Possibly my favourite book (I know – BIG statement), Murdoch finally took home the Booker Prize for this gem of a book. It is unsurprising – from the characterisation to plot to symbolism it is one of her most clever works, bursting at the seams with brilliant observations.
The story kicks off when Mr Charles Arrowby, who is most beloved by women and the theatrical world in which he has worked, decides to move to the seaside and write his memoirs. By a turn of extraordinary coincidence he bumps into his first love, with whom he quickly becomes infatuated anew.
From then on he is singular in his desire, even though Mary no longer resembles the girl of his youth in body or mind. Some brilliant and diverse London acquaintances join Charles at his retreat and provide the background for the ensuing (sometimes farcical) action.
‘How fortunate that we are food-consuming animals. Every meal should be a treat and one ought to bless every day which brings with it good digestion and the precious gift of hunger.’
‘Anything can be tarnished by association, and if you have enough associations you can blacken the world… in hell or in purgatory there would be no more need of other or more elaborate tortures.’