Literature student, born and raised in South-East London - compulsive writer, art lover, and self-confessed history geek.
Published March 7th 2014
A tale of murder, magic and mysticism
At around 560 pages, Iris Murdoch's The Good Apprentice is by far one of the longest of her twenty-six published novels, though it never ceases to demand attention. For those readers who are unfamiliar with Murdoch, she was one of the most popular British writers of the twentieth century, who sadly passed away in 1999 following a traumatic struggle with Alzheimer's disease.
Throughout her literary career Murdoch was highly regarded as a novelist, philosopher, and public writer who frequently contributed to the leading newspapers regarding topics such as education and politics. Murdoch's novels deal predominantly with notions of morality and humanity, with symbolic and mystical embellishments. In my opinion, The Good Apprentice is the best illustration of her talent for both fictional entertainment and moral education.
The novel centres around the character of Edward Baltram, a frightened young man riddled with guilt regarding the accidental death of his best friend, Mark. Edward's psychic journey is mapped through his relationships with his stepfather, his brother, and his psychologist, as well as his eventful journey in search of his biological father, Jesse Baltram. For Edward, Jesse becomes a Christ-like figure, who allows Edward to escape the torment of his own consciousness and believe in something more profound. Amidst his efforts to find Jesse, Edward encounters a number of complex figures, such as a symbolic wicked stepmother and a pair of ugly sisters, who create a thrillingly sinister atmosphere within the novel.
The novel's dominant setting provides the most significant point of interest, as it offers a break from Murdoch's characteristic realism, and transforms the narrative into an indulgent and spellbinding fairytale for adults. Seegard, a house built by Jesse Baltram, becomes a deeply symbolic beacon of imagination and potential, filled with secret rooms and eerie cobwebs; its forbidden tower and its array of surreal and frightening artworks are deliciously reminiscent of traditional tales of the haunted mansion. Described by Edward as a 'great ship' situated near the sea, the house exists amidst a vast expanse of woodland, seemingly isolated from the rest of the world. Seegard's isolation removes it from the limitations of reality, demonstrated by Edward's experiences of the building and its grounds, which are often strikingly psychedelic; this, coupled with a complex web of relationships, proves to construct a fast-paced, and often thrilling, journey through Edward's consciousness.
There has been much discussion in academic fields regarding the philosophical and moral value of Murdoch's writing, but I believe that her novels can be, and perhaps should be, enjoyed purely for their merit as entertainment. The Good Apprentice is definitely a good place to start for any Murdoch virgin, as it offers three-dimensional characters, a captivating plot, and an array of shocking revelations. Plus, who could resist a tale of magic and mystery in a haunted house?