I love starting a book. There’s such potential to find a book that really satisfies the imagination, that draws you into its world and also makes you think. It’s even better when you can start a book you’ve read before, knowing that you enjoyed it but not remembering all the details and have it unfold before you still with the power to enchant. Such a book is The Bell by Iris Murdoch.
I first read it in the early 199os (I think), so my memory of it is only of the outline story – a new bell is to be installed at an Abbey, which triggers the discovery of the old bell and then tragedy strikes. I also remember that it was peopled by some interesting characters, but I couldn’t have told you who they are.
Here is the opening paragraph:
Dora Greenfield left her husband because she was afraid of him. She decided six months later to return to him for the same reason. The absent Paul, haunting her with letters and telephone bells and imagined footsteps on the stairs had begun to be the greater torment. Dora suffered from guilt, and with guilt came fear. She decided at last that the persecution of his presence was to be preferred to the persecution of his absence. (page 7)
Now, that’s not a good marriage, but it is a great opening to this story of a lay community at Imber Court, a beautiful house outside Imber Abbey, the home of an enclosed order of nuns. Paul is a guest at Imber Court studying some 14th century manuscripts which belong to the Abbey. You know straight away that Dora and Paul’s marriage is a disaster area, that Paul is a man to be feared and that Dora is a mass of contradictions, a complex character – will she be able to stand living with Paul? My immediate reaction was that she is making a big mistake.
So far I’ve read about a quarter of the book and it’s just as good as I remember. Iris Murdoch’s writing is so good, full of description so that you can see the people and places as though you were there and also full of insights into the characters thoughts and feelings. There is an impending sense of evil and menace, for below the peaceful surface stress and tension abound.
Book Beginnings is hosted by Katy at A Few More Pages, where you can leave a link to your own post on the opening lines of a book you’re currently reading.