An Accidental Man Paperback
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
"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."
Opening with the breathless engagement of an American draft dodger and his rather shallow British girlfriend, the narrative soon introduces a host of other characters that make up their circle, most notably Austin Gibson-Grey, with his skeletons in the closet, an estranged wife, and various nefarious activities...
Murdoch writes in a variety of styles, the usual narrative being interspersed with a series of letters, or an impression of a party given through two or three pages of one-line comments, giving everyone's news and gossip in a humorous way.
It's a far-fetched tale, though I think the author's depiction of lonely and unloved Charlotte Ledgard was convincing.
The characters seem to be largely bisexual, switching from feelings from one to the other.
Glad to have come to the end, although by no means unreadable.