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Murdoch's disappointing latest (after The Green Knight, 1994, etc., etc.) is a reprisal of her usual themes without her usual verve: a mysterious Caliban-like figure eases the heartache of a circle of friends. Murdoch, whose novels, like clever British puzzles, are rich in intellectual allusions and paradox, has always scanted descriptive detail, preferring plots shaped by ideas. This time round, her characters, who live in a timeless England that could be Edwardian were it not for the existence of automobiles and references to the Holocaust, are even more detached from time and place. They're fragile souls, too, who weep copiously and are easily distressed, even though they have independent incomes and own two or three agreeable houses. The story begins at a celebratory dinner on the eve of young Edward's marriage to Marian--a dinner that's ended by a note from the bride-to-be canceling the wedding. In the resulting disruption, characters fearing the worst for Marian offer snippets of self-revelation, while the mysterious and protean Jackson, part servant, part magician, and prot‚g‚ of the late Uncle Tim, a mystical figure who first brought all these friends together, quietly sets about bringing true love to the younger members of the set--Edward, haunted by two tragic deaths and a dark secret; Tuan, the part Scottish, part Jewish religious scholar preoccupied with the Holocaust; Marian's sister, Rosalind, in love with Tuan; Anne, a widow with a young son; and Marian, who found true love on a recent visit to Australia and can't forget him. Hovering fretfully over them all is Benet, Uncle Tim's heir and a retired bureaucrat dilatorily writing a book on Heidegger. Distraught because he'sd anticipated vicariously sharing the young couple's happiness, Benet quarrels with Jackson, then heeds his own intuition and sees that love prevails. A ghost of a story, thin and unsubstantial even when investigating the mysteries of love and being.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0003449750
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Viking