A SEVERED HEAD by Iris Murdoch
Kirkus Star


Email this review


Witty and sophisticated, this novel is set among London fogs, and drawing rooms filled with too many objects d'art, and conversations, where six characters spin an over-civilized danse macabre of love and manners. The effect is chilling and absorbing.... Middle-aged Martin Lynch-Gibbon has a lovely, older wife, Antonia, and a young mistress, Georgie, an economics lecturer. Martin is rich- a dilettante wine merchant and historian. He is also completely, terrifyingly spineless. When Antonia announces she wishes to marry their analyst-friend Palmer, Martin- with gruesome passivity (""the gentleman"") allows them to analyse him and their new relations, baby him, and re-arrange his new life. Soon Georgie, Martin's brother Alexander, and Palmer's sister, Honor Klein, are drawn into the situation. And the shifting emotions and love affairs, the relentlessly ""understanding little talks"", take on the queer, fascinating quality of group incest. The only person who stays aloof is Honor Klein. Strong, ugly, appearing only in critical moments to force the others into uglier truths, she soon acquires, for Martin, the terrible appeal of a goddess- of Medusa's severed head. In scene after shocking scene, the players are stripped of their illusions, altered, and finally go off to resume their lives elsewhere, on other terms, and with other, different members of the group. It is superbly done- and genuinely horrifying.

Pub Date: April 17th, 1961
ISBN: 0140020039
Publisher: Viking