As is always the case in Murdoch’s novels, the characters carry a load of surface information with them. What everyone looks like, does, eats, thinks, and desires is laid out quickly, and Murdoch returns on several occasions throughout the novel to give more information as it is needed to support twists in the plot. Despite this determination to hide nothing, Julius King, who is the central figure in this game of deception, is curiously thin. It is made clear that he finds Rupert’s self-satisfaction and optimism offensive, but what he does to Rupert and to others goes beyond sophisticated, mischievous chastisement to vindictiveness. What makes him more puzzling is the very late revelation that he suffered as a concentration camp victim during the war. Nothing is made of this, and nothing is explained of his puzzling indifference to the disaster that he causes. He is, in the end, quite happily enjoying the sights of Paris, smug in having got away with as much as he did and in his “fairly honourable defeat.”
Murdoch has always had a tendency simply to “stop” a novel, seemingly satisfied that enough is enough, but loose-endedness is particularly obvious in the way she leaves characters in this work. It is not simply a question of why King is so mean-spirited; other characters are also abandoned quite up in the air. Tallis Browne (who must be the worst housekeeper in the history of the novel) is a thoroughly good man, but his situation is simply...
(The entire section is 444 words.)