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The Nice and the Good (1968)

by Iris Murdoch

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
8971823,407 (3.74)1 / 78
From the Booker Prize-winning author of The Sea, The Sea comes a story about revenge and reconciliation, and the difference between being nice and being good.   John Ducane, a respected Whitehall civil servant, is asked to investigate the suicide of a colleague. As he pursues his inquiry, he uncovers a shabby, evil world of murder, blackmail, and black magic. He begins to feel more trapped than trapping.   In contrast to a stagnant summer in London, Octavian and Kate Gray's adoring community on the Dorset coast seems to offer Ducane refuge, but even here the after-effects of violence poison an atmosphere already electric with adolescent quarrels and intrigue. After a swim into the underworld, Ducane begins to realize that niceness is not enough.   "A feast."--The Guardian… (more)
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 Iris Murdoch readers: The Nice and the Good14 unread / 14sibylline, February 2017

» See also 78 mentions

English (16)  Dutch (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (18)
Showing 1-5 of 16 (next | show all)
Hitting a good phase of Murdoch novels here, this one does her normal things of assembling a cast of people and having them interact in peculiar ways. This one is very atmospheric and becomes quite odd in parts. ( )
  AlisonSakai | May 4, 2023 |
What makes the early novels of Iris Murdoch challenging to is the abundance of major and minor characters. Moreover, the reader should not only remember who all these characters are, and what is special about them, but also their relations with the other characters in the novel. Meanwhile, these relations can be very varied, familial relations, sexual relations across gender and sex, friendship, and these relations existing in all colours and flavours. In many ways, The nice and the good, published in 1968, is typical for its time.

In fact, the plot of The nice and the good is fairly straighforward, although it seems many of the details are open to interpretation and ambiguous. In the end it is very difficult for John Ducane to reconstruct what has happened, and what role was played by each of the people involved in the drama.

At a higher level, the characters in the novel all play out certain roles, and their roles change under given circumstances and the willingness of the other characters to engage. Once the other characters do engage, they adopt changing roles and their perception or experience of the situation changes. At the same time, the play-act in each situation is easily broken when one of the actors refuses to play their role.

As a thinker and a novelist, Iris Murdoch is profoundly interested in Plato. In The nice and the good and important chapter describes an episode in a cave. Earlier in the story, this cave is described as a place of immense potential, possibly a treasure. However, rather than a warm, and safe womb, the cave turns out to be a death trap. This chapter emphasizes that things are not what they seem to be, and the same is true for almost all people and all their relations in The nice and the good. They are not so nice and good, but rather sinister. ( )
  edwinbcn | Jan 6, 2023 |
What makes the early novels of Iris Murdoch challenging to is the abundance of major and minor characters. Moreover, the reader should not only remember who all these characters are, and what is special about them, but also their relations with the other characters in the novel. Meanwhile, these relations can be very varied, familial relations, sexual relations across gender and sex, friendship, and these relations existing in all colours and flavours. In many ways, The nice and the good, published in 1968, is typical for its time.

In fact, the plot of The nice and the good is fairly straighforward, although it seems many of the details are open to interpretation and ambiguous. In the end it is very difficult for John Ducane to reconstruct what has happened, and what role was played by each of the people involved in the drama.

At a higher level, the characters in the novel all play out certain roles, and their roles change under given circumstances and the willingness of the other characters to engage. Once the other characters do engage, they adopt changing roles and their perception or experience of the situation changes. At the same time, the play-act in each situation is easily broken when one of the actors refuses to play their role.

As a thinker and a novelist, Iris Murdoch is profoundly interested in Plato. In The nice and the good and important chapter describes an episode in a cave. Earlier in the story, this cave is described as a place of immense potential, possibly a treasure. However, rather than a warm, and safe womb, the cave turns out to be a death trap. This chapter emphasizes that things are not what they seem to be, and the same is true for almost all people and all their relations in The nice and the good. They are not so nice and good, but rather sinister. ( )
  edwinbcn | Jan 6, 2023 |
First line: "A head of department, working quietly in his room in Whitehall on a summer afternoon, is not accustomed to being disturbed by the nearby and indubitable sound of a revolver shot."

Last line: " Hand in hand the children began to run homeward through the soft warm drizzle."

"He saw himself as a little rat, a busy little scurrying rat seeking out its own little advantages and comforts. To live easily, to have cosy familiar pleasures, to be well thought of."

I always feel I should read more Iris Murdoch than I have. I've started and abandoned more books by Iris Murdoch than I care to remember, though I'm not sure why. And for a while, it looked like this one was going to be another abandonment. It probably took me close to a month to read the first 150-200 pages, and I was having to force myself to pick the book up. But then it took hold of me (finally!), and in the end I quite enjoyed it.

The book was described as being one in which a senior civil servant is given the task of investigating the death of another senior civil servant to determine whether it was actually a suicide as it appeared to be. This description intrigued me, and perhaps I was expecting the book to be more plot-driven, more of a mystery. However, this investigation mostly takes place in the background.

After the opening scene with the gunshot (See First line above) the setting moves to the Cornwall coast to the estate of the head of the department, Octavian. There are so many residents there, many of them females, including friends of his wife who came to visit and stayed on, that Octavian himself often refers to them as his "harem." Octavian's wife Kate is carrying on a flirtation with Duncane, another senior civil servant in Octavian's department who often accompanies Octavian down to Cornwall. Octavian is well-aware of the flirtation, and in fact he and Kate often discuss it. For his part, unknown to Kate and Octavian, Duncane is involved in a love affair with Jessica, which he is tired of and desperately trying to end. Duncane is the person Octavian has appointed to investigate the suicide, and to the extent there is one, Duncane is the central character of the novel.

Others living on the estate include Paula Biranne, an academic and the divorced wife of Richard Biranne, another civil servant in Octavian's department. She, and her 9 year old twins Edward and Henrietta, who sometimes see UFOs, came to stay 4 years ago and are still there. Another friend of Kate's who resides there is Mary, who is a widow. Mary is not a servant (that would be Casie), but she does keep the household on track, as Kate is a bit scatterbrained. Mary's 15 year old son Pierce also lives there when he is not away at school. Barbara, Kate and Octavian's teenage daughter is also resident when not at school.

In addition, Octavian's brother Uncle Theo, who has returned from India under a cloud no one talks about lives there, although he mostly stays upstairs in bed, with the companionship of Mingo the dog. And, in a small cottage on the estate Willy, a European refugee from Dachau lives.

All of these characters, and others, are introduced very early in the book, and they are all talking at, to, and about each other. Perhaps one of my difficulties with the book was keeping track of who was who, because they all sounded pretty much alike, in a British upper crust way. But in the end, there's a lot that happens here, from black mail to black magic to a near drowning, all interspersed between lots of philosophical discussions and musings. Overall, it convinced me that, yes, I do need to read more Iris Murdoch.

4 stars ( )
  arubabookwoman | Dec 12, 2022 |
What a slog. Kate and Octavian have collected at their home in Dorset Theo, Octavian's older brother, Mary Kate's school friend who looks after the house, Paula Kate's school friend divorced from one Octavian's co-workers, John who works for Octavian and is in love with Kate, Willy who lives in a cottage remote from the house and is broken from his time in Dachau. Livening the place up are Paula's twins, and glooming about is Mary's son Pierce pining after the just returned from finishing Barbra, Kate and Octavian's daughter. During a long hot summer they sort themselves in a tedious pavane. Love, good, and evil are mentioned constantly equally with regard fooling about killing pigeons over naked whores and routine sexual peccadilloes and really at the end one feels it could go on forever with the readjusted alignments, but in the rain rather than the sunshine. ( )
  quondame | Jun 23, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 16 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Iris Murdochprimary authorall editionscalculated
Peccinotti, HarriCover photographersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To

RACHEL

and

DAVID CECIL

First words
A head of department, working quietly in his room in Whitehall on a summer afternoon, is not accustomed to being disturbed by the nearby and indubitable sound of a revolver shot.
Quotations
The twins lay on the cliff edge up above Gunnar's Cave. The beautiful flying saucer, spinning like a huge noiseless top, hovered in the air not faraway from them, a little higher up, over the sea, in a place where they had often seen it come before. The shallow silvery metal dome glowed with a light which seemed emanate from itself and owe nothing to the sun, and about the slim tapering outer extremity a thin line of lambent blue flame rippled and leapt. It was difficult to discern the size of the saucer, which seemed to inhabit a space of its own, as if it were inserted or pocketed in a dimension to which it did not quite belong. In some way it defeated the attempt of the human eye to estimate and measure. It hovered in its own element, in its own silence, indubitably physical, indubitably present and yet other. Then, as the children watched, it tilted slightly, and with that movement they could never confidently interpret either as speed or as some sort of dematerializing or actual vanishing, was gone.
The twins sighed and sat up. They never spoke when the saucer was present.
'It stayed a long time today, didn't it.'
'Isn't it odd how we know it doesn't want to be photographed.'
'Telepathy, I expect.'
'I think they're good people, don't you?'
'Must be. They're so clever and they don't do any harm.'
'I think they like us. I wonder if we shall ever see them.'
The point is that nothing matters except loving what is good. Not to look at evil but to look at good....In the light of the good, evil can be seen in its place, not owned, just existing, in its place.
“Where’s Pierce?” ... “He’s up in Barbie’s room, He’s decorating it with shells. He must have brought in a ton.” ...
Mary saw that Pierce had covered the table with a complicated pattern composed of hundreds of shells arranged in spirals, tiny ones in the centre, larger ones on the outside. Adjusting the outer edge of the pattern he stooped to select a shell from a heap at his feet.... She saw the huge shell design as utterly untimely. It was something that belonged to the quietness of Pierce’s thought about Barbara and not to the hurly-burly of Barbara’s actual arrival ...
[Barbara sweeps in] “... What on earth are all those shells doing on my table, just push them up in a pile will you, oh damn they’re falling all over the floor ...”
“You must put all those stones out in the garden,” said Mary ... There’s nothing special about them.”
“There’s something special about every stone,” said Edward.

“I do wish you’d do something about those stones,” said Mary. “Couldn’t you put them in order of merit, then we could find a home outside for the less important ones?”
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From the Booker Prize-winning author of The Sea, The Sea comes a story about revenge and reconciliation, and the difference between being nice and being good.   John Ducane, a respected Whitehall civil servant, is asked to investigate the suicide of a colleague. As he pursues his inquiry, he uncovers a shabby, evil world of murder, blackmail, and black magic. He begins to feel more trapped than trapping.   In contrast to a stagnant summer in London, Octavian and Kate Gray's adoring community on the Dorset coast seems to offer Ducane refuge, but even here the after-effects of violence poison an atmosphere already electric with adolescent quarrels and intrigue. After a swim into the underworld, Ducane begins to realize that niceness is not enough.   "A feast."--The Guardian

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