In an interview, Murdoch referred to The Nice and the Good as the most open novel she had yet written. This “openness” appears to refer to a looser plot structure and to more separate and free characters. The plot is really two equal subplots; one line follows John Ducane’s investigation of an apparent suicide in the government offices at Whitehall in London, while the other follows a group of friends on a Dorset estate named Trescombe as they struggle toward an ideal of love.
Connecting the London plot and the Dorset plot are Octavian Gray, John Ducane’s superior at Whitehall, who owns Trescombe and spends much of his time there with his wife Kate, and Ducane himself, who lives in London but is a frequent guest at Trescombe. Ducane is in love with Kate Gray, who encourages him yet confesses every secret kiss to Octavian.
In addition to Kate and Octavian, some of the characters at Trescombe are Mary Clothier, a widow; Mary’s fifteen-year-old son, Pierce; Paula Biranne, a divorcé and schoolteacher; Paula’s nine-year-old twins, who have “great souls”; Barbara, spoiled teenage daughter of Kate and Octavian; and Willie Kost, a refugee who has survived the Dachau concentration camp.
In his London life, Ducane is involved with Jessica Bird, his occasional mistress, and manipulated by Gavin Fivey, his manservant. In the course of his investigation, Ducane also becomes entangled with Richard Biranne, Paula’s former husband; Peter McGrath, office messenger and blackmailer; and McGrath’s wife Judy, a beautiful woman of dubious character.
Ducane, a legal adviser, is one of Murdoch’s flawed, culpable male protagonists, smart and successful but smug, who needs to think of himself as a good man. In addition to his investigation of the suicide and his quest for “the good,” Ducane acts as confessor and adviser to the large group of “free” characters who live at Trescombe as friends of the...
(The entire section is 802 words.)