These two major novels—by one of the most influential British writers of the twentieth century—are ferociously dark comedies that combine playfulness with profundity.
A Severed Head (1961) is one of Iris Murdoch’s most entertaining works, tracing the turbulent emotional journey of Martin Lynch-Gibbon, a smug, prosperous London wine merchant and unfaithful husband, whose life is turned inside out when his wife leaves him for her psychoanalyst. The story takes bedroom farce to a new level of sophistication, with scenes that are both wickedly funny and emblematic of the way momentous moral issues play out in everyday life.
The Booker Prize–winning The Sea, the Sea (1978) is set on the edge of England’s North Sea, where egotistical Charles Arrowby, a big name in London’s glittering theatrical world, has retreated into seclusion to write his memoirs. Arrowby’s plans begin to unravel when he encounters his long-lost first love and finds himself increasingly besieged by his own fantasies, delusions, and obsessions.
Both novels are tragicomic masterpieces that brilliantly dramatize how much our lives are governed by the lies we tell ourselves and by the all-consuming need for love, meaning, and redemption.
Iris Murdoch (1919–1999) was born in Dublin and brought up in London. She studied philosophy at Cambridge and was a philosophy fellow at St. Anne’s College for 20 years. She published her first novel in 1954 and was instantly recognized as… More about Iris Murdoch
Praise for The Sea, the Sea “Dazzlingly entertaining and inventive.” —THE TIMES (London)
“One of Miss Murdoch’s best novels . . . Murdoch was always balancing the demands of storytelling with the more urgent need to examine how the truth of a fleeting life reflected the larger, permanent truths of existence.” —THE NEW YORK TIMES
“Murdoch’s subtly, blackly humorous digs at human vanity and self-delusion periodically build into waves of hilarity, and Arrowby is a brilliant creation: a deeply textured, intriguing yet unreliable narrator, and one of the finest character studies of the twentieth century.” —THE GUARDIAN
Praise for A Severed Head
“Beautifully and wittily written.” —THE NEW YORK TIMES
“This is a comedy with that touch of ferocity about it which makes for excitement.” —Elizabeth Jane Howard “Remarkable . . . One feels a power of intellect quite exceptional in a novelist.” —THE SUNDAY TIMES (London)
“Murdoch’s novels are not merely cerebral exercises in ideas about moral philosophy, ethics and aesthetics, although those ideas shape her fiction. They are also shot through with the dark energies of occult forces, variously figured as Eros, the id, the unconscious, the repressed, the monstrous, the supernatural, the libidinous . . . Murdoch’s fictional experiments . . . fuse realism with the mystical.” —from the Introduction by Sarah Churchwell