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A Severed Head (Vintage Classics) [Kindle Edition]

Iris Murdoch
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)

Print List Price: £8.99
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Book Description

Martin believes he can possess both a beautiful wife and a delightful lover. But when his wife, Antonia, suddenly leaves him for her psychoanalyst, Martin is plunged into an intensive emotional re-education. He attempts to behave beautifully and sensibly. Then he meets a woman whose demonic splendour at first repels him and later arouses a consuming and monstrous passion. How will he survive it?

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"This is a comedy with that touch of ferocity about it which makes for excitement" (Elizabeth Jane Howard)

"Of all the novelists that have made their bow since the war she seems to me to be the most remarkable...behind her books one feels a power of intellect quite exceptional in a novelist" (Sunday Times)

"Immensely readable...Miss Murdoch is blessedly clever without any of the aridity which, for some reason, that word is supposed to imply" (Philip Toynbee)


"A power of intellect quite exceptional in a novelist." -"Sunday Times"

"She is incapable of writing without fascinating and beautiful colour." -"The Times"

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 572 KB
  • Print Length: 210 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Digital; New Ed edition (29 Dec. 2008)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0031RS76S
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #6,771 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Adultery, incest & Samurai swords... 19 Aug. 2005
This is an odd, quirky book which isn't your usual Iris Murdoch: no near-drownings, nature mysticism or accidents involving machines, and only six characters: three men and three women, who change partners regularly in the manner of a Restoration comedy, or a Noel Coward play, until they've pretty much exhausted all the possible combinations. It's a witty book, but I wouldn't agree with the cover blurb which describes it as a "comic novel". Although the bed-hopping is entertaining for the reader, from the point of view of the characters themselves the whole thing is deadly serious. Indeed, I think this is one of the messages Murdoch is trying to get across: life can be painful and farcical at the same time...
Wine merchant Martin Lynch-Gibbon is initially shocked to discover his wife Antonia is sleeping with her psychiatrist, Palmer Anderson. However, he himself is having an affair with a young student, and decides to do the civilised thing and give his tacit approval to his wife's relationship with Palmer, for the sake of an easy life all round. This cozy arrangement is rudely interrupted when Palmer's half-sister, Honor Klein, arrives on the scene: she accuses Martin of cowardice, infuriating him and resulting in a full-blown punch-up between Honor & Martin (in which Honor gives as good as she gets...) Things get even more complicated when Martin's brother Alexander reveals that he has also had an affair with Antonia; and when Martin suddenly realises that he is in love with Honor. But the course of true love never did run smooth, and Martin (and the reader) have a huge shock in store.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A delight, but avoid the introduction 1 Dec. 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is a delight, but I felt moved to post a review to warn people not to read the introduction by Miranda Seymour before reading the novel, because it gives away many of the important plot developments. Half the fun of the novel comes from some of the unexpected events, so do read the introduction afterwards rather than before. Luckily this is what I did, so it didn't spoil anything.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Waste of Time 13 Sept. 2010
what a waste of time.

I have read and enjoyed Iris Murdoch's The Bell The Bell (Vintage Classics) and ADORED the incomparable The Sea, The Sea.The Sea, the Sea(in my top 10 ever books, I reckon) but A Severed head was a plotless, characterless, repetetive and lazy novel which did not make sense in terms of motivation or psychology. Dull characters saying silly and outrageous things and behaving like 2-D written characters, not like people.

Bed-hopping, philosophy-spouting drearyness and the fog! Oh my goodness - the heavy-handed 'infernal' fog. we get it. He's on an dante-esque descent into a personal hell. WE GET IT! What a dull read.

There was too much "steadycam" action describing characters again and again pouring wine, making tea, trying to sleep. Only 200 hundred words and so many of them superfluous.

Iris Murdoch is worth reading. This is not. It does not do her justice
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Change Partners and Dance 17 April 2012
By Stephanie De Pue TOP 1000 REVIEWER
"A Severed Head," (1961), is the fifth novel from Dublin-born, Anglo-Irish Dame Iris Murdoch, British writer, Oxford university don, and highly praised, professional, prolific novelist. She produced 26 novels in 40 years, and wrote the last while suffering from Alzheimers, as viewers of Richard Eyre's film Iris [DVD](2001) will know. That film based on her husband John Bayley's memoirs of life with the philosopher/poet/lecturer/novelist starred Kate Winslet as the young writer and Judi Dench as the older. Murdoch was known for novels that considered political and social questions, sexual relationships, morality, the unconscious, good and evil. And the author's characters seemed all to drink and smoke heavily. At any rate, while Murdoch was in her prime, she was known as a perfectionist who would not allow editors to change her texts. Her first published novel, Under The Net (Vintage Classics), was selected in 2001 by the editorial board as one of Modern Library's 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. She was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1976, and a Dame Commander of the Order in 1987. The Times (London) named Murdoch to their list of "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945" in 2008.

Many critics consider SEVERED HEAD, to be the lightest, most entertaining, and most accessible of Murdoch's novels: it unspools as an elegant minuet in which nimble-footed people continuously change partners and dance.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant writing! 8 July 2015
This is first book by Iris Murdoch that I’ve read and [to my great surprise] I found it utterly absorbing. Not one of the characters is likeable: they live in a world that is privileged, self satisfied and totally nauseating. They change partners as in a country dance. Yet the comedy and the brilliance of the writing compelled me through the book to the end.
As it says on the back of my version of this book “As macabre as a Jacobean tragedy, as frivolous as a Restoration comedy..” Quite. How I would love to see this on the stage.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
now feels dated, such isolated people living in a world apart
Published 2 months ago by blah blah blah
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
I read this for a book group, the forst Iris Murdoch I'd ever read. Initially I loved this book - the quiet sarcasm and casual cruelty reminded me of the early works of Evelyn... Read more
Published 4 months ago by J. Taylor
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Published 5 months ago by Alan.R. Del Mar
1.0 out of 5 stars Hogwash
A truly terrible book with no redeeming features.
All the characters are truly detestable. No one is vaguely likeable, everyone is selfish, self pitying and attempt to justify... Read more
Published 5 months ago by morganyossarian
1.0 out of 5 stars Not for me
Not my cup of tea at all. My interpretation is it is an unpleasant "in joke" about a number of obnoxious
self centred individuals
Published 7 months ago by Brian J.NIcholson
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 12 months ago by stephen howes
2.0 out of 5 stars Ok
Afraid iris murdoch doesn't wear well. Loved it years ago
Published 12 months ago by Pat foster
3.0 out of 5 stars Strange
This started out well with a pleasing wave of schadenfreude washing over me when adulterer Martin learns that his wife is having an affair with his best friend. Read more
Published on 21 Feb. 2012 by Swizzlestick
2.0 out of 5 stars Self-indulgent, self-congratulatory and dull
Very rich middle-aged people, all apparently with firsts from Oxford, play around with each other and then implore the deceived partners to stick around and be loving friends. Read more
Published on 9 Nov. 2011 by Nick Macfie
4.0 out of 5 stars love stories, like musical chairs - in a washing machine
This is an unusual and enjoyable novel, full of struggling (largely unsympathetic) characters, delicious ironies, and understated mysteries that ply the readers' imagination even... Read more
Published on 24 May 2011 by rob crawford
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