Iris Murdoch tends to be very conservative in the manner in which she develops characters. She eschews subtle ways of providing information in favor of full-faced histories of her major figures, outlining their background, education, gifts, liabilities, desires, and failures in rather barefaced passages of exposition, usually as early in the novel as she can. Her characters are thus, in a sense, fully known from the beginning; then she quickly begins the business of testing them in action.
Bill Mor is the central figure, and the third-person narration sticks close to him. In the main, it is his point of view which prevails, a technique which works, since the novel is primarily about him, and he is relatively uncomplicated, sensible, and keenly sensitive not only to his own problems but also to those of others. Occasionally, the point of view will shift, if only for short periods. Nan’s reaction to this sudden change in her husband is generously explored as she tries to deal with it (and with the concomitant realization that Bill’s best friend, Tim Burke, is willing to take her on if Bill abandons her). Murdoch, however, pulls away from her before she has fully worked out her plan to fight back, perhaps because Murdoch (and this is not unusual for her) is determined to keep an aspect of the plot a secret until she can use it dramatically. In short, occasionally in Murdoch’s work, depth of characterization must give way to plot. There is some...
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