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Main page » Fiction literature » The Italian Girl (1964)

The Italian Girl (1964)


Edmund Narraway, an engraver, is the narrator in this stunning novel by Iris Murdoch. One day he returns to his family house in northern England for the funeral of his recently deceased mother Lydia. Otto, Edmund's brother, a stone mason, still lives in the house with his wife Isabel and daughter Flora, along with Maria Magistrelli - Maggie - the nurse whom both Otto and Edmund consider as their second "mother". She is the Italian girl who brought up the two boys since neither their father John - a "nonentity" - nor Lydia - an intensely mean woman - took any part in their upbringing.
Their childhood passed in an alternate frenzy of jealousy and of suffocation from their mother and Edmund feels that, although he didn't return to the house for many years, he never escaped from Lydia, that she got inside him, into the depth of his being and that there was no abyss and no darkness where she was not. And soon Edmund discovers that the remaining relatives still living in the old house are entangled in a web of deceit and false pretence. Flora is pregnant by David Levkin, Otto's apprentice, who is now having an affair with Isabel whereas Elsa, David's sister, is Otto's lover. Edmund quickly realises that his brother Otto, a violently tempered man, has become an alcoholic and he wonders whether he isn't himself rapidly becoming part of "the machine". Soon he feels agitated, exasperated and confused. He finds the whole situation "too scandalous, too outrageous". Edmund is constantly on the brink of leaving, not wanting "to be inside such a circle of hell". But due to his sympathy or weakness, he feels that his presence is needed by both his sister and his niece. But little does he know about the outcome of his stay at the old family house...
Mrs Murdoch has been compared to Tolstoy and Dostoyevski for her literary skills and certainly "The Italian Girl" proves her capacity to show that being in love provides joy but can turn otherwise decent individuals into monsters of cruelty and blindness.

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Tags: Italian, family, together, problems, rediscovers, awful