as if nothing happened. The mystery is shaken off, stowed beneath layers of normality, and they return to their respective lives. I don’t know why they’re not more changed or affected by the whole affair (which lasted seven years!), or if that’s the point... Hmm. More thinking is necessary.

"I have become unreal. You have made me unreal by thinking about me so much. You made me into an object of contemplation. Just like this landscape. I have made it unreal by endlessly looking at it instead of entering it."
–Iris Murdoch, The Unicorn

Perhaps, because it was so unreal, it was easier to leave behind–but if the characters haven’t learned anything, then what has the reader learned? I don’t usually analyze books so closely, but I really am baffled by this novel. I don’t know why it was written.

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