Iris Murdoch, Alzheimers and Picture Books, by Enid Richemont

Many, many years ago, I was given this book by someone who knew I was a fan of Iris Murdoch's writing, which I once was. I remember being devastated by her diagnosis of Alzheimers from which she would eventually die.

Somehow, it seems, I never read this one, because glancing through it, nothing was at all familiar. From time to time, I prune my book collection, but very incompetently, so I thought I would check out this one, especially as it was a lazy, hot Bank Holiday.

My reactions to it were weird - it was like meeting someone I'd had a passionate affair with a very long time ago (this happened to me in real life, once, too, and it was a very uncomfortable experience as 1. age had not been kind to him, and 2. he had, astonishingly, considering his talent and intellect, become a born-again Christian on a rather pointless mission to save my soul.)

Back to Iris, though (the film based on her life, "Iris", was heartbreaking.) The knight reminded me that I was becoming a bit weary of the complicated and very introspective characters when I finally began drifting away from her, but her plotting was amazing! My absolute favourite in that respect was "The Black Prince", with its totally convincing, and utterly unreliable, narrator. It was made into a play which we went to see in the West End - not, I felt at the time, anything like as good as the book. My first reaction to the knight was that there were far too many characters, and that I needed a cast list, but her writing really got under my skin, at times making me want to give up on it. I began to page-jump - a mortal sin in a reader, but her writing is dense, and often paragraph breaks are few. Yes, I did finish it eventually - how could I give up on Iris? - but with a sense of relief - a duty done. It was so poignant, though, that when she was taken to see the theatrical version of "The Black Prince", she said: I didn't understand a word of it. Alzheimers kills the soul, and the sooner an effective treatment can be found, the better.

As I've mentioned before in my blogs, I'm a huge fan of picturebooks - philosophy, art, literature and humour in bite-sized portions, and hugely difficult to do well. For this reason, I follow "PicBookDen", which today surpassed itself with a lengthy and totally fascinating blog (lavishly illustrated) on maps, real, ancient, imaginary, and especially the imaginary ones. Think Narnia, or the Lord of the Rings, but also Winnie the Pooh - did you know that Christopher Robin, aided by Shepard, drew a map of the Hundred Acre Wood? Maps as a plotting device, anyone? A life aid? Pilgrims Progress in map format? At present I am writing this on the Isle of Despair, waiting for the delivery of a parcel via Amazon (abandon hope, all ye who enter there.)

Finally, remember that cautionary song about not getting friendly with a crocodile? Well this is my young grandson doing just that (and in case you're concerned, he survived, but you wouldn't catch his grannie going anywhere near one!) At the time, part of my young family was in Ghana, helping with a school project in an impoverished area where there was a sacred crocodile pool. Relieved I wasn't with them to watch!


hydra said…
I can't get to grips with Iris's writing and haven't yet managed to finish one of her books. I love the skilful way in which you segue into Amazon/crocodile. Sacred crocodiles? I wouldn't go near one, either, unless it had had its teeth removed by a Sacred Crocodile Dentist. The Crocodile Dentist... hmm. Idea for a picture book here?
Enid Richemont said…
It was weird, Hydra. I kept telling myself to give up on it, but couldn't - it was like an addiction! Have you ever read her philosophical work? I've been telling myself to do this for years, as I was a fan of hers, but still haven't.
Umberto Tosi said…
The Sacred Crocodile Dentist alone makes the case for reviving that old B&W TV show, "What's My Line," which most readers - and present earthly inhabitants - will be much too young to remember. Remembering Iris Murdoch remains admirable, however, even though, for me, the mention of her name sends a chill up my dementia-phobic spine, I'm embarrassed to confess. Growing older is like traveling back to the Middle Ages when most of the ailments staring you in the face have no cure. We pray to science for salvation
although it is under siege by avaricious, bigotted right wing, petro-fascists regimes the world over. Resist, stay calm and keep writing (win or lose like poor Iris) I say!

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