Iris Murdoch, 1978. The Sea, The Sea. Panther. Fiction. 502 pages. Winner of the Booker Prize.


Last night I started reading The Sea The Sea  by Iris Murdoch. This is the third or fourth of her novels that I have read - maybe the fifth. They are each excellent in their own way. This one concerns a man of retirement age who has had a successful career in the theatre who buys a distinctive yet rather primitive house in a remote spot with a view to enjoying some much and long earned solitude. Now, I can readily identify with this theme. The theatre background and style all also remind me of a friend of mine who used to be a theatre director. So much so, in fact, that as I read the book I seem to hear it being vocalised in his voice. Not that the character is the same in all respects,there are some distinct differences of personality, but I can imagine my friend playing this part.

The cover of my copy has a picture of the surging coastal waves, but if you look at it a certain way there is just the suggestion of a face hovering amidst the waves.

I’m only at the beginning of the book - page 40 - and will write more about it when I am further on. I have got to the point where he is frightened by the appearance of a “monster” rising from the sea. He ponders upon this experience and it connects in his mind with an LSD bad trip that he had had many years previously - the only time in his life he had taken a hallucinogenic drug - “I did it to please a woman,” he says.

This put me in mind of my own single hallucinogenic experience with ayahuasca in Peru - also at the behest of friends - in which I did not have a “bad trip” but was violently sick. However, I remember that it did not become a bad trip because in the middle of the experience I became aware of an area that I somehow knew to be populated by evil of some kind and I had the presence of mind to spite the drug and decide not to go there.

Also the same evening I was commenting on the work of some of my Spanish students who are looking at the connections between psychosis and everyday experience, taking the idea that madness is only an extreme of things we all experience - paranoia, grandiosity, wild imaginings about health, sex and so on.

I went to sleep easily but woke at two a.m. with these three influences - the book, my experience and the stories of my students - all mingling in my mind. It took me some time to get back to sleep. I guess that there are dark areas in all our minds that we visit from time to time, sometimes indulge, sometimes keep at bay, sometimes forget about. Probably forgetting is the best option.

Anyway, I shall continue with the book and see what other treasures - dark or inspiring - emerge. IM has such a wonderful grasp of human mentalities.

 

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Dear Dharmavidya - Curious about your experience, book-wise and other-wise (dark spaces). Eddy bought the book for me a couple of years ago, my version has a beautiful Japanese wood print drawing of the sea on the cover. It is in a cupboard of "many books to read" :-). Enjoy. NAB

Ah, I have quite a pile of "books to read" many of them acquired on my recent trip to UK. Yes, I think the dark spaces thing is rather interesting. I guess that we live in a world that is both beautiful and horrible and life hovers on an edge. There is a wonderful little film I saw the other day of a squirrel defending her young and seeing off a rattlesnake - remarkable. Another day she might have got eaten. All my life I have been rather haunted by the knowledge that even as I sit here there is probably some poor soul somewhere being tortured in the most horrible ways. It could happen to any of us and we have no idea how well we would cope in such a circumstance, so probably some part of the brain is ever trying to prepare for such eventuality while another part is saying "What's the point - there is nothing one can do." When I was younger I used to have a recurrent nightmare of being got by a crocodile. I would wake up screaming. It does not happen these days, partly because I have more control over my dream state and if my mind starts going in such a direction I say to myself, in my sleep, "This is my dream and I'll have it the way I want it, thank you." And that seems to work. But who knows? Namo Amida Bu.

I have now finally finished The Sea The Sea. It is quite a long book. Basically it is the story of an obsession. Sometimes it is quite painful to read. I would have to steel myself to go on. I would be thinking (about the lead character) "Oh, surely he is not going to do that!!" and then he does do it and I think, "Oh, you foolish man!" but it is very well written and gives insight into envy, jealousy, compulsiveness, selfishness, self-deception, fear, recklessness and many other emotions that are difficult to write about with such precision. It also throws much light on relationships and their hidden agendas and primitive dynamics. Murdoch is an extremely accomplished writer.

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