Dame Iris Murdoch (1919-1999) was one of the greatest British novelists and philosophers of the twentieth century. She read philosophy at Oxford where she met and later married John Bayley, a literary critic and fellow novelist. So began a forty-year, intense and unconventional but happy marriage, detailed in the classic bestselling memoir Iris. Despite Iris’ extramarital affairs with men and women throughout their long marriage – which John always suspected – their bond was unbreakable, and his memoir beautifully captures their child-like moments of bliss: walking in forests, swimming together in streams, and sharing hot cups of coffee on crisp mornings.
These are touching but poignant stories with the knowledge that Iris and her grand intellect would eventually succumb to Alzheimer’s disease. John would care for her singlehandedly for five years, the last of which he writes about in Iris and the Friends that also describes her peaceful passing. Finally, he reflects on his bereavement and the void that is left when a soulmate departs in A Widower’s House. All three books are told by the person who knew Iris best, with gentle humour – at times unbearably moving – in his portrayal of a remarkable woman.
My Father’s Glass Eye is Jeannie’s struggle to honour her father, her larger-than-life hero, but also the man who named her after his daughter from a previous marriage, a daughter who died. After his funeral, Jeannie spends the next decade in escalating mania, in and out of hospitals – increasingly obsessed with the other Jeanne.
Obsession turns to investigation as she plumbs her childhood awareness of her dead half-sibling and hunts for clues into the mysterious circumstances of her death. It becomes a puzzle she she must solve to better understand herself and her father.
Jeannie pulls us into her unravelling with such intimacy that her insanity becomes palpable, even logical. A brilliant exploration of the human psyche, My Father’s Glass Eye deepens our definitions of love, sanity, grief, and recovery.
In the long run, we’re all dead. But for some of the most influential figures in history, death marked the start of a new adventure. The famous deceased have been stolen, burned, sold, pickled, frozen, stuffed, impersonated and even filed away in a lawyer’s office. Their fingers, teeth, toes, arms, legs, skulls, hearts, lungs and nether regions have embarked on voyages that criss-cross the globe and stretch the imagination.
Counterfeiters tried to steal Lincoln’s corpse. Einstein’s brain went on a cross-country road trip. And after Lord Horatio Nelson perished at Trafalgar, his sailors submerged him in brandy – which they drank. From Mozart to Hitler, Rest in Pieces connects the lives of the famous dead to the hilarious and horrifying adventures of their corpses and traces the evolution of cultural attitudes towards death.