cover image The Message to the Planet

The Message to the Planet

Iris Murdoch. Viking Books, $22.95 (640pp) ISBN 978-0-670-82999-6

Murdoch ( The Book and the Brotherhood ) begins her 24th novel with a crisis. Three friends--Jack Shearwater, Alfred Ludens, Gildas Hearne--gather to grapple with the problem of Patrick Fenman, who is dying of an unknown disease. and Marcus Vallar, the one-time mathematical prodigy whose curse purportedly brought on the illness is tracked down and brought to Patrick's bedside, where he performs a laying-on of hands to amazing effect and becomes the center of a quiet religious movement. In this beautifully patterned work, Vallar is situated as well at the crux of a kaleidoscopic network of relationships; at the chic resort/asylum to which Vallar retreats, Ludens, Gildas, Jack, Jack's wife, Franca, his mistress, Alison, and Vallar's elusive daughter Irina are all drawn together in a whirl of emotions. They come to joy as well as grief when forced to confront the extremes of love and spiritual experience in the mystery Vallar's presence poses. Murdoch fans will be well pleased: as do her previous epistemological novels, the newest shows the transforming power of love while capturing life's small yet significant details, wherein a convenient parking space may come to mean nearly as much as an ostensible miracle. 35,000 first printing. (Feb.)