The Message to the Planet

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The Message to the Planet

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1sibylline
Oct 30, 2014, 8:17am

At least three weeks ago I began this latest Murdoch, but I'm not not doing very well with it, so I thought, time to get over here and see if I can work up my enthusiasm. It's not the book itself, I don't think. It is a mix of not what I need to be reading at the moment and maybe a surfeit of Murdoch, although I don't really believe that. She is too smart and funny and interesting, even though there are aspects to all of her books that creep me out - in this case a menage a trois and a person dying believing himself cursed. A Murdochian theme is exploring how a more forceful personality can dominate even quite intelligent and otherwise sensible and thoughtful people, especially groups of close friends, and this book, like many others, tackles that. The added complication is that usually these central charismatic people have either beauty, drive, talent and energy (or all of the above) that is very hard to ignore or resist. Sometimes this character, a catalyst, has no idea about their power, sometimes they do..... that is what keeps it all interesting. Not to be reductive with 'names' for things, but those characters are usually massively passive-aggressive or borderline or just plain ........ (fill in the blank with yr. favorite cuss word). And the innocent or naive ones? Well, that's a form of irresponsible behavior in an intelligent adult, Murdoch hints although she remarkably unjudgmental. Some of her charismatic characters really hate it that people flock to them and do everything they can to get away, usually leading to even bigger messes. IM's field was ethics/philosophy and so there are always big questions lurking in the background. It's fun, but demanding. But I've decided to try the 'ten pages a day' approach and just keep chipping at it and see if I get more engaged, so that I voluntarily choose it over my less demanding reads.

2LyzzyBee
Oct 31, 2014, 6:12am

I have to admit that this is probably my least favourite Murdoch. Not that that will help you much, but it might make you feel there's some solidarity. It always seemed a bit turgid and not any redeeming characters in it. Not to say it's a BAD novel, just not my favourite IM!

3sibylline
Oct 31, 2014, 7:40am

That is slightly fearful news, however, Liz. Particularly the lack of redeeming characters...... usually there are a few that I really like. The Sea, the Sea is, so far, the IM that barely had any characters I could stand, just that one odd cousin, sort of.

4LyzzyBee
Oct 31, 2014, 10:56am

I don't know, I don't really like the cultish subject matter, I have read it more than once, however, so it can't be THAT bad!

5sibylline
Edited: Oct 31, 2014, 3:38pm

Yes, but you are a certifiable IM-o-philiac, eh??? I don't like these two intelligent attractive women even considering going along with Jack, either, makes me itchy. And Marcus is creepy - there have been two other creepy guys so far, the one that got hit on the head and then one, more like Marcus.... oh geez.... the one that starts out at the party at the Uni; he's writing some book or other and his friends have been supporting him for years.

I keep thinking there are some peculiar details too - like Marcus's name - Vallar echoes Tolkien's names for the High Elves.... and maybe he borrowed it from something else that Iris is referring to and there have been odd references to fairytales, several of them so far. Oh and the Lion, Witch, and Wardrobe moment when Ludens goes through the moldering blankets and coats into the other little cottage. Very odd, and I can't help but wonder what she is up to. So, yes, I am intrigued despite the fact I haven't gotten very far.

I am presently in the 'edit for the agent' phase of a book process and have no time and little energy left over, even though I wish I did!!! I keep hoping the process will get easier, but so far, no dice.

6LyzzyBee
Oct 31, 2014, 5:49pm

Oh, The Book and the Brotherhood, you mean. I LOVE that one!

And ha - just did edits on my own new book this week, and a few more final ones to come - bleurgh!

7sibylline
Nov 2, 2014, 7:25am

So Marcus has performed his magic on Patrick. That has to be one of the oddest passages I've encountered anywhere in litt-ra-tcher! I suppose now Patrick will get up to all sorts of mischief.

8sibylline
Dec 3, 2014, 9:44am

My review:
This is a big novel and exhibits the classic Murdochian imagery (motifs really) and themes and characters in abundance. What has begun, overall, to amaze me about her work is that each book offers a fresh approach to the same subjects. In all her books, swimming (and specific swimming places), beautiful stones of all sizes, amazing houses, gardens and landscapes, women's (and some men's) clothing, especially dresses, and food, the occasional crucial cat or dog, to name a few motifs that recur and recur. One especially fine image/motif in this novel is a huge sarcen rock, called the Axle stone, on the grounds of a high end mental institution. The themes are simpler: infidelity and the converse, loyalty and the big questions of good and evil, innocence and depravity. She also, as often examines the link between genius, mental illness and the paranormal (if any) and faith versus rationality. In this novel two threads weave (although they only connect through one person, the main character, Alfred Ludens) one concerning the artist Jack and his attempt to get two women to consent to be his concubine-wives and the other concerning Marcus Vallar a man who has exhibited genius (early on in maths, then in painting) with whom he has been somewhat obsessed since meeting him as a student. There is a group of friends and Marcus, apparently, cursed one of them andIrishman and a poet who is now wasting away and on his deathbed. Ludens finds Marcus and begs him to come and lift the curse which Marcus does, in fact, do in a way that appears miraculous. Marcus' daughter will have none of it: she knows he is a man on the edge, close to madness. What is remarkable to me is that Murdoch convincingly portrays a man of genius in a mental torment - not an easy thing to do. Ludens is the agent who 'translates' what Marcus says and there is a constant tension between Ludens hopes and wishes that Marcus will break through into some critical insight into human nature that will help mankind progress and the fact that Marcus, while he has genuinely struggled to understand the nature of evil and suffering, has perhaps been broken by it. Ludens alternately seems loving and cruel himself and sometimes you find yourself doubting Marcus only to be freshly presented with an example of his sincerity and anguish. To trivialize what Murdoch is attempting to examine would be a shame. While the dresses and food and so one might seem to be in too great a contrast to the bigger theme, not at all. Such is the nature of being alive: being caught in the small details, including one's own emotional limitations. Ludens really is awful and naive and stupid a lot of the time, but you never doubt his love for Marcus and his sincerity and even a certain level of honesty with himself even though it doesn't make him behave any better. It is, ultimately, the story of one person growing up: Ludens, and he does successfully do this, so that is all to the good. I can't say I loved every minute - it took me two months, with several breaks, to get through. Jack is a terrible ass and you want to shake him by the scruff of his neck. It was hard reading, but the women do eventually get wise--with the help of a sensible Bostonian named Maisie (very funny!). I also found it poignant that Murdoch was examining the crumbling of a brilliant mind. This is her third from the last book, 1990, and while the next one The Green Knight is successful, the final one is shows signs, apparently of failing mental ability. I see none of that here, only perhaps, a sense of looming disaster on the far horizon. Fascinating as always. I don't really care at this point whether I 'like' a particular one of her books or not. ****

9sibylline
Dec 3, 2014, 9:44am

Hope to return to add some quotes!