This thoroughly unremarkable short story (of which only an excerpt previously appeared, in a 1957 anthology) won’t add anything to the deservedly high reputation of the late (1918–99) author of such enchantments as The Bell, Bruno’s Dream, and The Green Knight.
Handsomely illustrated with appropriately moody line drawings by American artist Michael McCurdy, it’s a piece of kitchen-sink realism that adumbrates in embryonic form the mythic texture that’s thick enough to stir in Murdoch’s mature novels. Protagonist Yvonne Geary lives with her nagging mother and placid uncle in a modest home attached to the family’s Dublin shop. Yvonne balks at marriage to her unglamorous suitor, tailor Sam Goldman: she’s awaiting “something special.” She and her mother disagree over whether to purchase lavish or plain and serviceable Christmas cards. An evening walk with Sam turns into an embarrassing misadventure in a downstairs tavern (which Murdoch describes in images suggesting a hell on earth). The “something special” that Sam impulsively insists on showing Yvonne is decidedly unromantic—as, it seems, will be her future, to which she passively surrenders in the trail-away conclusion. Aside from a few faint echoes of Joyce’s “The Dead,” the story’s of interest chiefly for its demonstration of Murdoch’s gift for locating worlds of implication in commonplace quotidian dialogue, and for an occasional flash of the kind of understated animism that graced her later fiction (e.g., when Yvonne returns home late at night, “in the shop it was very silent and all the objects upon the shelves were alert and quiet like little listening animals”).
The recent warmhearted memoirs by Murdoch’s husband, John Bayley (Elegy for Iris, 1999), virtually guarantee a receptive audience for this rather odd publication. But admirers of Iris Murdoch at her best may well wonder what all the fuss is about.