Picks and Pans Review: The Good Apprentice

updated 02/17/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/17/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Iris Murdoch

What the characters say to each other in this new Murdoch novel doesn't always make sense, but it's wonderful dialogue anyway: The reader gets frequent flickers of unique, impressionistic pleasure from the portentous blather. Edward Baltram is a 20-year-old student in London who puts a drug in a sandwich and feeds it to his best friend. While the friend nods happily off on a chemical trip, Edward gets a call from a girl who lives nearby. He goes for what he thinks will be 10 minutes, but the girl seduces him. When he returns to his room, his friend has leaped from the window and killed himself. Murdoch's 22nd novel is a book about a serious subject—survival in the face of overwhelming guilt—that's also an uproarious comedy. Among Murdoch's intriguing, lively characters is Edward's older brother, a brilliant scientist who drops out to do good in the world. Edward's father is an ailing old artist who has created a castle by the sea, peopled by his reclusive wife and daughters. Edward's aunt is married to a gentle Scottish psychiatrist, a man who meddles in everyone's life and cannot see when his own marriage is threatened. Spooky, even magical, things happen. The plot coincidences are preposterous, and at the heart of the book is an astonishing scene right from a French farce when a series of accidents causes an adulterous couple to be found out. Yet amidst all of this clutter and occasional disorder there are more than enough insights—some of them breathtaking—to make the reader happy that Murdoch, in all her eccentric originality, flourishes. (Viking, $18.95)

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