Books: The Donkeys

A FAIRLY HONOURABLE DEFEAT by Iris Murdoch. 436 pages. Viking. $6.95.

Love has always been blind, but that does not appease the Iris Murdoch demon. Her 13 novels, written over 16 years, are cruel choreographies for lovers who must play a game of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey in which there is no tail and no donkey. The grotesque charade is heightened by the fact that Murdoch's lovers are usually intellectuals, often philosophers or linguists, who can talk their way to "steamy moral altitudes" while betraying others and mortifying themselves.

Her latest novel, the most ambitious since A Severed Head, concerns two married couples—one heterosexual, one homosexual....

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