cover image The Green Knight

The Green Knight

Iris Murdoch. Viking Books, $23.95 (480pp) ISBN 978-0-670-85229-1

England's preeminent philosopher-novelist ( The Message to the Planet ) reworks dark themes of murder and revenge in her overly long, 25th novel, set in contemporary London. A bevy of eccentric, old-world figures orbit central antagonists Lucas Graffe and Peter Mir as they play out an archetypal drama. One night in a park, genius-recluse Graffe attempts to murder his younger brother with a single blow to the head. Mir, a mysterious stranger, intervenes, receives the blow and is left for dead; his subsequent return and demand for justice invokes ancient myths. Though an excessive number of supporting players are endlessly intrigued (``It's a battle between two mad magicians!'' gushes one), the central drama remains diffuse. Murdoch's style is also ill-defined: one minute Angela Carter, the next Arthur Conan Doyle. The characters' lengthy philosophical ruminations seem the author's rather than their own; more realistic is the intensely British social anxiety that seeps from everyone--even the dog, to whose point of view we are extensively subjected. The book is far from perfect, but passages of intense writing and keen depictions of people grappling with afflictions of the soul remind us that Murdoch's perspective is invaluable. (Jan.)