Book: A Severed Head, by Iris Murdoch
Genre and Year of Publication: Fiction, 1961
Where I got it: The Open Door second hand book shop
Length: 205 pages
Briefly, it’s not a murder mystery, despite the title! It’s a look at marriage, adultery, incest, and “love” amongst a group of people who keep forming and re-forming liaisons.
Comments: I first encountered Iris Murdoch’s work in a philosophy undergrad class, and did not realise for some time that the novelist of the same name is in fact the same person. But Murdoch’s novels – this one at any rate – are highly philosophical. What is love? Can relationships be permanent? Where does one draw the fine line between use and abuse of people? Why do we strain to keep others in our possession? This novel starts out with a classic and rather simple situation of a man, his wife, and his mistress, but quickly becomes very complex as they break up with each other and realign in new relationships, which in turn break up and the same people form yet new liaisons, or return to previous ones… who will “love” whom next? What is “true” love, if such a thing exists?
I found this novel gripping, but was glad that it ended when it did, as much more would have been too sordid.
Challenges: Back to the Classics challenge for the category “A Classic by a Woman Author”