Tag Archives: Iris Murdoch

The Bell – Iris Murdoch


I got this book from the library – I’m not sure why I chose it. I think I felt that she was a novelist that one should read.

A lay community of thoroughly mixed-up people is encamped outside Imber Abbey, home of an order of sequestered nuns. A new bell is being installed when suddenly the old bell, a legendary symbol of religion and magic, is rediscovered. And then things begin to change. Meanwhile the wise old Abbess watches and prays and exercises discreet authority. And everyone, or almost everyone, hopes to be saved, whatever that may mean. Originally published in 1958, this funny, sad, and moving novel is about religion, sex, and the fight between good and evil.

This novel isbeautifully written, but I think it has dated. I don’t think a gay man in the twenty-first century would spend so much time soul-searching about his sexuality. The characterisations are fabulous – I didn’t like any of them, but I thought they were convincing.

The narrative switches between characters and we get insights into thoughts of the characters – Michael and Dora. It is clear that was is appearing on the surface is not what is going on in the depths – a bit like the old bell being hidden in the lake. Things do come to the surface (including the bell) and the characters need to face their true selves and then move forward.

One quote that stands out for me is from Michael’s sermon

One must perform the lower act which one can manage and sustain; not the higher act which one bungles.

This book could definitely be read more than once with more and more connections becoming apparent, however, I don’t think I will read it again.

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