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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars compelling biography
A short while ago I finished a turgid biography of Oscar Wilde. At the end I knew a few more facts but very little about the real person. This book is completely different. Right from the start I found it highly engaging and a very compelling read. It has very little of the tedious account of details that tends to plague biographies, and yet presents a full and wonderful...
Published on 3 May 2005

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Nasty but Fun!
Firstly - do NOT read this book if you're looking for facts about the life of Iris Murdoch. You will find it confusing, with dispiritingly little about the novels, and a tendency to jump all over the place, with lots left out. For a chronological, informative account of Iris Murdoch's life Peter Conradi's excellent biography is the best option. However, if having read the...
Published on 20 Feb. 2012 by Kate Hopkins


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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Nasty but Fun!, 20 Feb. 2012
By 
Kate Hopkins (London) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Iris Murdoch As I Knew Her (Paperback)
Firstly - do NOT read this book if you're looking for facts about the life of Iris Murdoch. You will find it confusing, with dispiritingly little about the novels, and a tendency to jump all over the place, with lots left out. For a chronological, informative account of Iris Murdoch's life Peter Conradi's excellent biography is the best option. However, if having read the Conradi you feel that the author - a friend of Murdoch - made her seem a bit too good to be true, here is a very different account!

A.N. Wilson's book purports to be a memoir of Iris Murdoch as she appeared to him during their long friendship (Murdoch, according to Wilson, actually wanted him to write her official biography but he held off, feeling that she would be too controlling, and in the end Conradi did it.) In fact, Wilson's book is as much about him and his life as about Murdoch. Chronologically and subject-wise it jumps all over the place, from an account of Wilson's days at Oxford when he became a friend of his tutor John Bayley, Iris's husband, to various memories of dinners with Iris Murdoch and John Bayley, a trip to a friend's wedding, some descriptions of Oxford college life and Wilson's marital crises, meditations on Iris as a philosopher, on her attitude to Ireland and on her inability to proof-read her own work, a short essay on why the novels don't quite hang together (unfortunately using one of the worst novels as his example!) and an ill-advised diatribe against John Bayley for writing his three 'Iris' memoirs, dealing with Murdoch's worsening Alzheimers and the aftermath of her death. This is the epitome of merry mean-spiritedness, with much malicious quoting of reviews about Bayley's books and suggestions that he only wrote them to 'get back' at Iris for being more clever than him. Yes, it's quite funny, but if you consider that Bayley was once a very close friend of Wilson it's quite uncomfortable reading.

There's much about the book that's absolutely hilarious. I still have a chuckle about the accounts of the Bayley's housekeeping: how they drank half a bottle of very expensive wine given to them by a friend and served the rest mixed with cheap Valpollicella at a dinner party, how John Bayley once cooked 'tapas': one half of a small pork pie plus two gone-off olives each, followed by one egg scrambled between four people, some cheese and biscuits, one Mr Kipling cake and lots of booze; how the couple couldn't get through a car journey without swigging weak gin and tonic from a thermos; and how Bayley took food from St Catharine's College with the chef's blessing and served it up one evening for dinner at his house, pretending to his guests that he'd cooked it. There are some very funny conversations recounted between A.N. Wilson and the Bayleys, a wonderful account of a row between Wilson and J.B. Priestly, and some witty portrayals of college life (does anyone actually ever finish dinner by saying 'consummatum est' as Wilson claims John Simopoulos of St Catharine's College did?) And though it has nothing to do with Murdoch at all, I've dined out for ages on the account of Wilson driving Philip Larkin all round Oxford to find whisky cheap enough for him to consider acceptable - Larkin needed a 'nightcap' after a boozy Oxford dinner. But despite all the humour, and some quite moving passages where Wilson shows that he was genuinely fond of Murdoch, and despite Wilson's sometimes refreshingly honest attitude to some of the writing in the novels (Murdoch got put on a pedestal for some years after the Richard Eyre film came out) this is, taken in all, a rather depressing read, due to the bitchy and somewhat self congratulatory tone of much of the writing. Yes, Iris Murdoch may have drank too much, ate a poor diet, enjoyed mythologizing her life, been a bad editor of her own fiction and not always washed enough; but do we really want to remember her for that when there were so many other interesting sides to her character? And however irritating Wilson finds Bayley, does he have to take him apart so extremely?

Good fun but I would say NOT to be taken too seriously - and NOT to be read all at once unless you want to end with a nasty taste in your mouth!
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars compelling biography, 3 May 2005
By A Customer
This review is from: Iris Murdoch As I Knew Her (Paperback)
A short while ago I finished a turgid biography of Oscar Wilde. At the end I knew a few more facts but very little about the real person. This book is completely different. Right from the start I found it highly engaging and a very compelling read. It has very little of the tedious account of details that tends to plague biographies, and yet presents a full and wonderful picture of Iris Murdoch.
Much of the book is about A N Wilson himself, but that does not detract from it. It serves to give an insight into two lives rather than one. He is an avowed admirer and devotee of Iris Murdoch's works, but still retains sufficient distance to provide a critical evaluation both of the books and the author.
Perhaps what is most attractive is that he does not contain his passion, and it is the consequent revelations that make this book so enjoyable. A N Wilson has provided a very different style of biography, but a very special one. When I had finished with it, I felt that I had walked with Iris Murdoch for a while. To my mind that makes a great biography.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars yes, but isn't it just a little bit interesting????, 11 Mar. 2004
This review is from: Iris Murdoch Biography (Hardcover)
I agree with other reviewers who found this book horrible in a number of ways. Firstly, there are several parts where even ill-educated little ole me can see that the English language has been hurried into publication without sufficient checking. It's just a bit personal and unstylish in places, which I didn't expect from AN wilson, who I think we'd all concede has written some good books, especially his biography of Tolstoy.
However I don't think this book is without interest. To begin with I think we have at least to consider Wilson's position that John Bayley's 'invasion' of Murdoch's privacy, by writing about her last illness, is worth debating. Whether or not you hate/love/etc John Bayley's books, Iris Murdoch was an intensely private person, and I think that's worth being reminded of.
In addition, AN Wilson manages to create a version of himself in this book (which is MUCH more about him, really, than about Murdoch or Bayley) who is almost some terrible creation of Nabokov. He follows the Murdoch-Bayleys around like John Shade in Pale Fire, constantly putting his own interpretation on things but managing inadvertently to leave us with a much fuller impression than he means to, of what a pest he's being. I really enjoyed reading this book because I enjoyed disliking the detestable part AN Wilson has given himself and wondering about what had 'really' happened!
And frankly, once you've begun reading gossipy books about Iris Murdoch, you might as well finish the job...
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars What did A.N.Wilson reckon he was doing here?, 29 Jan. 2005
By 
jfp2006 (PARIS/France) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Iris Murdoch As I Knew Her (Paperback)
In the closing pages of this book, A.N.Wilson writes: "Her novels, more than any other, inspired me to want to be a novelist"; and then: "Millions of individuals throughout the world are in her debt. They see her as a compellingly readable novelist who describes better than any other the strange things which happen when people fall in love [...]" My personal late-adolescent discovery of Iris Murdoch [I compulsively went on to read all her novels, many of them more than once], corresponds very closely to that of A.N.Wilson. Her evocations of falling in love are surely unequalled. And at first sight it consequently would seem totally laudable that A.N.Wilson should suggest that we return to the novels for our understanding of Iris Murdoch's ideas, and leave behind the Alzheimer's victim represented in Richard Eyre's film and her widower John Bayley's idiosyncratic written evocations of her final years.
Then why did A.N.Wilson have to produce this clumsy, often - by his standards - badly written, badly constructed and repetitive book, in which he constantly makes contradictory assertions about both Iris Murdoch and her husband? The headline of the Observer review of the hardback edition, "Tittle-tattle trader" was in my mind all the time as I persevered with it. Having enjoyed Wilson's cleverly plotted comic novels of the early 1980s, with their clear indebtedness to Iris Murdoch [the first one, "The Sweets of Pimlico" is even dedicated to both her and Bayley], I had at least expected him to state his case cogently and persuasively. But for pages at a time Iris Murdoch herself actually completely disappears from sight, and instead we get largely pointless cameos of various Oxford eccentrics, irrelevant and confusing references to the history of philosophy, and, worst of all, self-pitying references to the tormented moments of Wilson's own private life. Not to mention the mean references to the squalor in which Murdoch and Bayley - apparently of their own free will, it should be pointed out - opted to live, and to their physical appearance.
It is perfectly possible to write a sensitive and understanding biography of someone with a highly unconventional private life: Victoria Glendinning did it memorably in the case of Vita Sackville-West. Whereas Wilson, returning time and again to this aspect, simply cannot help being insensitive, prurient, judgmental and mean. That would appear to be his nature: all spite and no compassion.
It is inevitably difficult to separate admiration from envy, and envy from jealousy. Clearly not having managed to do this in the case of Iris Murdoch, A.N.Wilson would have been well advised to leave this book unwritten, instead of just badly written. Those wanting to discover or rediscover Iris Murdoch, warts and all, should turn [back] to the fiction. And if they really want the biographical background, there is the official biography by Peter Conradi, occasionally stodgy, but at least coherent, and at all times loyal to its subject. And not bother with this peculiar mish-mash which is neither one thing nor the other.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Snobbery and spitefullness, 30 Jun. 2010
This review is from: Iris Murdoch As I Knew Her (Paperback)
I have to admit I didn't finish this book so perhaps I have no right to review it, but I was astounded at the spitefullness of the thing. Snobbery and contempt for the subject and her aquaintences pretty much drips off every page. Being a big fan of Iris Murdoch's writing I was hoping for an enlightening book about her life but what you get here is just a twisted account by a man who doesn't know whether he loves or despises the person he is writing about. I found his snobbery, particulary when discussing Iris Murdoch's parents - who, according to the author - weren't well-bred and are therefore hardly worth a mention - nauseating. Poor.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A glorious bitch., 21 Aug. 2014
By 
Ms. Margaret M. Mcdermott (NOTTINGHAM ENGLAND) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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This review is from: Iris Murdoch Biography (Hardcover)
Wilson has known Murdoch for decades and was once a fervent disciple. But, oh dear, he went off her in a big way. This is gloriously bitchy account of life chez Bayley and Murdoch (he hates Bayley as well). Murdoch's pretensions, her evasions, indeed her outright lies are subject to merciless exposure. Not for the faint hearted but I loved every minute of it.
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11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Funny, and fair...., 7 Feb. 2005
This review is from: Iris Murdoch As I Knew Her (Paperback)
I don't know which book the other reviewers here have read, because what they say about this one seems wrong to me. The only reason why it doesn't rate five stars is because of some sloppiness in the editing. But nothing catastrophic in that.

AN Wilson clearly likes Iris Murdoch very much indeed, as a person and as a writer. But he also sees her faults. I think he does a good job of conveying love in spite of being critical. It's not easy, try it for yourself.

The same is true for his portrait of John Bailey. I thought his abbreviation for him (JOB) was witty and profound. He lists all the many things JOB ever did for him, only really finding fault with his later books about his marriage. I have only read "Iris" and thought it so distasteful I gave it away. In view of that, I think JOB gets exceedingly fair treatment.

Concerning AN Wilson himself, he comes across as very candid in an un-obnoxious kind of way. Someone who can admit to being moved to "weeping" by friendly waitresses can't be all wrong. (I laughed so much, I nearly choked.)

And lastly, though being German probably doesn't make me very persuasive in this respect: it's a very funny book.
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13 of 25 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Dull, petty and wrong, 4 Sept. 2003
This review is from: Iris Murdoch Biography (Hardcover)
What a terrible book. No charm, no fun and - most importantly for a journalist, an ex-friend of Iris Murdoch, and an exponent of rigour - no accuracy. AN Wilson has shown in the past that he is disloyal, petty, boorish and unpleasant. Now he manages to find new levels. A shame. It could have been interesting. But its not.
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12 of 24 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Iris Murdoch, 29 Sept. 2003
By 
Al Rose (London, England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Iris Murdoch Biography (Hardcover)
The author is like a cobra, spitting poison all around him. Iris Murdoch's personality is savaged, as is John Bayley's, yet no new or interesting information is said about either of them, and Wilson still manages to make his book very dreary indeed. The writing is terrible, cliche-ridden and sloppy. The one star is for me for managing to plough through this embarrassing nonsense.
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Iris Murdoch As I Knew Her
Iris Murdoch As I Knew Her by A.N. Wilson (Paperback - 2 Sept. 2004)
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