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Accidential Man [Hardcover]

Iris Murdoch
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

June 1971
A scintillating novel of fate, accidents, and moral dilemmas Set in the time of the Vietnam War, this story concerns the plight of a young American, happily installed in a perfect job in England, engaged to a wonderful girl, who is suddenly drafted to a war he disapproves of. What is duty here, what is self-interest, what is cowardice? Austin Gibson Grey, the accidental man of the title, is accident-prone, also prone to bring disaster to his friend sand relations. He blames fate. But are we not all accidental, one of his victims asks. Fate and accidents make deep moral dilemmas for the characters in the long and complex tale.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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"Iris Murdoch has imposed her alternative world on us as surely as Christopher Columbus or Graham Greene."--Victoria Glendinning in the "Sunday Times" (London) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Iris Murdoch was born in Dublin in 1919 of Anglo-Irish parents. She went to Badminton School, Bristol, and read classics at Somerville College, Oxford. In 1948 she returned to Oxford where she became a fellow of St Anne's college. Awarded the CBE in 1976, Iris Murdoch was made a DBE in the 1987 New Year's Honours List. She died in February 1999. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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4.0 out of 5 stars I actually liked this book! June 6 2002
Format:Paperback
Believe it or not this is a pretty good book.
It is a bit dated since much of it relates to agonizing over Vietnam War draft dodging and there is just the beginning of open writing about gay relationships.
In general there is a lot of agonizing over trivialities among the characters in this book. I dislike books about people who make their lives difficult for no reason and then whine about it (see my review of JUDE THE OBSCURE). In AN ACCIDENTAL MAN many of the characters make their lives difficult for no apparent reason except that they are bored and overpriviledged--but thankfully they don't much whine about it.
There is not much plot although some odd, unexpected and violent events occur. There are obscure passages that reminded me of the worst of Henry James. And many passages could be skipped or skimmed. E.g. there are long series of letters back and forth and extended cocktail party conversation.
But I realized that the happily married couples lived their lives calmly in the background while their unattached siblings and children made themselves and others miserable. A great testament to ordinary middle class life (although I'm not sure that's what Iris intended).
Basically, I liked the book because in spite of the above I cared about the characters, got emotionally involved in their lives, and felt that I had been in touch with something interesting and important. The main difficulty that I had with Iris' writing is that she does not, at least in this novel, make any love relations comprehensible or believable. It's as though Iris does not know what love is or has never loved. Maybe however this an artistic aritfice and part of the "message" of the book. It just ain't true that "all you need is love." Mostly it's phony and unrewarding.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Humour with a thick black edge Jan. 6 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
An Accidental man is a delicious read if you enjoy the tongue in cheek writing of Nancy Mitfod and Evelyn Waugh. It is essentially a story of an incestuous upper middle class English family and thier many friends and one imposter, Ludwig, the scholarly American who by way of an accidental birth in Great Britain, is avoiding the draft to the Vietnam war by his parents adopted contry. The dry sharpness of Ms Murdochs portrayal of the characters is as cool as a gin and tonic but Ludwig, who engages himself to Gracie, the much indulged daugter, soon finds his real ideals in question and the apparent tight family bonds are really gossamer thin and superficial. Other characters, Matthew, Mavis, Austin and Dorina play a large part in the story, indeed, Austin, the accidental Man of the title carries with him a series of accidents involving the entrapement and death of two wives, the death of an innocent child and the maiming of a bumbling blackmailer. Matthew sets himself up as the saviour of the accidental brother but there is no salvation for Austin nor any of the gang as thier comfotable world of simple social expectations leads them into a second generation, while Ludwig escapes their prison only to land in a real one back home in America. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys humour with a black edge. It is fairly long and the multitude of characters sometimes makes it a bit confusing but it well worth settling in to and as it is the first of Ms Murdochs books I have read, I will look forward to the next...and the next!
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4.0 out of 5 stars Subtle humour Aug. 16 2000
Format:Paperback
Full of subtle humour, a most enjoyable read. As always, Murdoch's characters, even the minor players, are beautifully drawn.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
39 of 43 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Humour with a thick black edge Jan. 6 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
An Accidental man is a delicious read if you enjoy the tongue in cheek writing of Nancy Mitfod and Evelyn Waugh. It is essentially a story of an incestuous upper middle class English family and thier many friends and one imposter, Ludwig, the scholarly American who by way of an accidental birth in Great Britain, is avoiding the draft to the Vietnam war by his parents adopted contry. The dry sharpness of Ms Murdochs portrayal of the characters is as cool as a gin and tonic but Ludwig, who engages himself to Gracie, the much indulged daugter, soon finds his real ideals in question and the apparent tight family bonds are really gossamer thin and superficial. Other characters, Matthew, Mavis, Austin and Dorina play a large part in the story, indeed, Austin, the accidental Man of the title carries with him a series of accidents involving the entrapement and death of two wives, the death of an innocent child and the maiming of a bumbling blackmailer. Matthew sets himself up as the saviour of the accidental brother but there is no salvation for Austin nor any of the gang as thier comfotable world of simple social expectations leads them into a second generation, while Ludwig escapes their prison only to land in a real one back home in America. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys humour with a black edge. It is fairly long and the multitude of characters sometimes makes it a bit confusing but it well worth settling in to and as it is the first of Ms Murdochs books I have read, I will look forward to the next...and the next!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Bad luck is a sort of wickedness in some people." Jan. 28 2012
By D. Cloyce Smith - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Austin Gibson Grey is a bungler and a bumbler--someone you'd expect to be both harmless and innocuous. He can't keep a job; his most recent employment has been eliminated by computerization, at the recommendation of consultants he has been led to believe were interior decorators. He is a schemer whose indolence keeps him from accomplishing anything, and as he enters middle age he has survived for far too long on his good looks. Yet people around him, both companions and complete strangers, keep suffering from horrible injuries or even death, from paralysis to electrocution to suicide, and his role in each tragedy ranges from simple obliviousness to negligent homicide.

"Not doom, not fate, accident," says Matthew, Austin's brother, reassuring the sister of one of the victims. Well, not quite. Matthew, the exact opposite of his brother, is a globetrotting diplomat and Zen-inspired saint who has returned home to witness the final disintegration of Austin's life, and he spends much of his homecoming either making excuses for his brother's foolish carelessness or helping to cover up his latest ruinous catastrophe. "Bad luck is a sort of wickedness in some people," is the assessment made by another character, who commands her fiance to stay away from Austin entirely.

And that wickedness can manifest itself in any number of ways: several characters are guilt-ridden solely for what they didn't do. One witnesses a murder on the streets of New York, another avoids meeting a distraught friend just before she attempts suicide, and even Matthew himself helplessly see a demonstrator whisked away by the secret police in a foreign country. Every human being falls victim to a butterfly effect: we can choose to be heroes, accomplices, or bystanders, but we can't remove ourselves from the vagaries of life. Even a man who shuts himself away, Thoreau-like, from the whims and cruelties of society will end up hurting (or helping) those he left behind. There is no escape from our effect on others. As one character realizes, "Absolute contradiction seemed at the heart of things and yet the system was there, the secret logic of the world."

This is one of Murdoch's more readable and accessible novels. As in her later (and better) work, "The Good Apprentice," she creates comedy--sometimes drawing-room, sometimes slapstick, sometimes farce--out of a series of tragedies. True, the relationships in Murdoch's grand-scale soap opera can get a tad confusing. Not only are most of the characters related to each other across three families (the Gibson Greys, the Tisbournes, and on the sidelines the Odmores), but everyone is also in love with everyone else--and always with someone who doesn't love in return. But even the complications of all these relationships and relatives and randomly appearing acquaintances and strangers underscore the interconnectedness of everyone's lives. To emphasize this point even further, Murdoch includes several sections composed entirely of gossipy dialogue at a party or of letters among the characters. (These passages are among the snappiest, and sometimes funniest, in the book.) Everyone is part of the conversation, or being talked about, or being deliberately ignored--but they are always there.

So there are no true accidents here, and there are no accidental men (or women). Instead, in Austin's hands, obliviousness becomes a strategy. Austin's only area of expertise is his innate ability to play the victim; he transforms everyone else's tragedy into his own. "Of course he is a vampire . . . And he knows it and he knows we know it," one of his enabling friends thinks. "Aren't we all accidental?" Austin's so-called bad luck is a form of instinctive "cunning." He is the kind of social sponge who will never change, and in the end, amid the detritus of the lives he has had an "inadvertent" hand in destroying, "the stage has been set again by whatever deep mythological forces control the destinies of men."
3.0 out of 5 stars A Lesser Murdoch Work March 10 2014
By Jiang Xueqin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
In "An Accidental Man," Iris Murdoch yet again casts her cynical eye on the dysfunctional and hypocritical British upper class. The book seems in many ways an early draft of "An Honourable Defeat," with many overlapping characters and themes. By itself, "An Accidental Man" comes across as bloated and immature, and I found the book difficult to get through. Yes, it's a problem that not one of the characters is sympathetic and it's another that the plot is disjointed and sprawling, but the major problem is that the stakes seem so low, and that whatever happens to the characters does not fundamentally matter to them or to those around them.
8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Subtle humour Aug. 16 2000
By Ms T M Lee-Webster - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Full of subtle humour, a most enjoyable read. As always, Murdoch's characters, even the minor players, are beautifully drawn.
7 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I actually liked this book! June 6 2002
By Stephen Schwartz - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Believe it or not this is a pretty good book.
It is a bit dated since much of it relates to agonizing over Vietnam War draft dodging and there is just the beginning of open writing about gay relationships.
In general there is a lot of agonizing over trivialities among the characters in this book. I dislike books about people who make their lives difficult for no reason and then whine about it (see my review of JUDE THE OBSCURE). In AN ACCIDENTAL MAN many of the characters make their lives difficult for no apparent reason except that they are bored and overpriviledged--but thankfully they don't much whine about it.
There is not much plot although some odd, unexpected and violent events occur. There are obscure passages that reminded me of the worst of Henry James. And many passages could be skipped or skimmed. E.g. there are long series of letters back and forth and extended cocktail party conversation.
But I realized that the happily married couples lived their lives calmly in the background while their unattached siblings and children made themselves and others miserable. A great testament to ordinary middle class life (although I'm not sure that's what Iris intended).
Basically, I liked the book because in spite of the above I cared about the characters, got emotionally involved in their lives, and felt that I had been in touch with something interesting and important. The main difficulty that I had with Iris' writing is that she does not, at least in this novel, make any love relations comprehensible or believable. It's as though Iris does not know what love is or has never loved. Maybe however this an artistic aritfice and part of the "message" of the book. It just ain't true that "all you need is love." Mostly it's phony and unrewarding.
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