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We are in fact far more randomly made, more full of rough contingent rubble, than art or vulgar psycho-analysis lead us to imagine. . . . The sin of pride may be a small or a great thing in someone's life, and hurt vanity a passing pinprick or a self-destroying or even murderous obsession."" Once again, then, Murdoch is slowly--and ever so slyly--sliding the shrouds off a pantheon of poor souls who suffer from the damndest metaphysical aches and pains; and, as usual, a primordial soup of waters (even more symbolically effective than before) play about them. The village of Enniston boasts a complex of indoor and outdoor pools and rooms: a once-famous 18th century spa that now--gushing, plashing, misting--has become a kind of agora for the villagers, young and old, gamboling like otters. Among those seen from time to time through the curative (or Satanic) mists: Alex McCaffrey, whose feral bent is echoed by the foxes in her garden; her favorite son George, a deliberately violent sinner who may or may not have attempted to drown strong-minded wife Stella (he rather hopes he did); her less-loved son Brian, an iron prig who hardly shares wife Gabriel's animistic, amoebic empathies; young ""stepson"" Tom, the sweet and unspoiled offspring of Alex's dead husband and the late wild Fiona. Then, into the sluggish drift of the McCaffreys and their various satellites (a gypsy maid, George's weepy mistress), comes the Jovian presence of the Great Philosopher--ex-Ennistonite John Robert Rozanov: Alex rekindles a passion; George, Rozanov's former irritating pupil, hounds Olympus for salvation as a ""justified sinner,"" But Rozanov no longer wishes to play the role of wise philosopher. (""One cannot tell the truth--that is damnation."") He devotes himself instead to the exquisite, frenzied care of his virginal granddaughter Hattie. And this obsession will lead to murder--as pupil and philosopher join, waters scald and flow, unearthly music is heard, hopeless loves are exorcised. . . and frantic lives become as stilled and serene as a lapping pool. Murdoch followers can tick off each familiar, idiosyncratic symbol--the water, the dog, the flash of antlers. But, for those attuned to deep matters, this is rich and freshly challenging fiction: an enchanted journey into metaphysics, with prideful passions abstracted--via that densely stylish Murdoch prose--into awesomely homiletic postures.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1983
ISBN: 145320086X
Publisher: Viking