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3.4 out of 5 stars15
3.4 out of 5 stars
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on 11 March 2004
The Unicorn is seen by some as Iris Murdoch's most perfect novel - for the first half at least. Some favourite Iris Murdochian elements reoccur - an isolated house by the sea, a dangerous and unswimmable ocean, unrequited and obsessive lovers - and there are some lasting descriptions of the Irish coast. This book sits with those books of hers which seem more 'felt': sometimes the games she plays with her characters can seem intellectual but here this is not the case. The mixture of mythological and fairy tale touches in this setting fox any attempt to put the novel into a simple category, and if you enjoy that sense of mystification which arises from her books then experiment with this, one of her lesser known but utterly wonderful works.
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on 23 August 2009
My measure for whether or not I appreciate a book is (usually) whether it stays with me once I close its covers. This book has certainly done that - in a disturbing, oppressive way. The characters and their relationships are dark and subtly frightening, and that's what I found myself contemplating after reading the book. Iris Murdoch manages to create this emotion gradually, sneakily. I wasn't aware at first that this is what I was beginning to feel. On one hand, that mirrors the main character's realisations, which means the writing works really well. On the other hand, however, there are stretches of painfully slow storytelling (including some philosophical discussions that simply bored me - but I hardly ever think this kind of fictional debate works).

If you enjoy character revelations and relationships in unique settings, then I can definitely recommend this book. The actual plot and substance of the story I found negligible.
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on 16 September 2008
Only Iris Murdoch can conjure scintillating entertainment out of errant nonsense and she does just that in this curious mixture of Gothic romance, allegory and Shakespearean comedy. Marian Taylor arrives at Graze Castle on a wild and remote part of the Irish coast on a teaching assignment. On arrival, instead of a class of children, she discovers that she is to tutor Hannah, an enigmatic middle-aged woman who is being held prisoner in the castle by a psychological barrier of her own making. Around Hannah there is a small group of neurotic, apparently jobless individuals - all interconnected - who either wish to keep her within the castle grounds or who wish her to escape but seem powerless to effect it. All the usual Murdoch elements are present: religious uncertainty, homosexuality, hints at the supernatural, and an atmosphere of repressed hysteria. The central theme is, of course (as always in Iris Murdoch's books), love in all its manifestations: all-powerful, deceptive, capricious, obsessive, destructive. By turns gripping, darkly comic, tragic and downright bizarre, The Unicorn is nevertheless not quite the author's best. For that try A Word Child, The Sea The Sea, or The Book and the Brotherhood.
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on 4 September 2002
Okay, I'll admit it. I was influenced by all the hype about the film (something i'm not usually guilty of). What's the harm in giving a new author a go I said to myself. So I chose a short one to see what all the fuss was about. The Unicorn caught my eye because I like all things gothic, and I wasn't disappointed here. Murdoch's description in this book is excellent, but what really caught my attention was the pastiche of gothicism that she presents. At times the action is very over the top and difficult to take seriously making the whole book a very enjoyable romp through the cliches of the genre. I have to say I loved this book and would read Murdoch again if this is anything to go by!
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on 11 May 2013
This is a page turner, but in the most lack-lustre sense of the phrase. I was intrigued by the suggestion that it was in a similar vein to Rebecca by Du Maurier, but in my opinion is not quite so compelling.

I fully appreciate the symbolism and the Gothic inspiration; however, I just felt a bit 'so what!?' when I had finished reading it. There were several plot developments that went nowhere (they seemed pointless rather than deliberate), and rather than feeling infuriated by the lack of resolution, I was rather nonplussed by it all. Don't get me wrong: it's not the fact that it was unresolved that I didn't like - I like a good bit of irresolution in a novel; I would rather feel something, even if it is frustration! But this gave me no food for thought.

Having said all this, the plot is at least partially compelling (I think in terms of the 'idea' more than anything) and some of the characters do undergo some intriguing developments. I will stow my copy away and have another read in a couple of years - I suspect it could be one of those novels that is more rewarding the second time.
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on 22 January 2014
Enjoyable is a stange way to describe this book which is definately odd but interesting. A mystery. what exactly happened and why are people getting twitchy about it seven years later? Myth and folklore mixed into a modern day story which is def. odd.
What can happen when people with the best intentions meddle and make things worse.
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on 3 January 2015
Atmospheric verging on suffocating. The story is of a woman who is in self-imposed exile after an accident where she then fled to New York. In a nameless, solitary environment the relationships between the characters are incestuous and complicated. I felt Murdoch was exploring psychological territory that I wasn’t quite understanding though the novel got under my skin anyway.
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on 14 August 2012
A friend of mine recommended this novel to me, describing it as similar to "Rebecca", which is a fantastic read. But, I was disappointed, and not just because it was only similar to Rebecca in terms of the mild curiosity it invoked. It felt gothic and myseterious and intriguing, but only in the first half. Later on, it almost becomes farcical when characters who didn't seem to have much of an acquaintance suddenly profess their undying love. When the author tries to explain the Hannah-situation to Effingham (through the character of Max), I was totally bewildered and it seemed the novel had lapsed into a text book of Psychology or Philosophy. The main character Hannah is infuriating and I was completely confused about what so many men found attractive about her, given that she hardly seemed to do anything in the novel but play house with Marian and then cry incessantly. It can be the sign of a good book when you discuss the characters as if they were real, but in this case I am just venting my anguish at how under developed and vacuous the characters seemed. Parts of this book are beautifully written, but I wanted to engage with the novel, not just admire the pretty words and metaphors. Towards the end I realised I was only so determined to read through the chapters because I wanted to know who died and who departed (alive), like some rubber-necking reader. I certainly didn't care which characters survived and which ones did not.
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on 27 December 2015
Started off full of gothic promise. Ended up Jackie Collins/Virginia Andrews. Weak characters abound in this book and Iris: I'm thoroughly disappointed.
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on 18 May 2015
Not my favourite of her books. The story is predictable and the so are the characters.
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