I feel like now is a good time to write about The Bell by Iris Murdoch, after a few months have passed and I’ve had time to think it over.
More importantly, I feel like now all I am left with is a feeling about the book, a physical and emotional reaction to the images and themes rather than to the plot or the characters.
When I was reading The Bell I kept thinking ‘I love this book, it is amazing’ and not really being able to figure out why. And then something changed. Perhaps it was going on holidays and being a distracted reader, but I lost focus with the book and it very quickly became a chore to finish. Which is a shame because it really is a beautiful novel, and like The Sea, The Sea, it stays with you and comes back at the strangest times.
In a way, I think the two novels are very similar as the feeling I now have about The Bell is the same feeling I have about The Sea, The Sea. The slow building tension, the heat of summer, the lethargic, sweaty tanned bodies, the slipping morals, the secrets and hostility and misunderstandings and most importantly, in the strangest way, the cool respite of the water. These are the memory I will keep of this book, not the characters names which I have already forgotten or the plottings over the bell recovered from the lake or the fussing of the minor characters.
Overall though I think it is the tragedy of the main characters that are the real story of The Bell. Trust broken between lovers, losing the innocence of youth and denying oneself true happiness because of social expectations. What I thought was the saddest element of the book was a man struggling to reconcile his relationship with God and his religious community with his love of men, which at this time were irreconcilable. I kept thinking the whole time that this conflict within himself need not be happening, that if God exists he would love him as his creation, and that just fifty years in the future life may have been easier for him socially at least.
The Bell is a beautiful book and well worth reading, just don’t waste it on the holidays.
Still reading: Vacant Possession by Hilary Mantel.