The Sandcastle (Iris Murdoch)

The Sandcastle is a novel by Iris Murdoch.
Finished on: 16.12.2022

Bill Mor is married to Nan, although whether it’s happily is debatable. They have two children, Donald and Felicity. Bill teaches History and Latin, although he is thinking of going into politics – against Nan’s wishes. So far, so boring. When his friend and the former headmaster of the school Demoyte contracts a young painter, Rain Carter, to paint his portrait, Bill is amused at first – and then in love, head over heels. This throws his entire life and that of his family in disarray.

The Sandcastle is beautifully written, but I struggled a lot with its subject matter. It has something of a Manic Pixie Dreamgirl Vibe (although it preceeds the naming of this trope by several decades) and I had trouble sympathizing with Mor and believing Rain’s response.

The book cover showing an empty easel and a sandcastle in front of a sea lilke on a theater stage.


This is the first novel by Iris Murdoch I have read, and I am happy that I did. She is a formidable writer with sparkling prose and very well observed characters. The way she describes the Mor’s marriage feels almost shockingly realistic, in all its entanglements and small uglinesses. The way Donald and Felicity relate to each other in that rather loveless environment was a great reprieve (although with the almost magical touches of Felicity’s inner life, I would have expected her to be a bit younger than she is). In short, the Mor’s were fantastic, albeit depressing to read about.

I also can very well see Bill Mor fall in love with Rain Carter with all the liberty and youth she brings into his life. That the book often comments on how small she is, and how tall Mor is, only underscores the (age) difference between the two and makes the entire thing a little more creepy. If that had been the vibe the book was going for, it would have worked. But instead it takes on a slightly desperate, but definitely romantic tone.

And that is where the book lost me: when it is revealed that Rain actually feels the same way. She, too, is in love with Bill. My jaw dropped and I wanted to throw the book a little at that. It just didn’t make sense to me. The novel’s explanation seems to be that Rain recently lost her father with whom she had been very close, and so she basically had to fall in love with an older man but that is not sufficient for me.

That being said, I did enjoy reading the book for the most part, especially Murdoch’s simply beautiful prose,the sense of humor that runs through the book an the wonderful cast of characters. I’ll look forward to discovering more of her (pretty extensive) work, even if this one won’t become a favorite

Summarizing: a writer worth reading, but maybe her other novels more than this one.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.