Book: The Black Prince

Author: Iris Murdoch

Rating: 4/5

The Black Prince-Iris Murdoch

Bradley Pearson, British writer, is suffering from a writer's block. He has waited all his life to write his masterpiece. Finally, he feels, the time has come when he can leave his small time job as a revenue officer, and go away from the city din to write. However, his fellow writer friend, Arnold Baffin, Arnold's wife Rachel, daughter Julian, Pearson's ex-wife Christian, ex-brother-in-law Francis and sister Priscilla all tug at his attentions in various ways to make Pearson's escape impossible. The plot unfolds from this point in the novel to reveal the emotional mess each character is in. Arnold and Rachel's domestic tensions lead each astray to look for love, romance and understanding elsewhere. Arnold seeks romance in Christian's friendship while Rachel wants to create a special bond with Pearson. Priscilla, despondent and bereaved from a failed fruitless marriage, is a chronic depression patient, in need of constant medical and emotional support. Pearson falls in love with Julian who is young enough to be his daughter. Julian, surprisingly returns his love and the two of them have a tumultuous love affair in the middle of violent opposition from Julian's family. However, none achieves what each had set out for. There is a sense of loss and yearning across the novel.

Social/Historical context:

You observe what you want to perceive. No character in the novel is a liar. Yet each character has his own version of the series of incidents in the novel. The mind remarkably colors the incidents of the novel to project a  story that fits each character best. Julian comfortably forgets the intricate details of an embarrassing romance, Rachel feels that Bradley is madly in love with her while Arnold believes that Bradley is jealous of his success. 

Writing Style:

The novel is written in fairly simple autobiographical narrative style where the author, Bradley P, takes time off the plot to converse directly with the reader. However, what I particularly liked about Ms. Murdoch was her beautiful switch between the effusive eloquence of Arnold, the superficial materialistic rattle of Christian, the constant nagging of Priscilla and the meek pestering of Francis.

My Thoughts:

On my first reading of the novel, I was so taken aback by the anticlimax of the plot, that I abandoned further reading. The weakness of the protagonist simply appalled me. However, months later, when I took up the book again, I discovered the realms of psychological complexity unfolding in the various postscripts provided after the main story was over.  The book kind of grows on you with each reading.

Book Reviewed by Ashmita Saha

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