Books: Circle of Hell

THE ITALIAN GIRL by Iris Murdoch. 213 pages. Viking. $4.50.

A reader is never safe with Iris Murdoch. What she best enjoys doing—and does better than any writer now working—is setting traps for her readers, baited with wit and camouflaged with urbane prose that all but conceals the bite of a gleefully seditious mind.

Her eighth novel opens on a scene of quiet domestic sorrow. Edmund Narroway, an early-middle-aged bachelor, has returned to the drab coal-mining town in northern England where he grew up, to attend the funeral of his widowed mother. Waiting for him...

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