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4.3 out of 5 stars
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4.3 out of 5 stars
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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.

4 Stars.
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VINE VOICEon 22 March 2006
The story begins with the happily married Rupert and Hilda celebrating their wedding anniversary, supping champagne and enjoying their recently installed swimming pool. They are joined by the hilarious, although somewhat less contented couple Axel and Simon. But is this suburban idyll merely an elaborate facade? Iris proceeds to rip apart their illusion of love and happiness, planting the mischievous Julius and the unstable Morgan (his ex lover) in their midst. Added to this intricate maze of human emotion is Morgan's estranged husband, Tallis, who lives with his caustic father and Hilda and Rupert's nihilistic son, in a beautifully realised London hovel. The plot thickens with intrigue, forced falsehoods and manipulated misunderstandings, resulting in a cascade of humour and heart wrenching sadness: the remarkable birthday dinner and the pink teddy bear incident and the perils of a back garden pool. Ultimately the story centres on the pursuit of 'goodness' and the desire for humans to love and be loved. And Iris excels with these themes for she shows that vanity is ultimately the insurmountable obstacle to perfect happiness. Best we understand our limitations and be honest with our failings. As Laclos said vanity and happiness don't mix! A truely wonderful tale.
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on 14 July 2013
I've read many of Iris Murdoch's novels, and I have to say that this is one of my favourites (on a par with 'The Bell'). It contains a host of typical Murdoch characters (the wayward and quite frankly bonkers woman, the homosexual couple, the intellectuals) but is in parts ruder and more coarse than various of her other books. I frequently found myself with an overwhelming urge to interrupt whoever else was in the room in order to read sections aloud; parts are pretty amusing.

As with some of her other novels, there are bits which seem odd or rather implausible. Hardened Murdoch fans should not be put off! If you haven't read any Murdoch before, this may not be the place to start (I would recommend 'The Bell', personally) but having said that, the writing is absolutely incredible, so rich and original, and I'm sure you'd enjoy it regardless. It is not a short novel, but there is not necessarily a positive correlation between the number of pages and time taken to complete - I tore through it simply because it's so unbelievably engrossing.
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on 20 July 2001
This novel transfixed me from start to finish! The complex and delicately interwoven plot moves smoothly through philosophical insights, emotional turmoil and, despite the dark overtones of the story, it contains some farcical humour which made me laugh out loud. The story works on so many levels that you'll probably want to read it several times to grasp its many implications - the first time I read it I was so captivated by the charisma of the characters (ice-cold Julius, aloof Axel and muddled Morgan in particular) that the philosophy pretty much passed me by, but it's well worth digging into this book several times; I keep finding new things to think about on each re-read. Despite the fact that there are some very cynical messages put over by the plot, it manages not to become depressing, and because there are several layers of characters, the overall atmosphere is one of bitter-sweetness, which satisfies in several different ways, not just the obvious. If you're looking for a one-dimensional, linear storyline, this is certainly not for you, but there are enough shocks along the way to keep most people turning the pages. As well as all this, the setting of the book is fantastic - there's a really atmospheric feeling of summer which creates the perfect backdrop for the increasing madnesses and deceptions which take place. It's done so well that the depths of cruelty shown by the characters at times completely drew me in, and my sympathies ended up in some very surprising places! The characters are anything but ordinary, yet this didn't stop me identifying with them. Overall, I couldn't recommend this book more! I think it would appeal particularly to people who also enjoyed 'The Black Prince', 'The Sacred and Profane Love Machine' and 'An Accidental Man' because the relationships work in similar ways, that is, by a series of delusions and false perceptions. If anything, 'A Fairly Honourable Defeat' does this more overtly, and leaves less for the reader to decide, which in my opinion makes it more accessible than the others - it's a matter of taste, but this is definitely one of my favourites.
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on 4 June 2011
I first read this book over 30 years ago at university, and it remains one of my favourite Iris Murdoch novels.
Many of her 'normal' themes are there- appearance, deception, manipulation, eccentricity, characters who never seem to go to work.
Was life like this in the 1970s?
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on 25 August 2013
This book is gripping. It has a great plot and works on many levels. I read it as a comment on the Third Reich and how people can be manipulated very easily to their detriment and to those around them, doing things that they cannot morally justify.A great book.
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on 9 November 2016
If you haven't read much Iris Murdoch before, this novel might be a rather quirky beginning. It brings together some of her familiar moral and philosophical concerns, within a curiously theatrical framework - I found myself imagining the small cast of characters acting out their angst (sometimes quite comically) on the small stage of a provincial rep. company. The plot line borrows unashamedly from the trick in "Much Ado about Nothing", although the humour is much darker than Shakespeare's - especially towards the end.
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on 13 August 2015
Wordy,with some scarcely believable characters.
My first Murdoch and probably my last.
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on 25 February 2013
Iris doing her character study once more: attacking the issue of what constitutes evil. Her mystic representation fascinating: why do the insects quieten when Julius is present?
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on 3 October 2015
There is one thing about Dame Iris as a writer - and that she is LOVABLE.

I do wish I'd written her a fan letter in her lifetime.

Only I never did.
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