The Sea, The Sea; A Severed Head
by Iris Murdoch
These two major novels—by one of the most influential British writers of the twentieth century—are ferociously dark comedies that combine playfulness with profundity.
A Severed Head (1961) is one of Iris Murdoch’s most entertaining works, tracing the turbulent emotional journey of Martin Lynch-Gibbon, a smug, prosperous London wine merchant and unfaithful husband, whose life is turned inside out when his wife leaves him for her psychoanalyst. The story takes bedroom farce to a new level of sophistication, with scenes that are both wickedly funny and emblematic of the way momentous moral issues play out in everyday life.
The Booker Prize–winning The Sea, the Sea (1978) is set on the edge of England’s North Sea, where egotistical Charles Arrowby, a big name in London’s glittering theatrical world, has retreated into seclusion to write his memoirs. Arrowby’s plans begin to unravel when he encounters his long-lost first love and finds himself increasingly besieged by his own fantasies, delusions, and obsessions.
Both novels are tragicomic masterpieces that brilliantly dramatize how much our lives are governed by the lies we tell ourselves and by the all-consuming need for love, meaning, and redemption.
Introduction by Sarah Churchwell
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