In a manner consistent with farce and with her predilection for using characters to achieve a particular effect, to explore certain philosophic propositions, Murdoch has put together what can only be called an eccentric cast of characters. Indeed, much of the pleasure of her novels comes from the richness of her characters, who often provide curious appeal in the things they do or know as well as in the way they exist as simple human beings. Yet they are rarely simple human beings. Bruno, for example, is not simply an old man dying; he is physically a monster, disgustingly reminiscent of the spiders he loves, but this implied comparison goes beyond simple parallelism, since his highly professional knowledge of spiders is slyly used to illustrate certain ideas about life and death. Bruno’s stamp collection is another detail which Murdoch uses to flesh out her character; it functions as a touchstone in the battle of wills which is at the base of the novel’s action and which ultimately must be swept away to allow some of the characters to make sense of their relationships on grounds less warped by financial considerations.
The past haunts Bruno, Miles, and Danby, all three of whom are crippled by the memory of their dead wives and who must become reconciled to the past if they are to be free. The women are also under the spell of the past: Lisa turns away from the cloistered religious life for protection as a kind of injured bird cared for by Miles and...
(The entire section is 556 words.)