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The Severed Head [Hardcover]

Iris Murdoch
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)

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Book Description

June 27 1978
A novel about the frightfulness and ruthlessness of being in love Martin Lynch-Gibson believes he can possess both a beautiful wife and a delightful lover. But when his wife, Antonia, suddenly leaves him for her psychoanalyst, Martin is plunged into an intensive emotional reeducation. He attempts to behave beautifully and sensibly. Then he meets a woman whose demonic splendor at first repels him and later arouses a consuming and monstrous passion. As his Medusa informs him, "this is nothing to do with happiness." "A Severed Head" was adapted for a successful stage production in 1963 and was later made into a film starring Claire Bloom, Lee Remick, Richard Attenborough, and Ian Holm.
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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"The is a comedy with that touch of ferocity about it which makes for excitement."--Elizabeth Jane Howard "Immensely readable . . . Miss Murdoch is blessedly clever withour any of the aridity which, for some reason, that word is supposed to imply."--Philip Toynbee --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

From the Back Cover

“A power of intellect quite exceptional in a novelist.” –Sunday Times

“She is incapable of writing without fascinating and beautiful colour.” –The Times --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars An Entertaining Comedy May 27 2006
I enjoyed this story about power, love, control, and sincerity. Without being an amateur of psychological monologues, its tempo kept me reading. In only two sessions I savoured and it was never a bore.

Comparing this COMEDY to the Great Novels of mankind would only show the same poor judgement and mauvaise foi as comparing Aleksandr Sokurov with Woody Allen. Molière, Feydeau, Wilde & alli would be much better candidates, if whining about the unfairness of some author's reputation would have not been plainly stupid, anyhow.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Understanding this book June 11 2004
By Isabeau
I read this book in college. Some previous reader had underlined every appearance of the word "understand" - and for once I was grateful. I suggest you try that too.
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2.0 out of 5 stars a very disappointing read June 7 2004
By A Customer
"A Severed Head" is the first and very likely the last novel by Iris Murdoch I'll read.It isn't by any means a disgrace, but it falls far short of the expectations raised by the hyped reputation of Ms. Murdoch.
Ms. Murdoch is clearly not a great writer. Just read a page of Jane Austen, Charles Dickens or Virginia Woolf to remind yourself what acuteness of insight, depth of vision and felicity of expression great artists can achieve.
Alas, "A severed head" is not even a good novel. The twists of the plot are ludicrous (at the end of the novel, almost all male-female love relationships will have happened or been revealed in the brisk course of a few weeks), the characters little more than the embodiment of a few adjectives each. The dialogue rings false : there is precious little differentiation of tone and speech, every one drops high-brow cultural references at regular intervals. The mirroring of the narrator's confusion with the London fog is the very heavy simile that Ms. Murdoch beats to death for 200 pages.
This novel has been seriously crafted by a well-read professor who is not a genuine artist. The gist of the issue is that Ms. Murdoch has a few intellectual points to make (on love and seeing, mainly); she constructs her novel to achieve them, but does so with little of the true powers of vision and of expression on which the art of writing and the joys of reading rest. Intellectual novels can be successful, of course, provided there is enough spirit and/or language mastery to go with the ideas - think Dosto´evsky or Proust.
If you want a beautiful example of novelistic art, you'd do much better with "The photograph" an exceptionally fine work by Penelope Lively on the same theme, without the weighty intellectual pretensions. If you want to read a great modern novel, "Disgrace" by JM Coetzee will show you the abyss between a well-meaning but rather limp attempt at literature by a serious don and greatly moving art.
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3.0 out of 5 stars A severed reality Oct. 6 2002
I read this book after seeing the excellent film Iris. I still intend to read the entire Murdoch set, however I have not been too impressed with this first outing.
Clearly the tale is not to be taken in any literal sense, however I am at a loss to understand the level on which it is to be understood. It doesn't seem like comedy, so I think it must be an irony. However, is there a trick to inventing ironic (or ironical) situations?
The plot and characters aside, the language is a breath of fresh air. In a modern light, the syntax may seem a little stilted, however the apparent care in crafting the words inspires care in reading them.
In the end, this is probably what I enjoyed most about the book - not the characters (all of whom seemed spineless in uninteresting ways), not the plot (which I assume is intentionaly ridiculous).
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5.0 out of 5 stars The best book about the power of love... April 4 2002
The best book about the power of love...
how the true love gives one the energy to do, act, overcome
how the true love takes away the fear, makes the conditions of life that you once thought to be insurmountable obstacles seem irrelevant
love that fills your life with a sense of purpose, lova that makes you live, not just exist
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5.0 out of 5 stars Tops Sept. 4 2001
By A Customer
As an Iris Murdoch "junkie", I relish all of her works, and I'm still in the process of completing the list. My personal favorites have to be A Severed Head, The Sea, The Sea, Bruno's Dream and The Green Knight, so far. A Severed Head is particularly enjoyable because its plot is fast-moving and doesn't get sidetracked with lengthy philosophical or religious theory that is inherent in so many of her books. While I do enjoy examining these topics, it's also great just to get engrossed in a good story without having to think existentially, if you know what I mean. She has incredible talent as a novelist in developing characters, describing setting, developing plot and building suspense. She uses these gifts, combined with her great sense of humor, to bring her stories to an unanticipated climax, with an even more unexpected, and often happy, ending. She treats her readers as intellectual equals, which is a nice compliment, although I know I've come up short a few times -- particularly when one of her characters spouts off a phrase in a foreign language. It's the price you pay for good art, and I wouldn't change a thing. This book is a great jumping off point for new Iris Murdoch readers, who can then graduate to her lengthier, (and more philosophical) works later. Not many people can write like Iris Murdoch, and she is missed by many. Luckily, she left her legacy in her writings that we can all enjoy for many, many years to come.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A Masterpiece of Sly Humour
In "A Severed Head," Iris Murdoch takes the bedroom farce to a whole new level. It's a tangled tale of love, adultery, deception, self-deception, jealousy and attempted... Read more
Published on Aug. 16 2001 by bibliomane01
5.0 out of 5 stars English Decadence
This is my first foray into Iris Murdoch territory and I must say I am quite impressed. She writes with wit and vitality and there is much wisdom here also. Read more
Published on July 5 2001 by Paul McGrath
5.0 out of 5 stars A Surrealist tale
Martin Lynch-Gibbon thinks he has it all. He is envied by all by marrying Antonia, a beauty sought by many wealthy and influential men. Read more
Published on May 15 2001
5.0 out of 5 stars Will become a classic!
Honor Klein is one of the most fascinating of all of Murdoch's memorable characters. Murdoch uses humor deftly in this novel weaving a web of enchantment that underlies the more... Read more
Published on Nov. 10 2000 by R. Rockwell
5.0 out of 5 stars iris murdoch
Iris Murdoch's A Severed Head is a fantastic read. During my commute to and from work my head was buried between the pages of this absorbing tale. Read more
Published on Jan. 12 2000 by angela lessard
5.0 out of 5 stars Engrossing, riveting, brilliant
"A Severed Head" is a dark but extraordinary novel, full of emotion, surprises, and sumptuous writing. Read more
Published on Aug. 31 1999
4.0 out of 5 stars The irrationality of love
What is so special about this book is the way in which it manages to balance the funny with the tragic, and the romantic with the demonic. Read more
Published on March 25 1999 by Anders Mark Andersen
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