In a stately English mansion, friends and family are arriving for the wedding of the host's daughter, Marian. Out of the blue, Marian breaks off the engagement and disappears, throwing everything and everyone in disarray. So starts a tale which revolves round a mysterious and charismatic figure, in this case Jackson, a manservant who manipulates everything behind the scenes much more than anyone realizes. By the author of The Green Knight.
And so we reach the end of the Iris Murdoch A Month project with the much-dreaded Jackson's Dilemma. I remember reading this when it came out in paperback, only really then realising there was something very wrong. And I haven't read it since, where I have revisited old favourites.
Actually, it wasn't as bad as I feared. Although it was obviously weaker than the other novels, it was more Murdoch-Lite than a failure. The huge lapses in continuity (which could surely have been fixed by a kind person somewhere within the publishing process (and yes, I know she had refused to be edited since many books previously)) notwithstanding, Murdoch's themes and characters were there, and the story was Murdochian and engaging enough, if very short compared to the last few. Very upsetting at the end, though, where you can read Jackson's soliloquy as echoing Murdoch's own thoughts.
Goodby, Iris - and goodbye IM a month project, although both live on in our discussions of Jackson's Dilemma and my research project!
It starts off on the eve of Edward and Marian's wedding. Edward is enjoying dinner with friends when he discovers a note under the door: an "I can't marry you" letter from Marian. There is no explanation but the following day there is much hoopla about making sure people are "barred" from the church and from attending a wedding that won't happen. All of Edward's friends are absurdly devastated by this turn of events, so much so that I started to really question their sanity. Meanwhile, both Edward and Marian disappear (separately, of course). Enter Jackson (Just Jackson, no last name). Even his arrival is peculiar.
In the end the plot becomes a garbled mess. Everyone is trying to be in love with someone else, exclaiming undying devotion left and right. Even Owen (male) and Tuan (also male) have some kind of odd, unexplained relationship going on. Despite all this, I did have two favorite lines: "The moon was not present, being elsewhere" (p 22). Who actually knows where the moon was, but I thought that was funny. The other line: "After all, as Randall said, it's the sea that matters" (p 100). Too bad Randall would lose his life to the very thing that mattered.
Why does Benet feel overly-responsible to those around him? Does he feel he is required to replace Uncle Tim? Tim intuitively understood, accepted and helped so many friends and acquaintances. Many of these people are polite to Benet but wish he didn't involve himself in their affairs. Fortunately, the mysterious Jackson is able to set things straight.
The eponymous Jackson is an enigma: other characters compare him to Kim and to Caliban, but he also seems to have significant parts of Jeeves and Figaro, and there's a suggestion that he's on a mission that is outside his own control - is the late Uncle Tim acting as Prospero from beyond the grave? Is Jackson some kind of angel? And where does the eledrly horse Spencer fit in? Sadly, we'll never know for sure. This is probably a book one reads more out of loyalty to a great writer than for its own sake, really.