Friday 9 February 2018

Flight From the Enchanter by Iris Murdoch

Flight From the Enchanter by Iris Murdoch was her second book published in 1956. However, there is evidence that it was the first book she actually penned, according to Patricia Duncker, who wrote the Introduction in my edition.

Either way, Flight From the Enchanter is an assured piece of of writing by an emerging writer. But what does it all mean?

I found myself asking the same question when I finished Under the Net last month. It would seem that Murdoch preferred to write set pieces loosely linked together with apparent randomness and bizarre coincidences. These set pieces were often gorgeous pieces of writing. I will never forget Annette swinging from the chandelier as she leaves formal education to embark on the School of Life! Or, Annette again making an international call 'opening out telescopically, section after section.'

What did Annette actually learn though? Let alone any of the other characters.

Annette learnt about the lure of fascination and sexual politics when they made an appearance in her syllabus. But the lesson learnt, or the answer to the muddle, seemed to be found in running back to mummy and daddy.

Rosa allowed herself to become enmeshed in a sexual power play and a weird kind of cold war comic menace with the Polish brothers, Jan and Stefan.

John got caught up in office politics and an early wave of feminist action. He had no idea whatsoever how to act around women of any age.  The only reason someone as inept and as pathetic as he was had 'achieved' as much as he had was thanks to the old boys club mentality.

Peter suffered from translator blues. He worried about individual words and meanings and headed off on tangents. He was another ineffectual man bumbling along looking for a saviour.

Nina was an outsider open to manipulation and to being forgotten.

Mischa seemed to be the power base or the saviour that everyone else gravitated towards. He was mysterious and romantic with his Continental connections and obscene wealth.

But I think that Calvin was the real power behind the throne. He manipulated everyone, including Mischa. The real menace emanated from his machinations. Was he being guided by Mischa? Probably, but I suspect he also took matters into his own hands, to get what he wanted. And he definitely didn't want Mischa and Rosa together again.

One thing all these rather odd characters all had in common was their inability to act responsibly and decisively. They drifted and wafted and let themselves be manipulated. All except, Calvin Blick.

What did we learn? What did all these characters learn?

I'm really not sure, but it was a fascinating journey anyway.

More reviews for FFTE can be found with Liz @Adventures in Reading.

Under the Net


  1. Fabulous review, thank you! I loved the international phone call, too - Murdoch has such gorgeous little bits of language and description, doesn't she.

    Interestingly, a feature of "good" or even "holy" people in Murdoch is that they a) bumble b) don't take much note of external people except to absorb their grief or pain. They are almost neutral, but always messy. So Peter could be seen as a holy man in that respect, a kind of good balance to Calvin/Mischa.

    I loved your comments about Calvin - he does seem to be the power behind the throne, doesn't he.

    1. Obviously Rosa had concerns about Mischa from her previous relationship experience with him, but the ending, which Calvin manipulated by the beach left me wondering who was playing who...and to what purpose.

      The stuff with the brothers puzzled me immensely - the shifting of the balance of power between Rosa and them, the dying mother watching over everything, suddenly moving into Annette's old bedroom, stopping Annette from throwing her jewels into the river and then they just kind of disappeared. What does it all mean?

      I think I'm beginning to see why you've reread these books so many times now!

      Thanks for making me finally read my Murdoch's - some of which have been dusting up my TBR's shelves for years. I still have The Book and the Brotherhood and The Sea, The Sea to go later on in your #IMreadalong. I have another one on order, but it has taken so long to get here, I've forgotten which one it was!
      It has been so much enjoyable/rewarding to read these books knowing I had someone who was REALLY interested in them to have a chat with :-)

    2. Ah, this makes me so happy! And yes, they really are books that keep on giving, esp as I've been reading them since I was 14 - lots of changes in my life reflected in how I've read the books.


This blog has now moved to Wordpress.
Please visit This Reading Life to comment.

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.