Book - The Time Of The Angels




Iris Murdoch - 1968
Penguin Books
ISBN: none
The Time Of The Angels
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The action takes place over the course of several winter days in London. The plot centres on Carel Fisher, an eccentric Anglican priest who has lost his faith. At the beginning of the novel, he has just been put in charge of a church that was heavily damaged by bombing in the Second World War, so that only the tower and the rectory remain standing. His twenty-four year old daughter, Muriel, and nineteen-year old niece Elizabeth, a semi-invalid recluse, live with him. The household also includes Pattie O'Driscoll, Carel Fisher's half-Jamaican housekeeper and former mistress, Eugene Peshkov, a Russian emigré who works as the rectory's janitor, and Eugene's son Leo, a student at a technical college. Carel Fisher performs no church functions and refuses to admit anyone to the rectory or to communicate with anyone, including his brother, Marcus, who is nominally the co-guardian of their niece Elizabeth. Marcus is the headmaster of a school, on leave in order to write a book on "morality in a secular age". Marcus twice gains entrance to the house by stealth, and on each occasion he has a harrowing conversation with his brother, who insists that there is no God, and that in any case "goodness is impossible for us". Leo Peshkov was formerly a student at Marcus's school, where his fees were paid by Marcus and his friend Norah Shadox-Brown, a retired headmistress. Leo is a charming but untrustworthy boy who repeatedly lies to his acquaintances, including Marcus, in order to extract money from them. Later he steals a treasured icon from his father and sells it. Muriel befriends Leo and forms a plan of introducing him to Elizabeth. However this plan is aborted when, on the way to Elizabeth's room, Muriel and Leo hide in an adjacent room to escape detection by Pattie, and Muriel, looking through a crack in the wall, sees her father in bed with Elizabeth. Later, Carel tells Muriel to move out of the rectory, where he intends to remain with Elizabeth. During the course of the novel Pattie and Muriel both fall in love with Eugene. Eugene asks Pattie to marry him, but she is reluctant to accept him because of her relationship with Carel, to whom she still feels bound. Eventually she agrees, but the jealous Muriel tells Eugene about the affair between Pattie and her father. Later, confronted by Pattie, Muriel tells her that Carel is having an affair with Elizabeth, whereupon Pattie reveals that Elizabeth is actually Carel's daughter rather than his niece. Just as Muriel is about to leave the rectory to stay with Norah Shadox-Brown, she goes to her father's room and finds that he has taken an overdose of pills and is dying. He has received a letter from Pattie, disclosing that both Pattie and Muriel know the truth about Carel's incestuous relationship with Elizabeth. Muriel takes no action to forestall his suicide attempt and he dies. After his death Muriel and Elizabeth go to live together in London, while Pattie goes to Africa to work in a refugee camp, and the rectory and church tower are demolished to make way for new development.