NUNS AND SOLDIERS by Iris Murdoch
Kirkus Star

NUNS AND SOLDIERS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Murdoch's latest: another difficult, antically crannied study of worrying, worrisome beings who burden and manage to hobble one another with outsize love and regard. Thirty-ish, luxuriously handsome Gertrude is devastated by the cancer death of her adored husband Guy, the respected pater familias of an upper-middle-class London banking clan: their union was one of ""close bonds of love and intelligence,"" shorn of sentiment or self-indulgent excess. And attending Gertrude in her mourning, like supporting angels at a saint's ascension, are two ""noble souls""--one knightly, the other nunnish. There's ""the Count"" (really the non-noble, lonely, shriving son of an exiled Polish patriot), whose love for Gertrude is his ""secret center"" and who suffers with ""the frustrated fantasy of heroism."" And there is Anne, Gertrude's old friend, whose desire for a quiet mind led her into a convent; her searching spirituality eventually led her out, however, and now she is ""honored"" to be seeing Gertrude through dark days. But both the Count and Anne will be on the rack when Gertrude--as if under the spell of May in rural France--falls into passionate love with Tim, a childlike painter of minor talents who (unbeknownst to Gertrude) has been leading a drab, messy, satisfying pad-and-pub existence with floundering painter/writer Daisy. Gertrude will even marry Tim--which results in the dismay of Guy's family (they're also titillated), the Count's despair (he considers an honorable suicide), and an epiphany for Anne: to her horror she discovers that she has a passionate attachment to the Count, a state heated further by Anne's kitchen vision of Christ. Still, Anne feels she must pass on to Gertrude anonymous information about Tim's Daisy alliance--and raging Gertrude then banishes poor Tim (who has already parted from Daisy in a tender abnegation). Finally, however, Tim blunders home; Gertrude, coming to grips with Guy's ghost, welcomes Tim back with joy; the Count gives up his torturing hope at last, happy in a pure love unsullied by consummation; and Anne, who has never confessed her misery-making earthly love for the (bunt, is homeless but spiritually free. As usual, Murdoch expands a possibly minor romantic tangle into a dense, knotty web of intellect and emotion--with meticulous (often exasperating) prose, symbolic scenery (sinister rushing water is a favorite), and a slippery tension between high seriousness (the weighty matter of sacred love vs. profane) and shrewd, cutting-down-to-size irony. Not Murdoch at her best, perhaps, but a generous serving of her characteristic themes and intricate devices.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1980
ISBN: 0142180092
Publisher: Viking