Sunday, November 09, 2014


A Severed Head, Iris Murdoch, The Viking Press, 1961, 248 pp

Martin is happily married to Antonia but also has a mistress names Georgie. Antonia is older than Martin and undergoing analysis. Suddenly she leaves Martin and moves in with Anderson, her analyst. Anderson's sister Honor tells Antonia about Georgie. Honor is such a truly cracked character that she makes the rest of them look only mildly weird in comparison.

Again a 1961 novel about infidelity. In contrast to Wallace Stegner's A Shooting Star, this one is a breath of fresh air with that almost slapstick feeling Murdoch does so well. Every time I felt I had a grip on the plot, she went in exactly the opposite direction I would predict.

I can just hear some of my reading group ladies getting riled up because not one character is likable or admirable. I certainly did not imagine that the tortured, non-self-aware Martin would end up with ...ah, I can't say. But as she tells Martin, "This has nothing to do with happiness, nothing whatever."

And that is the joke percolating through the whole tale. Many of us tried open marriage in the 70s. What a Pandora's Box! We should have read The Severed Head first.

(A Severed Head is available by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

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