Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A mystery of a different color... (Books - The Nice and the Good by Iris Murdoch)

Good old Iris Murdoch. Not exactly a classic whodunnit writer, she. The mystery of what forces motivate human behavior are the ones she likes, though if you think about it, that's really what a P. D. James novel is about too. But Murdoch focuses a tighter lens on the metaphysical aspects of her story. For example:
This metaphysical dilemma was present to him at times not in any clear conceptual form but rather as an atmosphere, a feeling of bewildered guilt which was almost sexual in quality and not altogether unpleasant. If Ducane had believed in God, which he had not done since he abandoned, at the age of fifteen, the strict low church Glaswegian Protestantism in which he had been brought up, he would have prayed, instantly and hard, whenever he perceived this feeling coming on. As it was he endured it grimly, as it were with his eyes tight shut, trying not to let it proliferate into something interesting. This feeling, which came to him naturally whenever he expeerienced power, especially rather formal power, over another person, had now been generated by his questioning of McGrath. And his faintly excited sense of having power over McGrath put him in mind of another person over whom he had power, and that was...
And that's just the detective. There is a crime to be solved in this book and it is Ducane who is assigned to look into the apparent suicide of co-worker in a British government department, but it is the mysteries of the human soul that are the meat of this story (though I am not done reading it). They are the way she connects the mechanics of her story to her own interest (and hopefully the reader's too). It certainly works in my case. As I read that excerpt above, which follows a polite interrogation scene in the action, I thought - Imagine if everyone with the capacity to exercise power were as self aware as Ducane. The world would be a different place. - It is as though the crime becomes the moral engine of the book that then precipitates changes in the private lives of the characters - although I'm not yet sure which "domestic" story is most central. As is usual with Murdoch, there is a good deal of interdependence among the threads of this story.

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