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     Volume 4 Issue 16 | October 8, 2004 |

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Book Review

Iris Murdoch
The Black Prince

Jessica Jacobson

The Black Prince tells the story of Bradley Pearson, an aging writer with few publishing credits to his name. He feels a masterpiece within him, but finds his efforts to focus on his work thwarted by pressures from the women in his life: his sister, his ex-wife, and his best friend's wife and daughter. Murdoch introduces Pearson as a reserved, self-indulged, and solitary man, committed to producing his life's masterpiece and averse to involving himself in others' personal affairs. Reluctantly, he comes to the aid of those who seek him out each time he tries to depart for a quiet space in the countryside, further delaying the creation of his masterpiece.

The story starts out slowly. Pearson's self-absorption and righteousness do not inspire the reader's sympathy nor do the other characters, who privately abuse, cheat, or wish death upon their loved ones while maintaining respectable public appearances. Murdoch intersperses this introduction to the dual-natured main characters and their immediate crises with a great deal of philosophy about the nature of love, art and truth. These issues were Murdoch's passion as a philosopher, but the frequency with which she raises such difficult questions detracts from the story line.

Midway through the book, the pace picks up rapidly. Murdoch successfully involves the reader in the passion -- referred to as the black Eros -- that could awaken Pearson's creativity, causing lasting consequences and turning the relations between English intellectuals into a literary thriller. Murdoch twists and turns the story in a way that makes the reader care for and even sympathise with each character as they struggle with aspects of love and human emotion. The narrative journey encompasses lust, violence, psychosis and adultery, as well as youth, vitality, trust and new beginnings. Combining murder, love and the relationships among a small group of aging Englishmen and women, Murdoch infuses psychological and philosophical tension into a classic tale of love and murder.

Cutting down on the amount of philosophising would have strengthened the story line. But despite Murdoch's refusal to allow editing of her work, The Black Prince made the shortlist for the Booker Prize. A timeless story that unravels timeless emotions, The Black Prince grips the reader with its surprising finale and the talons of Murdoch's writing.

This review was first published in Crescentblues.com



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