The Malta Independent 2 December 2023, Saturday
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The dance of the couples

Noel Grima Tuesday, 26 September 2023, 08:18 Last update: about 3 months ago

‘Bruno’s Dream’. Author: Iris Murdoch. Publisher: Penguin Books / 1970. Pages: 311pp

This is a novel by Iris Murdoch, her 12th novel, originally published in 1969. The book was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1970 and in 1997.

Obsessed with spiders and preoccupied with death, Bruno, a very old man, lies at the centre of a typical Iris Murdoch intricate web of relationships and passions.

Against a typical Murdoch South London backdrop with the river providing an occasional high drama, bedridden Bruno is dying of a disfiguring disease. He however maintains a daily routine of reading, drinking champagne, indulging his obsession with spiders and studying his stamp collection. As the end draws near, remorse, reconciliation and redemption fill his thoughts.


As Bruno grapples with his past, the rain falls, the river rises and his estranged son returns, setting in motion an entire sequence of events.

Bruno is the still centre of a complex web of relationships. Caught up in this web are Danby, Bruno's hapless son-in-law, Danby's mistress, Adelaide, and her twin cousins; Will, bent on avenging Adelaide's seduction and mischievous, sinister Nigel.

The web strands are further entangled when Bruno insists he wants to see his estranged son, Miles, who lives with his wife and his sister-in-law.

Soon the uneasiness, long smouldering below the surface of these two tense households, erupts into passion and violence.

After Bruno's marriage, he and his wife Janie enjoyed socialising in affluent circles. But then Janie discovered Bruno was having an affair. A dark cloud of hostility chilled their relationship. Now, so many years later, Bruno is still haunted by the cries of Janie calling for him from her deathbed before succumbing to cancer. He refused to see her, convinced she only wished to hurl recriminations at him again.

Now Bruno lies on his deathbed in the home of his son-in-law Danby, who, having lost his wife, Gwen, in a drowning accident, half-heartedly indulges in a dalliance with his housemaid, Adelaide.

In turn Adelaide has fled an abusive relationship with her cousin, Will, but she continues to exchange letters with him and his twin brother, Nigel, who is Bruno's nurse.

Bruno resolves to make amends with his son, Miles. The two have been estranged since Bruno, upon learning Miles intended to marry an Indian girl, Parvati, declared he did not want "coffee-coloured grandchildren". That was a decade ago. Since then Parvati died in a plane crash. Miles then married a beautiful woman, Diana, but he still mourns Parvati.

When Danby arrives at Miles' home to relay Bruno's wish to see his son, he is captivated by Lisa, Diana's sister, who resides in the household.

Once a nun, Lisa is selfless. She acts as a goodwill ambassador between the two households. Detecting her husband's newfound attraction to her sister, Diana sinks into despair, contemplates suicide and pockets Bruno's pills, unaware Nigel is watching.

Nigel also brings about the end of Danby and Adelaide's relationship and tells Danby he saw Adelaide stealing a valuable stamp from Bruno's collection. Following these revelations Danby and Will stage a duel on the banks of the Thames.

Meanwhile, a steady rainfall has swollen the Thames, which surges through Danby's house and sweeps away the priceless collection.


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