Monday, May 26, 2008

Iris and the Friends: A Year of Memories by John Bayley

This completes a trilogy of biographies about Iris Murdoch. The first I read back in 1999 right around the time of her death. John Bayley also wrote that one, Iris: An Elegy. The second is the outstanding Conradi biography reviewed below.

The third has some photos not in the Conradi, whose work really trails off during the last few months of her life. These “memories” by John Bayley of the last year of Murdoch’s life have the feel of a journal. Sometimes the chapters will overlap with the first 2/3s of a story ending a chapter, and the second 2/3s beginning the next. The detail is extremely frank about Iris’ last days at home with John. I almost wished I had not read this and left only with the images of Iris at the end of Conradi.

But there is still a lot of good stuff here. Only John Bayley could provide insights into his wife’s process. For example, I learned that she never used a typewriter. She conceived her books entirely in her head, and when finished, she announced it was “ready to write.” This makes the loss of her memory even more tragic, if that is possible.

One fun thing is the number of literary quotes and allusions Bayley uses. I get about half of them, but looking up the other half is a hoot. Praise Minerva for Gooogle!

The description of their house sounds frighteningly like our home. It might seem messy and ill-kept to some, but there is a pleasing, comfortable order to it all. For fans of Murdoch, 5 stars; for fans of literary biographies, 4 stars; for all others, 3 stars.

--Chiron, 5/26/08

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