The Black Prince

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The Black Prince

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Edited: Dec 12, 2012, 8:59am

Sibyx (Lucy) of the 75 Books Challenge group started a thread there for people reading Iris Murdoch. We decided to bring some of that discussion over here. If you want to see the original thread at the 75, go here--Murdoch & Mayhem.

Edited: Dec 12, 2012, 10:53am

This is Iris in 1978. In stills I've seen of Judi Dench playing the older Iris, you almost can't tell the two women apart.

Dec 12, 2012, 8:06am

I'm re-posting my first post regarding thoughts about The Black Prince here:

I'll do my best here to avoid spoilers.

I had some extra reading time, so I'm well into The Black Prince. I admire authors who can creditably write in the first person of the opposite sex. The protagonist and narrator for this one is Bradley Pearson (who hates to be called Brad, by the way), a divorced retired tax inspector who prides himself on being a serious writer, however has only three minor publications to his name.

The cast of characters that surrounds Bradley might all be inmates in a lunatic asylum. There's Arnold Baffin, friend of Bradley and younger, popularly successful writer who writes too much and is too easily praised, according to his daughter; Rachel, Arnold's wife ("more about her later" which is a device Bradley uses often throughout the narrative); Julian, their 20-something disappointing daughter; Bradley's younger sister, Priscilla, who may or may not be divorcing her husband; Christian, Bradley's former wife who has returned to London after living in Illinois and comes home with an "American twang"; and Christian's brother, Francis Marloe, a bothersome hanger-on.

I find myself laughing out loud at the oddest places, having no idea whether or not Murdoch is meaning to be funny. Bradley writes letters to several of these people, hoping to use the letters as shields or barriers that will keep them either out of his life or under control.

An example--To his ex-wife, addressed as "Dear Mrs. Evandale": "I would appreciate it if you would take this letter as saying exactly what it appears to say and nothing else. There is nothing of a cordial or forward-looking import to be read 'between the lines.' My act of writing to you does not betoken excitement or interest. As my wife you were unpleasant to me, cruel to me, destructive to me. I do not think that I speak too strongly. I was profoundly relieved to be free of you and I do not like you. Or rather I do not like the memory of you. I scarcely even now conceive of you as existing except as a nastiness conjured up by your brother. This miasma will soon pass and be replaced by the previous state of oblivion. I trust you will not interfere with this process by any manifestation. I should, to be finally frank, be thoroughly angered by any 'approach' on your part, and I am sure that you would wish to avoid a distressing scene. I derive consolation from the thought that since your memories of me are doubtless just as disagreeable as my memories of you, you are unlikely to desire a meeting."

I do not think that I speak too strongly.--Ha. Then after sending the letter, Bradley decides that the letter itself will probably have the opposite effect of what he desired--to excite her into creating a distressing scene--so to hold her off from "coming round in a taxi," he goes to see her. When he gets to the house, Christian is described as someone I can only imagine as looking and acting a great deal like Anna Wintour. Screaming.

The man is laughable and ludicrous, and I can't say that at 112/366 I have him or any of the others figured out yet. This might be one of those books that needs a double reading.

Dec 12, 2012, 8:31am

I read The Black Prince last year, and really enjoyed it. My review is here. I too found Bradley ludicrous: "Watching Bradley is like watching a row of dominoes fall. And then Bradley becomes positively delusional ...", and I found the novel's structure very interesting.

Edited: Dec 12, 2012, 9:01am

The Black Prince is my first Iris Murdoch, so I couldn't say whether or not her work is an acquired taste. I also can't say that I'm loving this book. I'm having to "assign" myself time to read this book in order to get through it. I'm at 194/366, and at this point I could just as easily put this one down and not pick it back up again. However, in school I read a lot of books that I felt that way about when I was in the middle of reading them, and once I was finished, I considered the read to be quite worthwhile.

I do occasionally find myself laughing out loud while reading this book--snorting at the characters. I assume Murdoch means for us to snort at them.

One of my issues with this book is that, to me at least, as someone who lived through the early 1970s and isn't particularly eager to go back there again, the book seems quite dated. It was published in 1973 and has some of the same sort of nervy, chaotic feel to it as John Updike's Rabbit Redux, published in 1971, and also deals with some of the same themes--guilt, sex, and death. Casual infidelity was something of a hallmark of the early 1970s; if you've ever seen the movie Bob & Ted & Carol & Alice (1969), sometimes The Black Prince has that sort of feel to it. I'm sure to be flamed for the comparison--ha.

None of what I've said here makes this a bad book, especially for readers who aren't old enough to remember the late 1960s and early 1970s. I guess I'm also having something of a visceral reaction to the two 50-something men ending up with the too-young 20-something women, since I was a 20-something back in the early 70's. Too much "ick-factor" going on for me, I think. The older men with their big plaids and white shoes with matching white belts and blow-dried hair--remember? Ick.

More later.

Edited: Dec 12, 2012, 8:55am

>4 lauralkeet:. Hi Laura, I think we cross-posted. Yes, the structure--very interesting. There's a lot to like in this book. I'll have something to say about how she put this thing together once I've finished.

Edited: Dec 12, 2012, 9:49am

Is Bradley Pearson's "transformation" supposed to remind us of a 1970s acid trip?
The next morning--it was another sunny day--I woke early to an exact perception of my state; yet knowing too that something had changed. I was not quite what I had been the day before. . . . I certainly felt very happy, with that curious sense of the face as waxen, dissolving into bliss, the eyes swimming with it. Desire, still cosmic, was perhaps more like physical pain, like something one could die of quite privately in a corner.
Do we hear the acid rock playing in the background--maybe Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast?
I got up and shaved and dressed with care and looked at my new face in the mirror. I looked so young it was almost uncanny. Then I drank a little tea and went to sit in the sitting-room. . . . I sat as still as a Buddhist and experienced myself.

Dec 12, 2012, 9:53am

I agree about the ick factor!! I was younger than you were in the early 70s so I don't have direct memories, but I agree this one is of its time and the men do little to redeem themselves. But then I think that's also Murdoch's POV regarding men.

Dec 12, 2012, 10:10am

"if you've ever seen the movie Bob & Ted & Carol & Alice (1969), sometimes The Black Prince has that sort of feel to it. I'm sure to be flamed for the comparison--ha."

Nah, no flaming. And I was allowed to present a paper at the IM Society Conference this year. Most of her books have that feature!

Dec 12, 2012, 11:01am

>9 LyzzyBee:. And I was allowed to present a paper at the IM Society Conference this year.

Oh, would love to hear more about that--what was your paper about? Some years ago I was involved with a group that studies and writes about Willa Cather. I loved my time with that group, and had a lot of fun going to the conferences. If anyone has an author they absolutely adore, then find the society that studies them and plan to attend a conference. You will never be sorry!

Edited: Dec 12, 2012, 11:06am

>9 LyzzyBee:. Do you have a blog?

You've given me an idea--maybe I should start a Cather group?

Dec 12, 2012, 12:37pm

I have a blog (well, I have two) at - info about my Iris Murdoch research project is on there under the Iris Murdoch category in the right hand column, or there's a page on it with the links, too. I presented on my research so far at the Conference. Happy reading!

Dec 12, 2012, 4:04pm

>12 LyzzyBee:. Loved it! Very nice job.

Dec 12, 2012, 10:21pm

Lyzzybee - just read your account of the IM conference - good job. Now I didn't know that IM adored Powys, well what do you know? I'm a Powys fan myself, just can't get enough of him - only discovered him recently so - I've only read three so far, but it's great to know - I'll be thinking about Powys as I read her work.

The Sea, the Sea is also first person, male - Charles is also quite insufferable..... I know exactly what you mean that you could put it down, but that you know from experience that sometimes with books like this it is LATER that the experience of reading it keeps resonating and having an effect .

Dec 13, 2012, 1:25am

> 14 thank you so much! I haven't read any Powys yet; there's some on my wishlist but I'm conscious of a v bulgy ToBeRead shelf and the size of the books ...

Edited: Dec 13, 2012, 9:09am

>14 sibylline:. Hi Sib. Oh good, I feel somewhat relieved by what you say. I'm reading the oddest part of this book this morning, where Bradley seems to be having something of a nervous breakdown. It's really pretty funny. If I knew IM better, then I would know better how to take this. Bradley is sitting at the opera with his 20-something, and he begins crying: "I only wondered if it would soon prove impossible to cry quietly, and whether I should then begin to sob." I'm trying to imagine the reaction of this young woman with him as he begins to moan and sob through this opera. "I became aware that I had uttered a sort of moan, because the man on my other side, whom I noticed now for the first time, turned and stared at me." Oh good grief, this can't end well. --Snort-- I simply can't feel any sort of sympathy for this man whatsoever. He's such a fool.

I'm starting to wonder: does IM dislike men? because she makes most of them out to be fools. I mean, I don't know any men like Bradley or Arthur--thank God. The only one I like in this book is Francis.

Dec 13, 2012, 10:40am

Does anyone have anything to say about humor/humour in Iris Murdoch?

Dec 13, 2012, 12:56pm

I find a lot of Murdoch either blackly, bleakly or laugh out loud funny. When I was reading through all the novels with my group, we had a category of Farce that we found in many of the novels. Lots of drawing room comedy stuff like hiding in cupboards and behind curtains ... and there's some really black humour around murder in The Philosopher's Pupil.

Edited: Dec 13, 2012, 7:21pm

>18 LyzzyBee:. I like that--"blackly, bleakly or laugh out loud funny." Good, that helps. Thanks!

Dec 13, 2012, 3:06pm

Edited: Dec 18, 2012, 8:03am

I have a little less than 100 pages left in The Black Prince, but I'm having a hard time finishing the book. I will finish the thing, because I want to be fair to this reading of IM. My big problem, I think, is that I don't care about any of these people.

Maybe I'm just too dense to get what she's doing here, but this relationship between Bradley Pearson and Julian seems to me to be nothing but silly infatuation--certainly not love. What am I missing?

We might be coming to a turn in the plot here--I hope so. Obviously, the Bradley/Julian thing has no future. It's one of those relationships that can only exist in a liminal time, during a period when "real life" is held at bay for awhile, for one reason or another.

Dec 20, 2012, 9:00am

So I finished the book, and I hardly know what to say. I hit a spot somewhere about halfway where I really wanted to abandon the book, but decided I would finish the thing, no matter what. I'm glad I did.

It's amazing that Murdoch can make a compelling read out of a story with so many unlikeable people. I never did come to like the narrator, Bradley Pearson. I was reading some reviews of the book on another website, and was struck by one written by a young reader:
I was reading the book the way I watch movies like Bridesmaids--I kept wanting to cover my eyes and wait till the characters had finished embarrassing themselves, only he never did.
I felt pretty much the same way about old Brad--come off it man, can't you see what a ridiculous fool you're making of yourself? I never could take anything he had to say about "love" seriously, and since one of IM's major themes is about love, I guess that part of it didn't work very well for me.

The thing I did like was the book's implicit question: "What is truth?" Is Bradley Pearson an unreliable narrator? Do we take as the "true" account of what happened to these people the postscripts written by the other characters at the end of the book? Is the editor's account the true one? Well, reader, did he kill the guy or didn't he?

I would add this about the book, and of course my point of view is based only on this one book, since it's the only IM I've read so far: Murdoch's apparent view of the world (again, only judging from this book) is one that I don't have very much sympathetic understanding for. Her exploration of and conclusions about marriage, divorce, infidelity, women of a "certain age" don't ring true to me because evidently our life experiences are so completely at odds. Are 50-something first wives really so freakish and absurd?

Overall, I'm glad I read the book and I look forward to reading more IM.

Dec 20, 2012, 12:33pm

Excellent comment from the young reader - I love it.

She does indeed muse a great deal on what is truth in this one, also there's all the Hamlet stuff, the delightfully Freudian PO Tower ...

But would it make you feel better if I said that in my reading group, I love it but was reading it for the 3rd time, one liked it, one tolerated it, one hated it first time, loved it second time, and one threw it across the room!

Dec 20, 2012, 2:49pm

>23 LyzzyBee:. Hilarious. Yes, that does make me feel better. This was actually my second attempt. The first time I gave up on it very early into the book. Wow, that's quite a range of reactions.

Dec 21, 2012, 8:29pm

Love, like, tolerate, hate, abominate. I'd say that about covers the gamut of IM readers.

Dec 21, 2012, 9:48pm

And convinces me she's got something. That wide a range of response always gets my antennae waving.

Dec 22, 2012, 6:41am

Exactly. We always had varying views on all of the books, all of the way through our reading project (I don't like An Unofficial Rose for no reason at all, for example).

Dec 22, 2012, 7:37am

I love the comparison to Bridesmaids -- that's spot on! Bradley is a complete ass, I never liked him either.
>26 sibylline:: good point, Lucy!

May 2, 2013, 9:39pm

I'll be reading BP this month as I recently acquired it!

May 3, 2013, 8:22am

I eagerly await your thoughts on the book!

May 7, 2013, 10:54am

I've begun. Immediately felt a sort of inward slumping - this looks to be another first-person narrative by a self-absorbed middle-aged man. If it had been the next one I picked up after The Sea, the Sea, I might have given up on her. As it is, I see it as part of her larger obsessions, in this case, with a certain kind of very destructive person who inwardly works out why what he does is not so bad........ that's just a guess, but it is one of her themes. Did she write these types of books when she was depressed herself???? Ah me.

May 7, 2013, 11:21am

You will enjoy the Hamlet bits and the Post Office Tower ... perhaps. This is the one that divided opinion most in my reading group ...

May 7, 2013, 4:35pm

Yes, I recall you saying that I think? And I am sure I will get into it as I read. The Sea was rather tidal that way, sucking me in and then spitting me out - sometimes I wanted to read on, sometimes I didn't.

May 10, 2013, 12:31pm

Love your analogy Lucy. I am looking forward to have read enough of her to REALLY get into her. Have any of you been able to get into her head yet though? You know how that can happen...... I don't know as I see it happening with Murdoch.

Edited: May 10, 2013, 2:00pm

I do - I've done that with more than a few writers - Elizabeth Taylor last year being the most recent. I think I came close with the last two - The Sandcastle and The Good Apprentice - and had a glimmer in The Bell. It is seeming to me as if IM has two quite separate literary selves that follow two very different thematic pathways - the one (that I like better or get more easily and feel more empathetic with) unworldly, sensual, naive or innocent but essentially good - throw them in the soup and see what they do -- and the other wrestling with how 'evil' is embodied in a person, what behaviors and personality types cause destruction and misery to happen - I get the feeling that IM is pushing towards egocentrism, selfishness, greed as being deeply corrosive - these books are harder to read, at least, The Sea, the Sea was and The Black Prince also is. I would put the bedroom farce, A Severed Head (the only other IM I've read) in a separate category, ultimately, or as a kind of hybrid or even a tragedy turned into comedy or something. Body and Mind acting independently?

May 13, 2013, 9:55am

So I'm in a little deeper. My what a scene she more or less opens with - and why do I have a feeling it is just going to get worse? Not to spoil, but that is one of the most brilliant and subtle demonstrations of how a couple convince themselves what they are doing to each other is 'normal' or all right somehow, or 'not that bad'. Utterly chilling.

Edited: May 13, 2013, 1:40pm

I didn't worry about spoilers when I made my posts about this book. I figure that anyone not wanting to read something here is warned off by the thread title. So please don't worry about spoilers, since I'd really like to hear your thoughts on the book.

--Even though in #3 I wrote that I would do my best to avoid spoilers. I didn't do a very good job, since it's very hard to make comments about a book and not refer to the characters/plot.

May 22, 2013, 8:31am

No furries with me about spoilers. I'm totally bogged down - Bradley Pearson is such a pompous ass. I keep having to remind myself that Murdoch is after bigger game, that liking or caring about a character is not always a necessity, etc etc etc. I keep thinking too of Up the Down Staircase and the student who put "quotes" around "everything" she wrote, driving the teacher mad. I wonder if that is still as good a read as it was forty odd years ago!

Ole Brad has just connected with Julian, which gives you some idea how 'far' (not) I've gotten.

Edited: May 22, 2013, 6:54pm

I had some time today when reading was the best way to spend the time, and I applied myself to the Murdoch and, as happened again and again with The Sea, The Sea I became engaged despite myself - not caring at all about Bradley, but pitying him perhaps. He's writing those letters, and of course, in all the chaos even the one he decided not to mail gets delivered...... as yet another miserable and hysterical woman flings herself at him, this time his sister who is leaving her husband, or says she is. And he admits he can't stand her, and then admits that he knows he's reprehensible and then goes off on a thing about how appalling marriage is, and then about artists and the truth that is somehow simultaneously incredibly irritating to read and thought-provoking, especially because it's Bradley. It's so deliciously over the top with Arnold going off with Bradley's despised first wife in the middle of the scene with Priscilla the sister - watching this control freak lose control of everything going on around him - to the point that he comes home from the hospital and everyone has gone leaving his apartment, door wide open. Murdoch has a genius for letting loose an irresistible riot now and then. So far twice already in this book.....

Edited: May 23, 2013, 9:29am

You make it sound like a much more compelling read than I found it to be. I guess I find her riots "resistible." Maybe for Murdoch and the readers who like her, liking or caring about a character isn't a necessity, but I need someone in a book who makes me feel something other than pity or contempt or confusion or . . . yawn.

I am so out of it where Murdoch is concerned. Her books just don't appeal to me. Patricia Myer Spacks has made The Sacred and Profane Love Machine the central discussion for her 1970s chapter in her book On Rereading. She says her favorite authors in the 1970s were Murdoch and Muriel Spark (Loitering with Intent, etc.).

The way she describes this book, Lucy, if you like BP then you will love S&PLM.
The psychoanalyst who pursues his profession by instinct rather than by training; the saintly wife; the sordid mistress; the man of unfulfilled homosexual impulse; a man grieving for his dead wife--whom he killed; the beautiful adolescent girl eager to lose her virginity; a grown-up woman of ambiguous sexual inclinations; a troubled young man; an eight-year-old boy who wants to be a gangster. Add in an astute narrator who does not appear to identify with any of the characters. The plot, Spacks says, defies summary, "because of the sheer multiplicity of events."
Why it is I can love, love, love the books (most of them) by John Irving, yet I can't get into these by Murdoch, I really can't say. Maybe it's because I honestly can't figure out when she's meaning to be humorous or ironic or whatever. I simply miss her cues or something.

Here's Spacks again: The book brims with irony. "We are left with the question of how we should react to the perception behind such representation. Murdoch's narrator offers a clue, suggesting that 'an author's irony often conceals his glee. This concealment is possibly the chief function of irony.' Perhaps the reader is to share the author's glee at the intricacy and diversity of human idiosyncrasy and self-deception? Certainly glee--a kind of wild and wondering pleasure--is one of the emotions I felt in this reading."

You sound like one of those readers, Lucy, who read Murdoch with glee. I wish I could join you.

May 23, 2013, 10:20am

How interesting - I really dislike Irving's books, and have tried quite a few ...

Edited: May 23, 2013, 11:05am

I like both writers - although I'm finding I enjoy IM's 'sunnier' books and I have liked some Irving better than others although I think maybe I've only read 3.

I'm fascinated, B., by what works and doesn't work for readers. That would be a brilliant area for pyschological study and inquiry, methinks. I have friends (not many, I admit - let's say - there are people in my orbit) who ONLY read very serious books.... There are quite a few of them here on LT in fact on some of the seriouser groups...... In my case, I feel that somewhere along the way (out of self defense???) I 'learned' to read at different levels - for a book like tBP I feel that I emotionally detach from it, step back just enough not to be pained by the suffering of these people, or -- at the very least -- not by the ones I don't care for at all (which in this one is nobody so far) - as if I'm reading a 'case study' about some lunatic! I do this because with some writers I trust that they have genuine wisdom to impart about the human condition - say - Dostoyevsky or Kafka or even Flaubert (whom I detest, basically, except, man, can he write!). Even if I loathe or am depressed and disturbed by the philosophy or the direction the themes go in, I feel that it is worth 'knowing' what the author is about. IM strikes me as most unusual for a woman writer in that she often places her thematic content above the 'human' factor; the characters are there to 'show' something. She gleefully (yes!) does this ruthlessly. I couldn't, which is why I never will amount to a hill of beans as a writer, I expect. Muriel Spark is similar. I've attributed some of her ruthlessness to Catholicism - Spark is very very concerned with the issues of sin and redemption, not unlike Greene, except Greene is so..... delicate and subtle by comparison! And so funny in the right places. Sinning is taken for granted - and, as with Murdoch, it's what you do after that matters, how you explain it. But Murdoch doesn't allow her characters the comfort of grace, which Spark ultimately does, I think. All very interesting.

Poor Bradley only wants to get away to write....... or does he? Iris is a sly one.

Back to add - overall though, I'm not totally sure that Spacks is doing IM justice with the glee bit - yes - I think under the glee is another layer that is very very serious indeed. Stopping at glee risks being dismissive of her aims.

Edited: May 23, 2013, 3:37pm

>42 sibylline:. Spacks doesn't stop at glee. My quoting of Spacks stops at glee. Spacks is very much a Murdoch fan, and you can take my word for it if you want to--she certainly does Murdoch justice. Sorry if my truncated quoting of her chapter on the S&PLM gave anyone the impression that Spacks' critique of Murdoch is somehow lightweight or dismissive.

On Rereading, Patricia Myer Spacks, 2011, Belknap Press of Harvard UP, Cambridge, MA and London.

May 24, 2013, 9:19am

Ah - thanks B. Clarification! On Rereading is clearly a book I need to toss on the WL.

May 25, 2013, 11:33am

>42 sibylline:. I’m fascinated by your post on reading, Sib.

OK, I’ve been moodling this around in my head for a couple of days--your comments in response to my post about liking or caring about a character being something of a necessity for me--and I think I've probably misunderstood the gist of your argument. Perhaps you took my comments about not liking IM somewhat personally (was it the “yawn”?), and I have quite possibly done the same about yours. I'll just say that I’m not really sure how the issue of your orbit (I first read that as "obit"--ha) of very serious friends ONLY reading their very serious books in their very serious LT groups is germane to the discussion, except that I guess you wanted to associate yourself as a very serious reader, as you go on to say, that “somewhere along the way . . . I ‘learned’ to read at different levels.” I would simply ask, doesn’t everyone?—read at different levels, I mean? Or at least those do who think of themselves as serious readers, although I would call myself a “passionate” reader rather than serious, in that I passionately love to read—the “very serious” bit has to my ear something of a blue blood or elitist or a bit of a snobbish connotation to it. Serious reading meaning what, exactly? Difficult? Earnest? Sincere? Important? Weighty? Profound? Educated? What’s the opposite of serious, anyway—Unimportant? Frivolous? Trivial? Superficial? Airheaded? Fluff? Uneducated? Oh, guilty as charged, then. I do read frivolously, at times. Maybe more than I should, but Lord knows there are days when fluff is exactly what I need. And bless their hearts, those friends of yours, who ONLY need serious reading to get through the day! What lives they must lead!

As for your last paragraph—what a wonderful comparison/contrast of those three writers. You are hugely more deeply read than I will ever be in contemporary British writers. I confess to being too deeply bonded with my American identity to find pleasure in spending all that much time with them--contemporary British writers, that is, just to be clear. I would rather spend my time rereading Faulkner (now there's a sunny guy for you!). However, I'll make a promise that one of these days I’ll get around to reading Brighton Rock (1938)—a novel that I've been assured is filled with sordid and unattractive people. I’ll report back.

Edited: May 25, 2013, 1:05pm

B - Oh dear! It's an odd thing, but I was talking about myself only and not, by implication saying anything about you. If anything I am always trying to explain to you (justify more like) my taste for things like fantasy and sf. You are actually a more serious content reader, overall, than I am. I think one difference between us is that I get caught up in language, just the flow of words and sounds on the page and in my head sometimes. And visually that may be the case in the better sf and fantasy - some images - oh, of a magnificent and weird ship in outer space or some lush, spooky forest with a marvelously appareled magical person on a horse galloping through it, hell-bent to save the world. I just love it.

- I have friends (not many, I admit - let's say - there are people in my orbit) who ONLY read very serious books.... There are quite a few of them here on LT in fact on some of the seriouser groups......
The word 'orbit' is meant to make clear I am not one of those people. I just know some - in fact - they puzzle me. I neither admire nor think less of them for reading what they do. I know I couldn't stand it, that I would die of boredom and sadness. In fact, I wonder sometimes why I am this way - somewhat relentlessly scornful of over-intellectualization and worry it is because I am missing something, that I'm a lightweight. Then I get mad about that, because that is a stupid way to think, I'm pretty sure. I do not, in any case, associate myself with serious readers. I would classify my reading habits as eclectic and uncategorizable. There just aren't so many people out there happy reading either Thomas Pynchon or Georgette Heyer. Or Iris Murdoch and Isaac Asimov. I know there aren't and I know, at this stage of my life, that I am unusual as a reader. LT is the closest I've ever come to finding a few readers who read in the indiscriminate way I do. It's not bragging, it's fact.

In my case, I feel that somewhere along the way (out of self defense???) I 'learned' to read at different levels - for a book like tBP I feel that I emotionally detach from it, step back just enough not to be pained by the suffering of these people, or -- at the very least -- not by the ones I don't care for at all (which in this one is nobody so far) - as if I'm reading a 'case study' about some lunatic!
I am indeed very well-educated, partly by choice, and partly because given my background that was what was 'expected' and I never questioned it. I think at first I started reading that way as a form of self-preservation and quite resentfully, but then I came to see that there were other rewards. I don't think that is elitist - it's more like, practicing music makes you a better at playing but also at understanding what you play. Unexpected rewards.

No, I don't think all that many people do learn to read at different levels for different things. I don't think very many people read passionately as you and I do - most people if they read at all want to be entertained and don't want to work. It's very hard to learn, say, to like Shakespeare or read a poem. It's hard to learn to read James, Woolf, Kafka, Kleist, Proust. It's harder to read the best genre writers as well.

Here is how I would define a couple of types of reading - and neither are 'opposites'. I avoid using opposites - educated or uneducated for example - they tend to create a false either/or where none exists. What follows pertains mainly to fiction, btw. Non-fiction is another ball of wax.

Serious, literary: Striving for 'new' and 'unsaid' - structurally and verbally. Seeking unexpressed truths. Showing hard and painful subject matter. Wildly original. Scary. Disturbing. Life-changing. Insanely beautiful. Moving. Many novels that do fit in this category have things in common with genre writing - strong characterizations, plots etc. and yet they transcend all that eventually. Those are just tools, enticements.

Genre (eg. meant to be read 'for fun'- romance, mystery, sf, fantasy ) Pattern-based, archetypal, satisfying structure, surprising within a safe context, can be wonderfully fresh and original in competent hands. Strong characterizations are a MUST. Plot also. Something in us loves and feels reassured by reading stories that we know, already how they will end, mystery solved, hero triumphant, happy couple, whatever.

Some writers can be hard to place and do straddle both types, but that can be avoided by saying that there are writers in the genre field who are brilliant and move the genre in new directions - though I would argue always within certain parameters.)

So where, to keep this relevant, would I place IM? One interesting thing about her is that she uses some genre strategems. Her novels all have a similar 'shape' even, working towards some calamity. I would place her tentatively in the first group, with the caveat that, I am guessing, she herself was an iconoclast and didn't like the idea of being classified as 'too literary' - she does want her readers to have fun but also come away thoughtful. While her books don't have 'happy' endings per se, people do seem to come away having gotten more or less what they deserved.....

Hope this helps.

I am terrifyingly well read, and the fact is, at nearly 60, I'm not going to pretend I'm not, if that makes me elitist, so be it. My reading is mostly, like your own, passion-based reading, curiosity, a weird addiction to language (may relate to my interest in music?) and so on. But you should give yourself more credit - and I am aware that you are terrifyingly well read in some areas that I either avoid or am interested but lazy about. (mostly in the non-fiction realm).

This is way too long, many apologies.

May 25, 2013, 1:57pm

No, I am fascinated by this, but I have to come back later because Mr. lab is setting up his scaffolding on the stairs. Oh woe.

Edited: May 25, 2013, 2:32pm

Just finished Part One. IM herself is asking, perhaps, in tBP where she belongs in the literary scheme of things - as I picked the book up after writing out all the above, I thought, how perfect this convo is because certainly Arnold and Bradley could be said to represent the two types of writing: "I have always felt that art is an aspect of the good life, and so correspondingly difficult, whereas Arnold, I regret to say, regarded art as 'fun.' In my book that is all on 187 and IM expands on that basic idea - mainly to say that Arnold 'pretends' to be more serious than he is - through artifice. Then what follows, is that Julian comes over with Hamlet, for her 'lesson' - even though Bradley has, once again, packed and is on the verge of leaving. I did like all the stuff about Hamlet being Shakespeare himself - the one play where everyone identifies with the protagonist etc. That there is something different about it. The first Henry play has some of those features in a very different 'key' but I can't think of any other?

May 26, 2013, 9:27am

>46 sibylline:. Well, Sib, the arguments I was going to make don't seem very interesting or valid to me this morning. I would just add that I didn't mean to give the impression of not giving myself credit for being a passionate reader. I value my education. It was very, very hard-won. Given my background, the only "expectation" that was placed on me about school was that I would pay for it myself.

Seriously, do you not use antonyms to tease out the meaning of a word? Is that not a valid way to understand what something is--to also make an effort to say what it is not?

I avoid using opposites - educated or uneducated for example - they tend to create a false either/or where none exists.

I see that I erred when I used the word opposite to describe the paired words I was using to understand what your friends might mean by "serious" reading. That was careless of me--I was actually using antonyms. Opposites (educated/uneducated, since that's the one you picked out) imply incompatibility or a binary relationship (like off/on), whereas antonyms can be graded (like on a fat/skinny continuum); they can be complementary (like inhale/exhale); they can also be relational (like predator/prey).

So while the opposites of educated/uneducated certainly do exist (just ask someone like me who paid off school loans for 20 years), they should not be put in a category of either/or, as you correctly suggest.

To end on a laugh--the orbit/obit thing was just sort of funny. Being a SF reader, you obviously have a rich connotation with the word orbit that I don't have. And being someone who enjoys genealogy, that common abbreviation of "obituary" was what came immediately to my mind.

Apropos to IM?--pretty much not. Oh well. All I can say, Sib, is that I value your "terrifyingly" well-read self so much, and I feel that the day I met you here on LT was one of the blessings of my life.

May 26, 2013, 10:54am

That's very very very kind and reassuring of you B. given how differently our take is on so many things. I've been hugely enriched by knowing you. I've been a lonely reader most of my life, not at all in alignment with the competitive nastiness of most academia, I'm not a proper intellectual -- too something - not sure what. I'm better off with Irish musicians for my social life, no talking, mostly just playing!

All that said - many antonyms are oppositional as I think of them, others are more shaded, and a few are unavoidable. But I can never answer Yes or No questions. I can't do it. I can (almost?) always think of an exception. It's made for some difficulties in my life, believe me. I am not being flippant and it occurs to me that may well be at the core of what you find interesting about me.

What about dawn? What about twilight? What about when your battery is failing in your flashlight?
If you can see better in the dark than the light, is dark still dark? Light still light?

What about being in transit? What about being on the way up or the way down? What about being ambivalent?

In/Out. What about cats? What about being stuck? What about being 'in' because you are so far 'out'?

May 28, 2013, 12:30pm

100 or so pages to go. Just started Part 3. I cannot WAIT to be done! As is so often the case with an IM novel, you start out loathing the protag. and then slowly come around to at the very least pitying them. I don't even know what to call what I feel about Bradley! I keep envisioning Bill Nighy playing him, which helps a bit, as he is a favorite.

Edited: May 29, 2013, 10:04am

I'M DONE I'M DONE - I feel freed from hard labor. Make no mistake, The Black Prince is a complex and piece of work with a purpose and a ruthless compassion at the heart of it. This is a 'framed' work with many conceits - that there is a separate person, a P.A. Loxias, who befriends Bradley after the events of the novel have taken place, and supports him in writing his 'memoir'. Yet..... Bradley himself is a novelist, never stops describing himself as a novelist, even though he is describing what happened to 'him' - the events which enabled him to write his 'great work'. That would imply, then, that Loxias himself is the one making up a fiction about Mr. Pearson's experiences, except, of course we know that IRIS herself MADE UP the whole thing. A woman pretending to be .... the editor, a man (mysterious and a musician) who is also pretending to be a man (a fiction writer) to whom all these things happened. The characters in the book also, at the end, offer their own comments - which is really - in a structural sense, a very funny thing to do and makes the point that - in any kind of writing the point of view of the narrator/writer is suspect. ALWAYS. People are always out to protect, defend, justify and explain themselves, put themselves in a good light. The implication is that for in order for this to happen every now and then someone has to be sacrificed. Hamlet and Bradley Pearson..... (Other characters die, but they die unsymbolically, of causes and effects that aren't literary!!). Embedded within the novel's commentary and inquiry on 'art' - whether it is hot or cold, whether it should be secret or public, whether suffering must happen to allow real art, is a painful indictment of marriage as potentially a sadistic playground in which a couple preys upon a third person in order to strengthen their own bond - literally feeding on the spirit of another. Rachel and Arnold have to be one of the creepiest couples I've ever met in fiction (I don't read Stephen King, so maybe I've missed out....). What I found hardest to read was the way people twisted everything anyone else said to suit their point of view. It is also that is purely and sharply the most brilliant aspect of the novel, and in a way, probably its 'first' purpose, simply to demonstrate this point over and over and over again, to literally beat you over the head with it. Yes, it is brilliant, but no, it is not fun to read. However, as with the previous Murdochs I have read, as the experience settles, I expect it will settle in my mind as an enriching read.

I found myself frequently imagining what Tom and Daisy and Jordan (is there an echo in that name choice?) would have said about what happened to Gatsby and why if Nick had 'invited' them to write postscripts. Gatsby is the the 'biggest name' 'unreliable narrator' book I know of.... it was a very persistent idea, but did it come out of nowhere or was I meant to have it?

Edited: May 29, 2013, 11:03am

I'm back to add that thinking it over, out doing errands, etc. - I'm going to rate my IM reads along my own IM scale - thus this one will, at least for now, get only three stars. I think it is an unbalanced novel, too heavy on the philosophizing, too clever and characters that really do talk too much. That rating reflects both my 'enjoyment' of it and the craft put into it - which might be said to be overmuch???