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Elegy for Iris
Synopses & Reviews
"I was living in a fairy story the kind with sinister overtones and not always a happy ending in which a young man loves a beautiful maiden who returns his love but is always disappearing into some unknown and mysterious world, about which she will reveal nothing."
So John Bayley describes his life with his wife, Iris Murdoch, one of the greatest contemporary writers in the English-speaking world, revered for her works of philosophy and beloved for her incandescent novels.
In Elegy for Iris, Bayley attempts to uncover the real Iris, whose mysterious world took on darker shades as she descended into Alzheimer's disease. Elegy for Iris is a luminous memoir about the beauty of youth and aging, and a celebration of a brilliant life and an undying love.
"Dame Iris Murdoch's like will not be seen again. Elegy for Iris serves as a memorial to her person." Fay Weldon, Time
"This is a sad and loving reflection, but it can be read as the ultimate diaper-airing....[T]his is a sickbed memoir, grossly limited and limiting. While Mr. Bayley offers an intimate view of his senile wife, he cannot offer a portrait of a brilliant and esteemed writer the Iris, presumably, for whom one would write an elegy." Regina Marler, New York Observer
"Wise and full of grace." Shelby Hearon, The Chicago Tribune
"Heartfelt and admirably unsentimental...a testament to a love that has endured and transcended the most terrifying ravages of illness and old age." Francine Prose, Elle
"Here is love heroic, love that doesn't hedge, love for which there may be no ready outs, love that feels as inevitable as breathing, and the result is stunning." Abraham Verghese, Los Angeles Times Book Review
"It is seldom that someone at once so brilliant and so visible as novelist Iris Murdoch develops Alzheimer's disease in full public view; seldom, also, that a sufferer from this dreadful malady has so skilled and loving an interpreter by her side....[P]art of the charm of this enormously affecting memoir lies in the ways in which [Bayley] shows the affections of old age as in no way slower than the passions of youth....Writing with great tenderness and grace, Bayley evokes their long, warm, mutually trusting marriage, and introduces in the gentlest way the moments...when he realized that his wife's sense of reality and of herself were slipping away....This beautiful book could hardly help being deeply consoling to anyone thus afflicted; it is also a compelling study of the overthrow of a remarkable spirit." Publishers Weekly
"A sweet if somewhat old-fashioned memoir about a literary marriage....In her time, Murdoch was a woman of unconventional intelligence and independence she had a long string of lovers, did not want children, had an almost slovenly disregard for her appearance, and was in no hurry to get married, though she never seems to have doubted that Bayley should be the groom. Using flashbacks, Bayley lightens his accounts of Murdoch's present disappearance into Alzheimer's disease with happier memories of their long, comfortable life together, a life filled with trips, summer swims, and pleasure in books. Bayley clearly adores and admires his celebrated wife, and his care of her illness is a model of devotion. This unalloyed affection is refreshingly sweet, but too often his descriptions of Murdoch edge over into the saccharine for him she is 'Christ-like' and the result is an unusual lack of insight into her abilities....Nonetheless, this seems an appropriate error for a loving husband to make, and the book's intimate tone will surely please both his fans and hers." Kirkus Reviews
"What makes [Iris Murdoch] alive in these pages is her husband's love, which is so absolute and mysterious that it pervades every word he writes....[I]n Elegy for Iris, Mr. Bayley celebrated his beloved partner's survival." Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, The New York Times
"Bayley's restrained and elegant love song to his wife of forty-two years...is beautiful and heartbreaking. The whole lifetime shared in Elegy for Iris is full of spirit, generous and resilient." Gail Caldwell, The Boston Globe
"This splendid book enlarges our imagination of the range and possibilities of love." Mary Gordon, The New York Times Book Review
With remarkable tenderness, John Bayley recreates his passionate love affair with Iris Murdoch--world-renowned writer and philosopher, and his wife of forty-two years--and poignantly describes the dimming of her brilliance due to Alzheimer's disease. Elegy for Iris is a story about the ephemeral beauty of youth and the sobering reality of what it means to grow old, but its ultimate power is that Bayley discovers great hope and joy in his celebration of Iris's life and their love. In its grasp of life's frailty and its portrayal of one of the great literary romances of this century, Elegy for Iris is a mesmerizing work of art that will be read for generations.
About the Author
John Bayley is an eminent literary critic who taught at Oxford for more than thirty years. Iris Murdoch died in February of 1999.
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