A Severed Head by Iris Murdoch, book review

A severed head book cover

This novel, published in 1961, is largely about relationships between English academics in London. There is a mix of people, an American psychotherapist, a wealthy wine producer, Martin, who relates the story, his artistic brother, a London School of Economics lecturer, and the mysterious Honor Klein, half German and not to be trifled with. Before long we find the characters in a turmoil of adultery, deception, and infidelity, which gets messier with every page. A Severed Head, is interesting and worthwhile to read. Don’t be dissuaded by the title: the severed head in question is a metaphor, not real. The novel is basically about confused adultery between the seven characters, none of whom are truthful to anyone, least of all themselves. The protagonist, Martin, years into his affair with a much younger LSE lecturer, is shocked and disgusted to discover his wife has been having an affair with her psychiatrist for months. Martin does not even confess his affair after his wife tells him about her affair. He hides it, to make sure she feels guilt, and this allows him to hold onto hope that she might not leave him, which after all could be inconvenient. He doesn’t seem to… Continue reading

– Born in a small town, died from success –

Peyton Place by Grace Metalious I have read a lot of lists of “best books” but so far I have not seen Peyton Place on any of them. Wait! Don’t hang up yet. There could be reasons that are not to do with the quality of the novel. Firstly, it was controversial for its day. When it was published in 1956, it sold 60,000 copies in the first ten days of its release (Wikipedia). It was the third biggest selling novel of 1956, considered a lurid shocker, dealing with incest, abortion, murder, and small-town hypocrisy. It has now sold over 12,000,000 copies. These associations meant it was not accepted by critics as serious literature, religious authorities were disgusted by the subject matter and their portrayal as hypocrites. Despite this it stayed on the best-seller lists for years, and sold millions of copies. But the novel’s unsavory reputation was far from finished. The following year it was released as a movie, not bad, quite acceptable for its time, but the story was reduced to events; the descriptive passages, the inner thoughts of the characters were not included. The movie presented itself as sexy shocker. In 1959 Grace Metalious published Return to… Continue reading