Mirror of Dazzling Chaos THE GOOD APPRENTICE

THE GOOD APPRENTICE by Iris Murdoch; Viking; 522 pages; $18.95

Author Iris Murdoch's devoted readers have learned, after 21 novels, to expect abstract, philosophic patterns beneath the beguiling surface of her fiction. The Good Apprentice, No. 22, seems designed to shake admirers out of such complacency. Murdoch includes most of her by now familiar clues to deeper meanings: constant references to God, lesser deities, the devil, good, evil, myths, legends, magic, and the power of elemental forces like water to nurture and destroy. But this time out, such allusions do not point toward an order underlying reality. They mirror instead a dazzling chaos of Murdoch's invention.

A television soap opera could...

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