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Monday, April 30, 2018

The Bell by Iris Murdoch

This is one of the best books I have read, I was sad when it ended and kept reaching for the book only to have to tell myself I had finished it, there was no more to read.

Although this book was written in 1958, it seems timeless, it is a study of people and their motivations. The story is set at a private house that has a cloistered Benedictine convent on the property. The main house is in the fledgling stages of becoming a lay community to be a buffer between the convent and the outside world. The lay community is evolving slowly, it is led by Michael, he owns the house and property and had aspirations to become a priest. Mr. and Mrs. Mark are a middle aged couple who had some marital issues before arriving, but are now assisting with the day to day running of the community, he does the accounting and she organizes the day to day activities. Catherine, a young woman, is living with the lay community but is planning soon to become a cloistered nun at the monastery, her very troubled twin brother is staying in the lodge house temporarily, the community do not know how to deal with him. Then there is Dora, a main character, who is in an unsuitable, abusive marriage with Paul, a man much older than her and a scholar. Paul is not part of the community, he is simply staying at the house while he studies historic manuscripts at the convent. Dora joins him at the house at his request after a brief separation due to an affair. Two other visitors arrive, a very nice man James Tayper-Pace, and he brings along a student Toby who has interest in visiting the community. And the last character, Sister Clare, who resides at the convent and dispenses wise counsel, although she appears in the story here and there, her influence on the community is always in the present.

The story begins, the characters are introduced, and the scene set. Lots of little things happen, we slowly discover the back ground of each person, and begin to understand their motivations and responses to situations that arise. The novel is philosophical, it is a study in human nature, in morals, in the perception of right and wrong, love and control. Slowly things reach a crescendo that affects all of the characters, and with that I will reveal no more so as not to spoil the reading of the book.

There are a lot of Latin quotations in the book, be sure to google them and get a definition, understanding them helps in understanding the narrative of the book. And you will learn the definition of Toby's favorite word, rebarbative.

I borrowed this book from the library, but have since ordered a used copy from Amazon, as I know it a book I will read again. The descriptions of location and characters brought the story alive. The human emotions and behaviors were realistically depicted, we are all fallible, sometimes wise, sometimes foolish, and often driven by motivations we don't always  acknowledge.

If you are looking for a philosophical character study with an excellent plot this book is for you.

Peace be with you,



Maureen said...

I'm so pleased you like The Bell, I love it and have read it many times.

Another book I love is Kim by Rudyard Kipling. The film is excellent and follows the book but has to leave out so much that is good.

Bean said...

I will check out the Rudyard Kipling. I enjoyed The Bell so much I purchased a copy because I know it is a book I will read again and again. I feel that each time I read it I will take away a little something I hadn't noticed in a previous reading.

Good books are such a joy to find.

Thank you for the recommendations.


Maureen said...

I have always enjoyed the early Miss Read books. Village School is the first, it describes the sort of school my husband went to from the age of five and also in the 1950s. He lived in the wilds of Derbyshire and tells many tales of walking to school through snow that came over the top of his wellington boots! I went to a town school in the early 1950s, we had a big black stove in the middle of the room as described in the book.

Bean said...

I enjoy Miss Read books too. I have purchased a fair number of them over the years in used book shops, they are pure escapism. Trusty standbys when I am between books. Right now I am reading Changes at Fairacre while waiting on several used books to arrive in my mailbox, Kim being one them :).

I enjoy the Thrush Green series of Miss Read, but the Fairacre series is my favorite.

I started school in Great Barton, Suffolk, for the first weeks of term we went to the old school house, it was two rooms and really not ideal for the number of students in the early 70's. The new primary school was finally completed and we moved in, each age level had their own classroom, much nicer for the teachers I am sure. Plus we had a nice playground, a pool, and a gymnasium/assembly/dining hall, it was a nice light and airy building after the rather gloomy, dilapidated two room school building.