The Good Apprentice (Classic, 20th-Century, Penguin)

The Good Apprentice (Classic, 20th-Century, Penguin) - Iris Murdoch [These notes were made in 1987:]. Like all Murdochs, this is a tremendously involved and complex novel, but there is at least emotional unity to it - or perhaps I am merely more attuned to this unity than I have been in her earlier stuff. This novel is about grief and loss - living through it, surviving it, taking responsibility for your actions without destroying yourself. It also, as the cover blurb quite rightly says, is about the problem of being good. Plot? There's Edward, a heedless young University student who kills his best friend accidentally with a combination of a prank (he administers drugs) and carelessness (he goes off to be with a girl). He goes into a tremendous depression, and his uncle Thomas, a psychiatrist, arranges for him to visit Seegard, the strange, other-worldly home of his biological father, Jesse, and the three women who are actually closer kin to Edward than the family with whom he has grown up. That family is Harry (who married Edward's mother, Chloe, now dead) and Stuart, Harry's son by another marriage. Stuart, a brilliant mathematician, is striving in rather unusual ways to find goodness - a sort of self-imposed monasticism without God. Harry is having an affair with Midge, Chloe's sister and Thomas's wife. Such is the situation at the beginning! Edward finds a sort of solace in caring for his now senile father, and in falling in love with his dead friend's sister, Brownie. When he loses both, he somehow manages to go on anyway. Stuart discovers that he is a blunderer, and loses his spiritual pride, but yes, manages to do some good anyway. The affair between Harry and Midge is found out by Thomas, and Midge, in a sort of reaction against having to choose between Harry & Thomas, develops a crush on Stuart. Everybody moves ahead a little in their understanding of themselves and the nature of love. Meanwhile there are all sorts of symbols and recurring motifs working themselves out in ways I can't begin to fathom. The link between sex and death is everywhere insisted upon, which does not mean that sex (or, indeed, death) is made to seem a bad thing. It's a long novel (522 pp.) but I could read it again with interest. Perhaps I will.