Tuesday, 17 November 2009

The Bell by Iris Murdoch

Ever since having watched the movie Iris with Judy Dench and Kate Winslet (excellent film), I’ve wanted to read something by Iris Murdoch, just to get a glimpse of what went on in her mind before she fell to Alzheimer’s. Since her books aren’t available through Audible, I waited until I could get my hands on a real copy. It was worth it.

The Bell centres on a lay community adjacent to a reclusive Abbey. Imber Court is only in its beginnings as Dora Greenfield returns to her husband, who is staying at Imber for research purposes, after having fled from him a short while before. Toby Gashe, a young student wishing to experience life in such a community, also arrives at the same time as Dora. The community itself is aware that they must grow sometime, but is afraid that the new comers will disrupt the lives they have just started to live, so as the two arrive, tension is already fairly high.

The focus of the novel continually shifts from one member of the community to the other, with the narrative giving insight to the thoughts of Dora, Toby and Michael, the pseudo leader of the community, as they go about their lives. As such, the book is very introspective and examines the motives for both actions and reactions of all the characters. What becomes clear through this particular form of narrative is that things below the surface are not as they are above. This is later reflected in the lake surrounding the Court where Toby finds the old bell which had been thrown in many years ago in an attempt to save it from marauders and plunderers. The new world is above while the old world lingers below and waits to be rediscovered. The narrative reveals parts of the characters which they either hope not to ever show to the world at large, or have not yet discovered themselves.

As I think back on it, there were a lot of things I either missed or failed to make a connection with while I read the book the first time. I think it would really benefit from a second reading if you wanted to really get to know the book, which I’m certain I will do eventually, just not at the moment. I’d like to go on and read more of Murdoch before re-reading any one book. All in all, I think she’s really worth exploring as an author in general. The Bell gets a 5 out of 5 from me.

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