Sunday, 18 March 2012
Something Special - Iris Murdoch.
I'm reading this in part to partake in Irish Short Story Week and also to finally post something on Iris Murdoch who is one of my favourite writers. I went through a 'phase' of reading everything by her I could get my hands on. This short story is quite different from her novels, both in setting and in style.
This is, or so the fly leaf tells me, the only short story that Iris Murdoch wrote for publication in her life. It is also, I feel, the most distinctly Irish of her writings, feeling very much like an offshoot of Joyce's Dubliners.
The connection is made quietly explicit by the reference to Araby in this quote. "'It's the women's magazines,' said her uncle, 'and the little novels she's forever reading that are putting ideas in her head until she won't marry except it's the Sheik of Araby.'" Joyce's story Araby examines the difference between romantic expectation and reality and Something Special treads similar ground.
The heroine Yvonne lives with her mother in a small shop with the bed in the single bedroom behind the shop being shared by both. The room is also used as a place to bring the Christmas card salesman who calls. It is "a poky hole."
The story takes place over the course of an evening and night. Yvonne's mother and uncle are pressing her to marry her suitor, a poor Jewish tailor, Sam Goldman. At 24, she is in danger of being left on the shelf. But she is not convinced. There has to be more to life. "'Oh leave off, leave off!' said Yvonne.'I don't want him, I don't want to marry. He's nothing special.'"
They don't see his being a Jew as a block to marriage because "he'd bring the children up Church of Ireland." Her uncle adds here "it's better than the other lot with the little priest after them the whole time and bobbing their hats at the chapel doors so you can't even have a peaceful ride on the tram."
Sam is devoted to her and lets himself be talked into whatever she wants to do. She is bursting with desire for something to happen and takes little heed of what Sam feels. They walk down to the harbour to see the mail boat and she expresses her desire to leave the country. "'Doesn't every Irish person with a soul in them want to go to England?' she said."
Yvonne wants to go to see a new lounge bar that has opened just off the quays, but she is not satisfied."'This place gives me heart disease,' said Yvonne. 'It's like a lot of dead people giving a party. Let's go and see what it's like downstairs. I've never been downstairs here."
Music comes from the downstairs bar and she goes convinces Sam to take her down, despite the fact that it is far from respectable. You'll have to dig this book out if you want to go downstairs with them but I recommend you do.