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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

An Unofficial Rose

Iris Murdoch

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To purchase An Unofficial Rose

Title: An Unofficial Rose
Author: Iris Murdoch
Genre: Novel
Written: 1962
Length: 287 pages
Availability: An Unofficial Rose - US
An Unofficial Rose - UK
An Unofficial Rose - Canada
An Unofficial Rose - India
Una rosa non ufficiale - Italia

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Our Assessment:

A- : very fine writing, wicked tale of intertwined fates and manipulation

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times . 21/5/1962 Orville Prescott
The NY Times Book Rev. . 20/5/1962 Ernest Buckler
Time . 25/5/1962 .
TLS . 8/6/1962 Marigold Johnson

  From the Reviews:
  • "Manipulating masterfully, Miss Murdoch turns out a deft three-in-one book: a sort of combined superior soap opera, teddibly [sic] British novel of sensibility, and philosophical inquiry into reality. (...) There is nothing straightforward about Iris Murdoch's intentions, however. The mannered maneuverings that bring so little about hold a marvelous suspense as the author reveals a racy richness of motive and confusion." - Time

  • "One is fascinated by the unloveliness of her characters as much as by the almost dreamlike beauty of the scenes in which she puts them; it is part of her skill to juxtapose difficult abstractions such as the virtue of passivity or the value of utterance with visual tactile detail." - Marigold Johnson, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       An Unofficial Rose begins at the funeral of Fanny Peronnet. Widower and pater familias Hugh finds the situation brings more change than he might have anticipated:

As an elderly married man, surrounded by an accustomed and reasonably affectionate circle, he had been long settled in an emotional routine which was so much like a routine that the emotions were indeed barely perceptible at all.
       But emotion, soaked in passion, pulses -- even throbs -- everywhere just below the surface in his immediate circle, and much bubbles to the fore (and boils over) in the weeks that follow. First and foremost there's son Randall, growing ever-more distant from his wife, Ann, and in love with Lindsay Rimmer -- but unable to conquer Lindsay until he settles his affairs (and comes up with the requisite cash), which he is unable to do on his own. Lindsay is employed as novelist Emma Sands' amanuensis, and Emma's hold over her is quite a strong one. Meanwhile, Hugh once had a thing for Emma, and now that his wife is dead he thinks maybe it's time to rekindle what was possibly the love of his life. But friend Mildred Finch -- married to the homosexual Humphrey -- now has her eyes on Hugh, too. Meanwhile, Mildred's brother, Felix, has his eyes on the-possibly-soon-free Ann. Finally there's Hugh's grandson, Penn, visiting from Australia, and Randall and Ann's daughter, Miranda, the creepy girl whose age no one seems to know, who still plays with dolls but also teases Penn into falling for her (while Humphrey also seems to take quite the liking to the lad).
       Fanny's death sets the action falling like dominoes -- though other circumstances also play a role, foremost the lingering shadow of the earlier death of Randall and Ann's oldest child, Steve -- "Nothing had been right since Steve died", though in part that was also due to Randall finding it a convenient excuse to blame and distance himself from Ann.
       Randall needs a great deal of money so that he can finally conquer Lindsay, and there is one way of getting it: through the sale of Hugh's beloved Tintoretto. And while it is his most prized possession, Hugh can be tempted to part with it in the belief that with Lindsay removed from Emma's side he might be able to again win his great love over. Others, too, have an interest in Randall' success: Felix might then have a chance with Ann, for example.
       An Unofficial Rose is a book full of master manipulators, making for overlapping chess games. Quite a few of the characters are completely confident of how to go about getting their way -- "He'll decide what I tell him to decide", Mildred insists, for example -- but not everyone is as obvious or up front with exactly what they want and how they try to get it; Emma and Miranda are among those with bigger surprises up their sleeves than first suspected, for example.
       Murdoch crafts a fascinating and bizarre story of star-crossed lovers, a puppet master toying with her creations, just as many of them too are puppet masters in smaller and larger ways (and it's no surprise that doll-playing -- whether Miranda with her dolls or the toy soldiers Penn finds -- figures prominently here, too). The tale spins and wobbles forward, as each action leads to both hoped for and unexpected consequences.
       Ambivalence is also widespread, as is an inability to take truly decisive action; no one is able to truly commit, with even Randall thinking, to the end, that:
He could always, and after his own beautiful fashion, return to Ann. Ann would always be waiting.
       Love, here, is everything:
This faling in love was, he felt, the best thing he had ever done. It had that absolute authority which seems to put an act beyond right and wrong.
       Yet morality remains at issue, as many of the characters' actions are downright dangerous, to each other and to themselves -- not merely public morals, but rather the higher ideals of morality.
       Love, it also turns out, rarely conquers all, and disappointments remain, regardless of how deep and seemingly profound the feeling -- often because of the moral issues at play. And, yes, as Lindsay observes: "Morality is depressing".
       All seek the great loves of their lives, and the satisfaction of eternal bliss, but as one character suggests:
     'But I don't know if anything follows. Perhaps there is nothing but this.'
     'But -- what ?'
     'Well, just this, this understanding, this talk, this laughter, perhaps just this moment.'
       It makes for a fascinating, disturbing, and often sharply funny novel of manners (bad and proper) cum romance (with little romance to it). Well-plotted, well-written, with Murdoch in complete control of the characters and words, An Unofficial Rose is a fine and perversely fascinating novel.

- M.A.Orthofer, 4 July 2011

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An Unofficial Rose: Reviews: Iris Murdoch: Other books by Iris Murdoch under review: Books about Iris Murdoch under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary British fiction at the complete review

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About the Author:

       Iris Murdoch (1919-1999) studied at Oxford and Cambridge, and was a fellow of St. Anne's College, Oxford. She published twenty-six novels and won the Booker Prize in 1978.

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