December 1, 2004

The Italian Girl

Category: Literature :: Permalink

This morning, I finished Iris Murdoch’s The Italian Girl. It was pretty gripping in places, though I don’t think it’s one of her best novels. In fact, parts of the plot reminded me strongly of her previous novel, The Unicorn, which, since I’m reading her works in chronological order, was the last Murdoch I read.

Murdoch was a philosopher and, if I recall correctly, a Platonist. It strikes me that there’s something fundamentally Platonic about the plots of at least these two novels. The Italian Girl starts in darkness: it’s night and Edmund is returning to his mother’s home after his mother’s death. He meets an odd character, David, who, together with his sister, Elsa, is a catalyst. When Edmund and David collide, it seems that everything ultimately falls apart. Characters begin to understand themselves and their situations, perhaps for the first time. The novel ends with bright sunlight. Now perhaps I’m mistaken, but isn’t that Plato’s cave?

Now I also hasten to add that Murdoch is a better novelist than that. There’s much more than Plato happening in this book. Still, it does strike me that this theme does characterize more than just this one Murdoch novel.

On the other hand, it also strikes me that many novels and short stories hinge on a sort of revelation which takes place toward the end such that suddenly characters understand their own hidden motives or the truth about their situation or something like that. Maybe it’s just that this novel struck me as blatantly Platonic, and perhaps it’s also that the ending didn’t fully satisfy me.

Posted by John Barach @ 4:26 pm | Discuss (0)

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