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4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
The Black Prince
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on 2 March 2017
Fairly depressing. The main protagonist is utterly pretentious and self-centred and witters on at length about his unoriginal world view. I read this because I loved The Sea, The Sea but this is nothing like as enjoyable.
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on 14 February 2008
The Black Prince is in my opinion the finest novel Iris Murdoch wrote, and perhaps one of the finest novels of its time. The description of Bradley falling in love will stay with me forever. Bradley, although perhaps not the most endearing character, is so real I feel I could meet him at any moment. He certainly is not endearing, and yet as another reviewer wrote we feel profound sympathy for him. The plot is beautifully crafted, and the twist at the end is a masterstroke. The postscripts at the end of the novel where you see events from the point of view of the other main characters is simply a stroke of genius. I will never forget this book.
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on 6 February 2004
Like many of Murdoch's novels, one is almost dismayed at the drab wretchedness of the narrator's life, which oddly enough, makes for compelling reading. Bradley Pearson is perhaps one of the most unsympathetic characters ever portrayed, petty, manipulative, jealous and cold and yet the reader finds himself in the uncomfortable position of sympathising with the man. It is here that the genius of this book lies. Providing an interesting, if somewhat unstructured 'extended essay' on aesthetics, Truth and the black Eros the novel is thought provoking and witty, not least in its final grim twist.
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on 12 February 1999
I've read about half of Iris Murdoch's books, and I believe this book represents the pinnacle of her achievement. The book is deeply satisfying from beginning to end. The plot, which revolves around an older man's obsession with a young girl, echoes a classic theme which goes back as far as Plato's Symposium. As the author interweaves her meditations on art, beauty, Hamlet, and book-a-year novelists into this standard plot, the book achieves a level of self-consciousness found in the greatest literature. And like her earlier works, it is fun to read. Having the main characters comment on the story at the end is a wonderful device, both profound and entertaining. This is one of my two or three favorite novels. Over the years I've loaned my hardcover edition out to friends so often, it now looks like a well worn library book.
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on 28 April 1999
Iris Murdoch took me on a roller-coaster adventure through a comic succession of surprises but also terrible blows of a sort of fate. While the novel has a lot of amusing moments--even bedroom farce--the surprises finally turn grim and unsettling. The author meditates (sometimes rather talkily) on Platonic concepts of love, on psychology, and on what is probably religion. "Black Prince" is gripping and motivated me to read it under forced draft. Be on notice that the two forewords are part of the novel and should be read as such. An Italian sonnet is left unattributed and untranslated. We are never told directly and explicitly why the protagonist is called "The Black Prince."
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on 29 August 1999
I read Iris Murdoch's "The Sacred and Profane Love Machine" a year ago and didn't much like it. Too much talk, too little action and a plot surrounding a cast of strangely unsympathetic characters that goes nowhere. I thought I was in the same rut for much of the first third of "The Black Prince", when out of the blue, the black arrow of Eros struck and permanently altered the course of the novel. The unexpected change of pace and sudden focus on Bradley Pearce's relationship with the object of his desire at the expense of the adult (and mostly tiresome) characters was a clever Murdoch device that drew me inexorably into the plot. There was no let up in action from there on - the story played relentlessly to its dramatic but tragic conclusion. You see through the eyes of Bradley and form your judgement based on his version of the motives and designs of the unsavoury characters which envelop him but are thrown off guard by the radically different perspectives of the other players (shades of "Rashomon") in the postscript. You get the feeling that nobody's version encapsulates the whole truth (is there such a thing ?) and that everybody creates a best-fit truth that assuages his conscience. Murdoch is heavy on dialogue (nothing wrong with that) but there is a tendency for it to be repetitive (her characters are overly talkative) which can be hellavu irritating. I found that in The Sacred and Profane Love Machine too - must be a Murdoch trait. But whereas the latter is limp and soggy, The Black Prince has a highly intriguing plot and all the elements of a kitchen sink drama-cum-thriller that makes it a winner. A really great read.
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VINE VOICEon 23 September 2010
[This review is not concerned with the plot. Rather it attempts to describe some of the elements and feelings engendered by the reading experience, which is equally important.]

This is my second Murdoch novel, the first being The Sea, the Sea, and there are parallels. The aging male protagonist, slightly detestable, but sympathetic; a desire to escape; a claustrophobic set of friends and family; tragedy; farce; love. There are also other "Murdochian" depths here: philosophy & Shakespeare (Hamlet in this case) being the two most obvious. This means the text is fleshed out with questions; particularly, the nature of art, beauty and love all come in for rumination, usually through the inner workings of our narrator's mind.

Murdoch's intelligence blazes through The Black Prince; it is a courageous and vivid novel, simultaneously vague, as though somehow estranged from real life. We know this takes place on London streets with the Post Office Tower in attendance, we know there are taxis and shops and seashores, we even know there are pokers, sleeping pills and glasses of whiskey, but these concrete "moments" are but anchors for a novel concerned with the incorporeal that would otherwise float off into the ether.

Elliptical in structure, it will not spoil the reader's enjoyment to say that the end is contained within the beginning. And yet not! The final twist is malicious, and complicated by a series of postscripts from various characters offering "their" view of the events; the consequences of which those inclined could ponder over indefinitely. This is representative of the novel as a whole, which is so stuffed with symbolism, that I imagine the author sat on high laughing whilst we lesser mortals wrestle and go mad trying to decipher "the truth" of it all.

The novel left me cold (not in the negative sense that it didn't affect me, but that its effect was chilling), not least because it suggests an "unknowable" core at the centre of everything and everyone that might as well be a black hole. I'm used to contemporary texts self-consciously highlighting their own "fictionality", but when a text removes the skin from everything, what is left underneath? The real "truth" perhaps?

Murdoch writes beautifully, and our narrator's flights into love and life are ethereal at times: it is a genuine pleasure to marvel at the ideas and the language used to express them.

Candia McWilliam's stylish "introduction" in the Vintage Classics edition is as elusive as the text itself.
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on 28 November 1996
"The Black Prince" is my favorite novel, and I can recommend it unreservedly for its vivid characters, for its complexity, its wit, its drama, for its analysis of human failings and triumphs, loves and hates, and for its prose, which is ecstatic, biting, and brilliant. The ambiguously romantic Black Prince of the title, Bradley Pearson, is an aged bachelor, whose range of somewhat histrionic emotions involves the serene Rachel Baffin, her confused daughter Julian, Rachel's novelist husband Arnold, Bradley's rival in so many ways, Bradley's dysfunctional sister Priscilla, and Bradley's prying ex-wife Christian, who holds the possibility of solace and redemption. In amongst this tangled web they weave Bradley "meditates" on art and metaphysics, sleeping and waking, life and death.

Iris Murdoch is the English authoress of a score of popular novels. Unlike the submissions of most writers who attempt to be popular, Ms. Murdoch's elegant fictions are literature, and are also aspirants to the semi-mythical realm of "art". And what is "art"? Is it not, in at least its principle manifestation, great entertainment? And I would assert that the greatness of the entertainment depends mightily upon the reader. I know a man who thinks, and says, that all of Iris Murdoch's books are alike. Very well. Emotional response is surely the beginning of literary criticism (otherwise why bother reviewing this book, or that one?). I identified with Bradley Pearson for several years of my life, and was jubilant that he lived in a world of funny, thoughtful, intensely interesting people, most of whom were not relatives.

"Morality" (I put this fragile word between quotation marks because it is so often misused) is intimate to the Murdoch view of things, and the "eternal verities" are influential, even numinous, to all of her characters, including the thoughtless ones. Love, as a unifying force, is awake and vibrant. Beauty is our glimpse of the Godhead. Truth is a paradise into which we may freely pass, if only we have the desire to do so. Justice is as intimate as self-condemnation and as ruthless as violence. Abstractions, in the world of Iris Murdoch's characters, dissolve into human emotions that clarify the world and link us in splendid ways to other human animals. "The Black Prince" is a celebration of our ambiguous and splendid emotions. [November 28, 1996]
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on 24 March 1999
"The Black Prince" is a repelling page-turner. I often found myself reaching to pick it up, then reaching past it for almost anything else. It is a mordant study of the psychological tennis match that constitutes so much of human interaction. It is a novel with not one likeable character, and yet one can somehow relate to all of them. I found it disturbing throughout, but was quite taken with it.
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on 24 January 2004
People who have never read a word Iris Murdoch has ever written, criticise her for being "difficult".
If any of them picked up The Black Prince", I would be amazed if they didn't enjoy it. The characters are hysterically funny at times - all with their own weird hang-ups. There are parts of the plot that make one cringe in the manner of a Fawlty Towers episode.
The one thing that surprised me is how well Iris Murdoch can write from a male perspective, so much so that one wonders how outraged the literati might have been if some of the physical descriptions of women had been written by a male writer.
Thoroughly recommended.
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