9 Oct 2010
Review: "The Book and the Brotherhood" - The effect of a common enemy
What is it about? Somebody asked me when I had just begun reading the 700-something pages long "The Book and the Brotherhood" by Iris Murdoch. I had no answer, really, because the book cannot be summed up in a few words or a sentence - firstly because it is long, secondly because there is a lot of action in this book but it is not the action that matters, rather all the things that take place around the action. The book focuses on a group of people who have been friends since they went to university at Oxford.
Gerard lost his beloved friend Sinclair at a young age and now he is best friends with his sister Rose who is not-so-secretly in love with him. Jenkin is their friend and is secretly in love with Rose but dare not say anything as he knows how she feels about Gerard. Duncan and Jean are a married couple who are in the centre of the circle and on the outskirt of the circle are Gulliver and Lily who stick together since outsiders they are and Pat and Gideon, the pushy brother and sister-in-law of Gerard, and Pat's sister Violet, depressed and financially desolate and her daughter Tamar. They all interact happily until that night of the ball at Oxford where Lily shows up with Crimond. Their common enemy. And Crimond swoops down like a predator and snares away Jean from her marriage and leaves the circle to slow fall into pieces.
Years ago they all regarded Crimond as a genius, someone to be supported and protected so they banded together and decided to fund Crimond writing a book. The book of all time and of all ideas. The book that would be his legacy. However, when they fell out with Crimond they could not stop funding the book and now that he has taken away Jean, the book become the centre of all that is happening to them.
There are many interlinking stories to follow. The story of young Tamar who is regarded as an angel by them all but who has to drop out of Oxford to support her mother. Of Lily and Gulliver who struggle to find their places in life and in society. The story of Rose who has never recovered from the loss of her brother and the story of Gerard who hasn't recovered either. Crimond plays a part in all these stories.
It is a wonderful book. I loved the fact that it was so long because it meant that I got to spend lots of time with it. And every time I pulled it out of my bag on the bus or picked it up to read, it was like meeting an old friend. I really bonded with the characters and got to like them. Especially Rose and Tamar. Rose seems like such a wonderful woman, so much personality and character. I really wish she was real and hated putting the book down when it ended. It is a beautiful book and I have already bought another book by Iris Murdoch that I look forward to reading.