The idea, I guess, was this: suppose you were one of those people whose life was principally organized around love (there are, I understand, some odd creatures with other kinds of lives. I often puzzle over them. What are such lives like? I digress.)
So suppose. And suppose that your loves, rather than coming sequentially, as decorum requires -- suppose they all existed simultaneously, jockeying with each other and informing each other and contending with one another?
With each new love we get to design a new story of ourselves, and tidy the old one away: this is how most of us lie to ourselves most outrageously and destructively. And since Murdoch is interested in the truths of love, she thought it worth doing to plunge her narrator into a welter of revisiting loves. He's gone away to a lonely village by the sea to contemplate his life, supposedly, but he is haunted by the loves of his life, none of whom will stay tidied away.
One of the things I most admire about Murdoch is that, even coming of age at the height of anti-Dickensian modernism, she understood perfectly well Dickens's reliance on melodrama and improbable coincidence to reveal the connections of our lives, or anyway the meaning of those connections; and she continued to use it. You can picture the realist critics (still a force to be reckoned with in the 1970's) clucking at the driving coincidence of the novel -- that the narrator just happened to move to the village to which his first love, forty years vanished, had retired. But that's the point. You can't actually move away. Everything follows you.
I am only halfway through, so maybe she provides an explanation of some sort. I hope not. But this is far the most powerful and engaging novel of hers that I've read so far. There is a lot at stake here: there's a lot I care about.
I am no longer beguiled, or even beguilable
I wrote, not long ago, about novels. It turns out I was lying. I am beguiled by this frightening novel. I approach it cautiously. I care about the people and they're going to get hurt.
Or maybe the heart of the matter is the rebellion, Shelley's rebellion. Why can we not just push the unlatched gate open, and be free? Why can we not just move to Italy, where the sun always shines, with everyone we love, and live together in the light? There is such an overflowing abundance of love in us. How could it be stopped or stymied?
And the answer takes shape (and will no doubt win, because Murdoch is in fact a realist.) Why can we not just be free? Because we will not. There is no argument. There is just the stubborn weight of the world, bearing down on us. The gate is unlatched because it can't move. It never needed a latch.
I simplify too much: the answer is more complicated than that. And I hope there is more complication ahead, because I have seen this for a long time and I badly want it explained.