• Publication date: 06/08/1999
  • eBook ISBN: 9780715646403

Iris and the Friends

John Bayley,

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Novelist and thinker Iris Murdoch died on 8 February 1999 after living for three years with Alzheimer’s disease. Her husband, novelist and academic John Bayley, had previously written movingly of the impact of her illness in Iris: A Memoir. Iris and the Friends tells of the final year of Murdoch’s life, when she was visited more by her own imaginary "friends" than by the exigencies of real life. It brings the story through Bayley’s increasingly precarious hold on present reality, to his own breakdown, Murdoch’s final happy weeks in a home for the terminally ill and finally her quiet death. Although ostensibly a sequel, it is more an exploration of Bayley’s new friends: the memories that were sparked off precisely as Murdoch lost her own–of his childhood, army years, first loves and, of course, their marriage. But there are other "friends". At one point Bayley writes: "The old Eng. Lit. again. I taught it for nearly fifty years and feel detached from it now." Yet literature emerges here as the one remaining constant in his life. Scarcely two pages go by without a reference, almost involuntary, to Hardy, Coleridge, Austen, Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, Thurber, James, Lawrence, Woolf or Murdoch. Sometimes Iris appears to respond to the shared literary in-jokes, but more often the pair become "two animals pushing together, nudging and grooming each other, grunting together as they bask in a mutual doze."