The Good Apprentice

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The Good Apprentice

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1sibylline
Editat: feb. 25, 2013, 7:33pm

This will be my March 2013 read. Not that I'll wait.

2sibylline
març 4, 2013, 12:39pm

Finally, this morning I was able to begin The Good Apprentice - already I am very involved, it certainly starts out with a huge mess - so you wonder and hope - that this will be a gradual story of redemption. Anyway, I actually like Edward, so far, and I have thought about his situation - how one brief moment of carelessness can be such a life-changer and how does a person go on after. Great theme to examine and capable hands to examine it.

3sibylline
març 5, 2013, 4:21pm

I'm still not very far in, but this one is different from my first two - in that a huge 'event' happens immediately. Also that the pov is shifting about. Also that there is a strong and even rather cohesive family group, a core, and various outer rings who really care about what has happened to Edward in their various ways, some sensitive, some not - but very individual and revealing - It's funny and fast - more like Spark than ever, with a bit of Thirkell, Keane, and various others who do 'dinner party' brilliantly. People talking over and around and through one another. I'm saying there is real warmth here or the appearance of it, you never know, of course.

4sibylline
Editat: març 9, 2013, 1:47pm

Now I'm feeling an echo of 'the other' Elizabeth Taylor - the book about the painter who also runs a sort of commune made up of his family and students, all devoted to himself. Have to go find that title. The Wedding Group.

Quite interesting how Iris is setting up Thomas and Harry in their approach to dealing with suffering. And I just experienced that flip-flop where suddenly you find out more about what is going on between the various characters, the understory, more of the story.

However, I want to say that so far not one of these people is hateful or utterly self-absorbed the way more than a few were in the three previous novels I've read. The Bell, The Severed Head & The Sea, The Sea. The Sea, The Sea barely had anyone I could respect or care much about, The Bell had several, - although mainly just Dora, Toby and Michael - and The Severed Head gosh, there wasn't anyone, but that was pretty much a bedroom farce anyway.

Not to say they are loveable either, just more rounded so far, more likeable - even Harry with his, what many would describe as superficial, 'move on' attitude. He declares how attached to life and to living he is, not to moping about death. Thomas sees himself as a sort of priest of death - helping people find the myths they can live by, easing them into acceptance of the inevitability of suffering. It's not subtly laid out as some writers might arrange it, but I don't mind that. Here IM seems to be balancing character and story-telling with her exploration of ideas in a more appealing way, at least to me.

5sibylline
març 9, 2013, 3:03pm

....And another 'big house' - both lavish but stark, a mass of contradictions between dedication to an aesthetic and homeliness - the sea is nearby but hard to get to because of the fens, very flooded at this time of year.....

And Harry is revealing himself to be yet another one of those bossy arrogant men, imagining that he can control and manipulate people.

6LyzzyBee
març 10, 2013, 3:19am

Sibyx, re The Wedding Group yes indeed - I recall Ali and I being quite excited at the Murdochian echoes in that one - it's interesting to see it this way round!

7labwriter
Editat: març 10, 2013, 8:33am

>4 sibylline:. Not to say they are loveable either

Oh good, because if you did say that about a set of IM's characters, I would be wondering about you--ha.

I was reading a NYT review of her work, and although we know that writers always lie (tell stories) about themselves and their work, I found this to be interesting (and I wonder if it isn't more than a little bit true): "She once claimed to an inquisitive biographer that she based all her characters on herself." That's a pretty funny statement, considering how unlikeable some of her characters are.

8sibylline
març 10, 2013, 9:09am

What intriguing and wonderful comments to find here.

How to say this without making a big generalization? Because in genre writing and in many other types of novels, what I will say next is not true, but there is a type of novelist who, I think, consciously 'fragments' aspects of their own psyches - James, Woolf and Flaubert leap into my mind - it's not so much they are writing about 'themselves' per se, but about types (not a great word) they 'resonate' with, feel deeply connected to - so the essence of a character might truly be something Iris saw or felt or had examined in her own self. Not all the characters, but the main players in any story. The naive, the earnest, side by side with headstrong doer and the intellectual..... I kept thinking that Dora and the Abbess in The Bell were similar - that The Abbess was a grown-up, wise Dora and that I was meant to 'get' that when they both rescue the girl.

A further thought is that Iris has no concern at all with likeability in her characters - she's always working out a 'problem' in ethical behavior, the human condition or whatever you want to call it. Something about her does seem..... removed.....in a way I can't quite wrap my head around, that does make me want to read a bio about her.

The key in this book is Thomas' I think, with his 'mythology to live by' and his practicing for death - all the chat around the dinner table was Iris being both serious and funny about conversations she had undoubtedly heard and participated in. Both Edward and Stuart (who I suspect is most 'like' Iris in this novel) are seeking a 'way' to understand themselves and be in the world, Stuart is a blank slate and Edward is a broken one, so it is an interesting 'problem'.

LyzzyBee I think I'm hooked.

I keep meaning to tell you, on a more personal level, that we started out calling our Elizabeth) daughter LizzyBee and when she was about 1 1/2 she compacted it to ZB.

9sibylline
març 14, 2013, 9:04am

I haven't written anything in a bit because I have been distracted by other books and events - however I have been mulling over this proclivity all the men in her books seem to have of thinking they have a right to 'have' a woman they are in love with and that any sort of scheming and mayhem (often dangerous) that they get up to is not something they have to examine ethically - it's double-awful because the wishes of the woman herself aren't considered for even a moment as well as the larger issue of hurting many other people. So I'm detecting this 'sub-theme' of IM's as having to do with having and owning and possession..... all the more admirable characters are free of this vice. at least, as far as I've read - 3 1/2 novels.

10labwriter
Editat: març 17, 2013, 2:14pm

>9 sibylline:. Great insight in your post, Sib! I don't know if this is apropos of anything in your comment--just take it as an observation. From reading Conradi's biography, I would have to wonder if Iris didn't have a bit of a blind spot when it came to males. She was an only child and never had children of her own. She was sent off to a girls' boarding school at the age of 12, where she spent the next six years under the eagle eye of the headmistress, Miss Baker who was, of course, a "Miss" as were the other teachers Iris encountered there. I don't know what contact the girls at Badminton had with any of the boys' schools, since it's a subject that Conradi doesn't seem to show any interest in--and maybe that's because there was nothing much to say about the boys Iris might have known in her teen years.

So there she was, going off to Oxford, and the "boys" she came in contact with there would have been young men looking for what young men normally look for at that age. So her early experience of men would have been this group of Oxford men who undoubtedly felt to her as if they were scheming and full of mayhem (and dangerous) and not particularly into examining the ethics of whether or not they had a "right" to the young women in their set. Plus, consider the times. Conradi has a good quote from Napoleon:
To find out who someone is, Napoleon remarked, one must ask, 'How did the world look, around the time that they were twenty?' The twelve months before the outbreak of the Second World War were a time of intense hope and fear, anxiety and dread. The young were intensely stirred up.
Anyway, just thought I'd throw these thoughts into the pot.

11sibylline
Editat: març 18, 2013, 7:05am

Done! I took advantage of a Readathon to burrow in. I do think it changes the experience of a book when you get to read it all at once and not in little pieces.

Many many thoughts jumbling around in my head as I finish Iris Murdoch's The Good Apprentice. Not the least of which is that I am beginning to 'get' Iris Murdoch and I can see how this could well turn into awe a few more books down the road. You could make a case that she is writing more or less the same book over and over again, but that isn't it. More like she is examining a few of the most important questions - the nature of good and evil and our variety (and also similarity) of human responses to emergency situations that arise. How we make things up to suit ourselves, create stories and make things fit, how we rationalize our lying, shrug off our cowardice..... Human behavior as IM sees it, is such a complex interweaving of events and character, that it can be examined endlessly. No coincidence that the two most important animal images in this novel are spiders and a mouse. Something so tiny can alter everything. One careless action can change a life irrevocably is the idea from which the story of The Good Apprentice flows. Edward gives a friend a hallucinogenic, and then, thinking the friend is safely asleep, leaves the room (locked) to visit someone. When he returns the friend has jumped out the window and is dead. Family members and friends gather around, but Edward is lost in his grief. He loved his friend deeply and is in a state of shock and paralysis. How is he to go on and have a life? And it is a good question.
As often is the case in a Murdoch book, the relationships between people are labyrinthine, Edward has a stepfather he loves as a father, and a step-brother ditto. His stepfather is having an affair with his aunt who is married to a brilliant psychotherapist.....(who manipulates much of what happens in the novel.) Edward's accident pushes any number of static situations (the affair being one of them) into motion. Out of the blue Edward receives an invitation to visit Seegard, his real father's home on the coast, up in the fens, and hoping that getting to know his real father might lead to his salvation he goes and finds himself in an almost unreal and definitely uncanny environment. There is a huge strange house and lots of water - two important Murdochian ingredients. As always with Murdoch, there is a tug of war between rationality and the mystical, a tension I happen to believe is a critical part of the human .... geography?..... both our story-making and our ability to act logically matter, make us who and what we are. Self awareness is everything. Edward's brother Stuart is one of the most fascinating characters Murdoch has put forward yet - a man who has decided to detach himself in every possible way from both story-making and logic in an effort to be truly good. Having done this he becomes a kind of palimpsest for everyone to write their own fictions upon, a blank, a threat, frightening and fascinating. It's breathtaking. As always with Murdoch, there are maddening interactions where people talk at complete cross-purposes, not listening, caught up in their own fictions, but of course, that is just how we all are. Murdoch reminds us of this both fiercely and compassionately. ****1/2

Below are some choice quotes:
Sometimes, because of a catastrophe, a bereavement or some total loss of self-esteem, our falsehoods become pernicious, and we are forced to choose between some painful recognition of truth and an ever more frenzied and aggressive manufacturing of lies." (Thomas, the psych. uncle to Edward)
But the therapist is not God, not even a priest or a sage, and must prompt the sufferer to heal himself through his own deities, and this involves finding them." Thomas thinking after Edward leaves.
That whole episode now seemed to belong to a kind of dull madness which belonged in his unhappy being like an alien ball of black rags which had somehow been stuffed in under his skin. Edward, about a seance he impulsively attends.
So much of life is acting - it can be disastrous, but sometimes it's a way of extracting some reality from a situation which would otherwise be beyond you." Thomas to his wife.
As Edward found these words emerging from his mouth he felt a thrill of fright as if the words were actually little animals which had leapt out of his mouth and were now running about."
I suspect that goodness is too hard even to name and 'comes about' infinitely slowly it at all, as a scarcely visible result of watching a million steps." A friend in a letter to Stuart (the Good Apprentice himself, the brother)
Someone had described God as boiling over in the dark, a vast dark boiling of perpetually self-creating being. Something at Keats saw too.
He {Edward} stumbled out, blinking, into the warm wide evening where there was an unexpectedly bright light, and stumbled on the uneven stones of the pavement. (new para) The man came forward. The bright dark light illumined Stuart's commanding stature...." significant uses of 'light'. Naturally the man is Stuart, Edward's brother.
The human mind is a bottomless mystery." Ursula, a sensible pediatrician (or GP) family friend.
Perhaps I'm just realizing, now that I've started, that if I do anything at all I can do evil."
And Midge had a picture of black pellets emerging from her mouth and being hanged into white sweetmeats, white bread, white moths, doves. I suppose that's what happens when people confess to a priest." This after getting back w/ her husband, confessing her affair, being absolved.
Death was everywhere, its rays were falling upon herself and upon those she loved and upon the whole earth. Echoing the end of Joyce's "The Dead".
Thomas, perhaps it was a Scottish characteristic, was in fact far better off than he had ever let on to anybody, even his wife." Sounds about right.....
In another way it's a whole complex thing, internally connected, like a dark globe, a dark world, as if we were all parts of a single drama, living inside a work of art." Edward musing, at the end of the novel, about his adventures, his journey, to the start of wholeness - the weird events, coincidences and intertwinings.....

A lot of quotes, but I've chosen many of them (except a few that admire images or humor) as examples of developments of IM's themes, her voice speaking through her characters perhaps.

12sibylline
Editat: març 18, 2013, 7:06am

I also seemed very aware in this one of literary references that, I think, we are meant to notice and think about - from the references (several) to Proust (Edward is studying him, studying french), to Joyce, and even Tolkien. And I kept having these odd flashes from the name Seegard, to William Sebald - who wrote about this very area, I think, in his book The Rings of Saturn. It made me wonder if they were acquainted.

The Tolkien matters quite a bit as one of Iris's sub themes is making up a mythology to heal a terrible hurt. Not only was Tolkien orphaned young (and his father's family rejected his widowed mother as a Catholic) but his experiences in WWI were devastating and it is generally accepted that the whole of Middle Earth emerged as a place he could go and feel whole.

13sibylline
març 18, 2013, 9:48am

Wow, Laura (see Laura's review) what a different take. Now that I'm here I'm not sure what to say - except one thing I feel very sure of - that Stuart is not religious. He isn't even 'spiritual'- he's trying to figure out how a person can simply BE good. It's not an exercise, it's not casual, it springs from someplace deep inside him. Like the cousin in The Sea, The Sea Stuart is 'other' - someone who is, by some compulsion and effort, transcending behavior as usual - and other people find him either fascinating or threatening (revealing more about themselves than about him). I can't quite think of the name of the fellow who, after studying maths and philosophy at Oxford, had a kind of nervous breakdown and sat on a park bench in London for a year until..... something..... oh yes, Eckhart Tolle - The Power of Now - you either think he's a quack or special, but you can't be indifferent to him. Thomas isn't too shabby either in his doubt and self-awareness of the danger in his manipulations. Ah well, for me this one goes the deepest yet (of four, so not many), but I see there were others who felt frustrated too.

14lauralkeet
març 18, 2013, 11:06am

Lucy, your review was so thoughtful, it kind of makes me want to try the book again!

15sibylline
Editat: març 18, 2013, 11:18am

I wouldn't want to push you unless you are willing - Harry - the stepfather is surely a pain, and I while I did 'read' his rants, it was with one eye sort of squinted. He's so much one of those typical men who truly think they can 'will' things to happen (I do think Iris loves crushing them! Except she knows, too, that this sort of person is like a pop up toy, they just uncrush and keep on.) I did care enormously about Edward too - more than once I've wondered how a person who has made one stupid mistake and NOT gotten away with it (because all of us do very stupid things especially as teenagers and young adults and mostly DO get away with it) can live, can go on. I knew someone, growing up, who had blinded one eye of one of his siblings doing something stupid...... it wrecked him really...... although I don't know how he is now. He might be fine, but I doubt it. So I was truly fascinated by the premise.