Top positive review
A Fairly Honourable Defeat
on 16 September 2017
Amateur philosopher Rupert Foster and his wife, Hilda, are celebrating their twentieth wedding anniversary; they have a lovely home in London complete with a swimming pool, and although they are having difficulties with their son, Peter, who has threatened to drop out of Cambridge, their life is a happy and satisfying one. Joining them in their celebrations is Rupert's younger brother Simon, an interior decorator, and his male lover Axel, a very clever, but rather dry individual who is a colleague of Rupert's in the Civil Service. Arriving unexpectedly is Morgan, Hilda's sister, who has been living in America with her lover, the egocentric and manipulative Julius King. Having left her husband, Tallis (who now lives in squalor with his ailing father), Morgan has now also left Julius - or rather she has been forced into leaving him because of his cold, indifferent behaviour towards her. Still in love with Julius and having flown home to the safety her sister's care, Morgan is thrown into further turmoil when she discovers that Julius has also left America and is now in London. However, he has no intention of renewing their relationship, despite Morgan throwing herself on his mercy and baring herself both mentally and physically to him, and instead, the Machiavellian Julius focuses his sights on manipulating the lives of those Morgan cares about - with tragic results.
As usual with Iris Murdoch, this is an intelligent and beautifully written story of complex emotions and moral dilemmas, all of which are portrayed with the author's customary philosophic vision. Ms Murdoch sets her scenes vividly, and in contrast to the more cerebral aspects of the story, it was enjoyable to read her descriptions of the characters' homes, the clothes they wear, and the food they eat. It is true that none of the characters (apart from Tallis, whose situation is a sad one) are very sympathetic and, as such, it is sometimes a little difficult to feel concern for them - and Julius is such a scheming and unscrupulous individual who takes pleasure in manipulating other people, that even when something significant from his past is revealed that might explain his behaviour, it is difficult to excuse his conduct. The narrative is also interspersed with some rather melodramatic incidents which are not always entirely convincing - but I cannot explain further without revealing spoilers. All of that said, however, once I started reading, I found myself drawn into this rich and very readable story and despite my reservations found it an interesting and entertaining read.