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A Severed Head Paperback – November 18, 1976

ISBN-13: 978-0140020038 ISBN-10: 0140020039 Edition: Reprint

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 204 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (November 18, 1976)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140020039
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140020038
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #60,573 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

“The is a comedy with that touch of ferocity about it which makes for excitement.”—Elizabeth Jane Howard

“Immensely readable . . . Miss Murdoch is blessedly clever withour any of the aridity which, for some reason, that word is supposed to imply.”—Philip Toynbee

From the Inside Flap

Martin Lynch-Gibbon is serenely enjoying both a beautiful wife and a delightful lover. But when his wife, Antonia, suddenly leaves him for her psychoanalyst, Martin is plunged into an intensive emotional re-education. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

46 of 46 people found the following review helpful By bibliomane01 on August 16, 2001
Format: Paperback
In "A Severed Head," Iris Murdoch takes the bedroom farce to a whole new level. It's a tangled tale of love, adultery, deception, self-deception, jealousy and attempted suicide, all rendered with deadpan humour and with just enough darkness lurking behind the scenes to make it even more interesting. Many of Murdoch's novels have a central character cast as the master manipulator, but here it's never clear who is manipulating whom. The portrayal of the ponderous, rather smug protagonist is a masterpiece of sly character assassination and the immortal Honor Klein is...well, you'll have to read the book to find out. Heartily recommended.
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67 of 71 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 3, 2001
Format: Paperback
As an Iris Murdoch "junkie", I relish all of her works, and I'm still in the process of completing the list. My personal favorites have to be A Severed Head, The Sea, The Sea, Bruno's Dream and The Green Knight, so far. A Severed Head is particularly enjoyable because its plot is fast-moving and doesn't get sidetracked with lengthy philosophical or religious theory that is inherent in so many of her books. While I do enjoy examining these topics, it's also great just to get engrossed in a good story without having to think existentially, if you know what I mean. She has incredible talent as a novelist in developing characters, describing setting, developing plot and building suspense. She uses these gifts, combined with her great sense of humor, to bring her stories to an unanticipated climax, with an even more unexpected, and often happy, ending. She treats her readers as intellectual equals, which is a nice compliment, although I know I've come up short a few times -- particularly when one of her characters spouts off a phrase in a foreign language. It's the price you pay for good art, and I wouldn't change a thing. This book is a great jumping off point for new Iris Murdoch readers, who can then graduate to her lengthier, (and more philosophical) works later. Not many people can write like Iris Murdoch, and she is missed by many. Luckily, she left her legacy in her writings that we can all enjoy for many, many years to come.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By R. Rockwell on November 10, 2000
Format: Paperback
Honor Klein is one of the most fascinating of all of Murdoch's memorable characters. Murdoch uses humor deftly in this novel weaving a web of enchantment that underlies the more serious discussions of sex, human responsibility and morality. I will never forget the the scene in the cellar between Honor and Martin, the ride from the train station and the hilarious and touching final scene are etched in my memory forever. I have read hundreds of "serious" novels in my life and The Severed Head has become my favorite. With her recent death we lost one of the worlds best writers.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Anders Mark Andersen on March 25, 1999
Format: Paperback
What is so special about this book is the way in which it manages to balance the funny with the tragic, and the romantic with the demonic. It is extremely funny to see how the characters are affected by love, and how they are gradually transformed from rational beings into irrational and occasionally ridiculous beings. Some of the scenes are terrifically funny sometimes bordering on slapstick. In this sense "The Severed Head" reminded me of a typical Shakespearean comedy. But as is also known, comedy often, if not always, also has a more serious dimension which is perhaps not as lucid as the comic elements but is nonetheless tacitly present. For example one might question whether it is actually love which drives the characters towards eachother. Is it not rather desire and self-obsession, which is mistaken for love? Are the characters not just looking for something meaningfull, and trying to find a purpose with their existence? At the end of the book love no longer seems to mean love in the romantic sense since almost all of the characters have had affairs with eachother. Here we clearly see a quite serious and contemporary problem, is there such a thing as true love in modern society or is it all just a game without true feelings? For Geordie, one of the female characters in the book it is not all a game since she tries to commit suicide, because her lover, the protagonist of the story, has leaft her. To sum up, it was this blend of the comic and the tragic which for me made the story so good. Although the book is fairly old, it works 100 percent in our postmodern age where doubt and insecurity are some of the key characteristics. As the novel deftly exemplifies this can be treated and observed in many ways and in many modes, and this plurality should appeal to the contemporary reader in many ways.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Paul McGrath on July 5, 2001
Format: Paperback
This is my first foray into Iris Murdoch territory and I must say I am quite impressed. She writes with wit and vitality and there is much wisdom here also.

This story has to do with a group of people in contemporary (at least as of 1962, when the book was written), English aristocracy. They are all civilized and elegant and tasteful. The plot has to do with the various marital infidelities committed by each and every one of them, and their varying reactions to these discoveries.

The inclination of these people is to treat these things in a very civilized, low-key way. For example, there is an amusing scene in which the husband goes to get champagne to celebrate the announcement that his wife has found happiness by carrying on with . . . well, better not say too much. This emerges as an interesting theme. At want point does civility itself become immoral, when faced with immoral behavior? Must one continue to wear the famous vaunted, stoic, brave English face while inside one is churning with pain?

Well, one does if one recognizes that one is standing in the way of another's happiness. But what is happiness? Love? Perhaps, but another important theme of the novel is that love is not always what we think it is. Simple desire often clouds the issue, as does envy, or even baser motives, such as revenge. So how does civility fit in when faced with such complex and undefinable human emotions?

Ms. Murdoch offers no easy answers. In fact, the somewhat ambiguous ending would seem to indicate that humans--or at least upper-class English humans--will always flout convention when pursuing happiness. Or love. Or the perception of these.

This a fine novel. Although towards the end it careens into farce, one does not have to be an expert in the manners of mid-century English society to recognize what are, indeed, universal themes.
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More About the Author

Iris Murdoch (1919-1999) was one of the most influential British writers of the twentieth century. She was awarded the 1978 Booker Prize for The Sea, The Sea, won the Royal Society Literary Award in 1987, and was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1987 by Queen Elizabeth. Her final years were clouded by a long struggle with Alzheimer's before her passing in 1999.

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