The third novel of Iris Murdoch’s career (which began in the early 1950’s), The Sandcastle is much simpler than most of her work. The novels preceding it had stronger leanings toward the bizarre, which Murdoch likes to mix into realistic materials, and later novels can indulge in extravagant mixes of several, seemingly unmatchable genres. This work is so close to that of paperback romance that it is the least admired of her stories. What Murdoch brings to it is her deft way with narrative, her peculiar capacity for turning the innocent into wild adventure (as in the car and stream incident) and for building crisis into slowly mounting, fastidiously detailed excitement (as in the rescue from the spire). What saves Murdoch from falling into pulp fiction is the way in which she can fuse serious ideas (in this novel, on the matter of personal freedom versus responsibility to others, and, to a lesser but interesting extent, on the nature of art and its relation to reality) with that which makes popular fiction so seductive: its blatant manipulation of narrative, in which anything can happen at any moment and usually does.
For all its modesty, The Sandcastle opens up, in a manner which had not been done before in Murdoch’s first two novels, the theme of the family, which will become a major concern for her in future novels. Mor’s family is rather tidily handled, primarily because it is Mor’s problems which predominate here. Donald...
(The entire section is 448 words.)