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Flight From The Enchanter (Vintage classics) (original 1956; edition 2000)

by Iris Murdoch

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338632,536 (3.33)20
Member:letterpress
Title:Flight From The Enchanter (Vintage classics)
Authors:Iris Murdoch
Info:Vintage Classics (2000), Edition: New edition, Paperback, 304 pages
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Tags:Fiction

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The Flight from the Enchanter by Iris Murdoch (1956)

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Showing 4 of 4
This is a strange, strange book. A group of ostensibly ordinary people become involved in bizarre situations, which are then resolved with a click of Murdoch's fingers. These clicks are often thoroughly implausible and yet I accepted them quite readily at the time.

Hunter Keepe is the unwilling editor of The Artemis, a sufragette magazine started by his mother and on the verge of financial collapse. His sister Rosa works in a factory to salve her Socialist conscience. Annette Cockeyne is a privileged girl living with Hunter and Rosa to complete her education, who walks out of finishing school to enrol in "The School of Life". Rainborough is a bureaucrat struggling with the influx of women in his workplace, Peter Seward is an historian obsessed with deciphering an ancient text. Then there is Nina, a dressmaker living illegally in England, Jan and Stefan, Polish brothers who work with Rosa at the factory, Camilla Wingfield, an aging, aristocratic sufragette (when I grow old I want to be Camilla Wingfield) and Calvin Blick, a pornographer and henchman (for want of a better word) of the mysterious Mischa Fox.

Fox enters the story, via Blick, with an offer to buy The Artemis. It is then that we discover that he is linked to each of the characters either directly or through acquaintances. It was he who provided Nina with the space and capital to set up her business. Rosa was once his lover, and vacillates between love and loathing. Annette, having heard of his reputation, meets him once and becomes utterly besotted. Rainborough, though we are given no reason why, dreads being in the presence of Fox. Nina is desperate to escape her obligation to him, of being known as one of his "creatures" but has noone to turn to for assistance, nor the assertiveness to ask for it, with tragic results. We are given a glimpse of Blick's obligation, and the cause of his odious behaviour, in one single statement. Fox appears and disappears, part diabolical puppeteer, part haunted enigma (he enlists Seward to find photographs of where he spent his childhood and then relives his memories with the historian).

This group of people cross paths, and have their paths crossed, by the manipulations of Mischa, but despite the dramatic events which ensue, not a soul seems to come out any the wiser, or for that matter any worse off for all their trials (all except Camilla Wingfield, the only person who manages to outfox Fox). There is a theme of sorts regarding power relinquished by sexual possession. Annette, vain, spoiled and naive, she enters her school of life with the expectation of male admiration and thus a role to play, but as her sexual obsession with Fox progresses, so too do the abuses she suffers at the hands of men. Yet despite her unrequited passion leading to a suicide attempt, she ends the novels as blithe as she started, draped in coloured petticoats and admiring her own hands. Rosa's relationship with the brothers Jan and Stefan transforms from English teacher to mistress, a state of affairs she acquiesces to in an attempt to hang on to the feelings they inspired in her when she was their teacher only. "Their deference, their helplessness, their timidity called up in Rosa a perfect frenzy of protective tenderness." But as the relationship becomes sexual - "The power had left her now. The mastery had passed to the brothers." - their menace grows to frightening proportions. Rainborough, a man who seems to become enraptured with every woman who crosses his path, indulges in fantasies about his administrative assistant, who he comes to loathe for her usurpation of his authority in the workplace. And yet he ends up engaged to her. An engagement he wishes to end, and end it does when Annette's mother (who he has become entralled with on sight), hands him the keys to the Cockeyne's house in France (click!) and proceeds to call his fiancee and break off the commitment which he himself is unable to escape.

In spite of the implausibilty, the many unanswered questions and inexplicable events,I loved The Flight From the Enchanter. I'm a great fan of Murdoch's writing, her ability to blend reality with oddments of pure fantasy, the disconcerting combination of potential violence and farcical comedy (the board meeting of elderly sufragettes is wonderful) seems, at least to me, to somehow make the resolution, or lack thereof, not a concern. It's certainly on the list for rereading, if only out of curiosity, to see what else I may be able to make of it. Perhaps that is it's strength.
3 vote letterpress | Jan 15, 2013 |
This was Murdoch's second novel, first published in 1956. I'm a huge fan of Murdoch - her plots are often absurd to the point of being lurid, her characters larger than life (usually in a negative way), but her books are just so damn readable and, ultimately, great fun.

This novel, however, didn't quite hit the spot for me. It's not unusual for me to be deeply annoyed by Murdoch's characters, but most of the people in this novel just seemed rather bland. I found it hard to differentiate between Peter Saward and John Rainsborough, for instance. There is a big cast of characters, all of them loosely connected to Mischa Fox (the enchanter of the title, presumably) who rarely makes a physical appearance in the book, but under whose orders (presumably) the sinister Calvin Blick attempts to cause havoc in the lives of many of the characters, notably brother and sister Rosa and Hunter Keepe.

Rosa troubled me. She becomes sexually involved with two Polish brothers, who struck me as being far more sinister than Mischa Fox. They tell Rosa a story of how they took revenge on a schoolteacher - 'we undress her and we have her, first one and then the other'. Rosa seems to feel sorry for the teacher, but doesn't hesitate to pursue her liaison with both brothers. When she learns that Blick has a photograph showing her and the brothers together, her only thought is to stop Mischa Fox seeing it - quite why, or what harm his seeing it would do, is never explained.

Towards the end I found it impossible to suspend disbelief any longer. The attempted suicide of spoiled but rootless Annette is unconvincing, as is the news of John Rainsborough's engagement.

Perhaps my main problem with this book is that I just didn't feel the power or enigma of Mischa Fox. To me, he seemed very ordinary. I couldn't understand why anyone would be enchanted by him, and - apart from Nina, who was financially beholden to him - I saw little evidence in the characters that they were, in fact, enchanted.

The best scene in the book is probably the comedic boardroom scene featuring a group of elderly suffragettes. Overall, though, not Murdoch's best novel. [March 2006] ( )
  startingover | Feb 2, 2011 |
Bought 1980s some time

Second novel by IM and second in our Iris Murdoch a Month project! I enjoyed doing a closer re-reading of this intriguing novel. IM novels are not like anyone else's - this is not a love story, not a satire, who knows what it really is, or the nature of the enchanter.

I'd forgotten one whole, very pivotal scene in the book - another reason these are all due for a re-read!
  LyzzyBee | Mar 21, 2008 |
I enjoyed The Flight from the Enchanter more then Under the Net, which I also read recently, although it is quite bizarre. The novel is hugely fascinating and and intelligent. All the characters are fleeing their own personal enchanter in this darkly comic novel, that has a real dream like quality - where nothing appears quite real.
  Heaven-Ali | Feb 11, 2008 |
Showing 4 of 4
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To Elias Canneti
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It was about three o'clock on a Friday afternoon when Annette decided to leave school.
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Book description
A group of people have elected ambiguous and fascinating Mischa Fox to be their god.
While Mischa is charming his devotees, his alter ego, Calvin Blick, is inspiring fear, and Rosa Keepe, a high-minded bluestocking under Mischa's spell (who also loves two Polish brothers), is swept into the battle between sturdy common sense and dangerous enchantment.
Elegant, sparkling and unputdownable, this is Iris Murdoch at her best.
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Businessman Mischa Fox has wealth, charisma, and an uncanny ability to influence those around him. When he moves to buy a small feminist magazine in London called the Artemis, Mischa becomes entangled in the lives of the Artemis's editor, Hunter, his sister, Rosa, and her boarder, Annette, as well as their circle of friends. As Mischa instigates a series of ominous events that will change their lives, Murdoch's masterful prose brings these rich characters and their darkly humorous troubles to vivid life.… (more)

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