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Elegy for Iris Paperback – November 20, 1999

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Elegy for Iris + Losing My Mind: An Intimate Look at Life with Alzheimer's
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 275 pages
  • Publisher: Picador (November 20, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312253826
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312253820
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.9 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #420,267 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In one of literary history's ghastlier ironies, Iris Murdoch, the author of such highly intellectual and philosophical novels as A Severed Head and Under the Net, was diagnosed in 1994 with Alzheimer's disease, which slowly destroys reasoning powers, memory, even the ability to speak coherently. Her husband, English literary critic John Bayley, unsparingly depicts his wife's affliction in prose as elegant and accessible as hers always was. Readers may wince at the spectacle of Murdoch glued to the TV watching the Teletubbies program, unable to perform tasks as simple as dressing herself and prey to devastating anxiety as the world becomes less and less comprehensible to her. We understand Bayley's occasional fits of rage when his caretaking chores overwhelm him. Yet in the end his memoir is touching, even inspiring. As he recalls their first meetings and marriage in the 1950s, it becomes clear that theirs was always an unconventional union, in which solitude was as important to each of them as togetherness and Bayley was content to let Murdoch keep her inner life to herself. He loves Iris, the woman, not the intellect, and he conveys an essential sweetness about his wife that endures even as her mental faculties deteriorate. This totally unsentimental account of their life and her illness is nonetheless a heartbreaker. --Wendy Smith --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

It is seldom that someone at once so brilliant and so visible as novelist Iris Murdoch develops Alzheimer's disease in full public view; seldom, also, that a sufferer from this dreadful malady has so skilled and loving an interpreter by her side. Bayley, a noted literary critic (and, recently, novelist) in his own right, has been married to Murdoch for 40 years, and part of the charm of this enormously affecting memoir lies in the ways in which he shows the affections of old age as in no way slower than the passions of youth. Murdoch was already a dashing and rather mysterious figure when she and Bayley met in the Oxford of the 1950s; she was a philosophy don at a women's college who had just written a much-admired first novel; he was a bright, rather naive graduate student. Something mutually childlike clicked between them, however, and a naked swim in the River Isis (which later became a fond habit lasting even into Iris's illness) cemented their loving friendship. Writing with great tenderness and grace, Bayley evokes their long, warm, mutually trusting marriage, and introduces in the gentlest way the moments, four years ago, when he realized that his wife's sense of reality and of herself were slipping away. She is now anxious, repetitious and often nonsensical in her speech, but still suffused with the same quizzical sweetness and absolute trust he loved in her from the start. Few people afflicted with an Alzheimer's partner can be as self-effacing and endlessly patient as Bayley, but in a way almost as mysterious as the creation of a Murdoch novel, he evokes depths of understanding and warmth that seem scarcely ruffled by the breezes of the conscious mind. This beautiful book could hardly help being deeply consoling to anyone thus afflicted; it is also a compelling study of the overthrow of a remarkable spirit. First serial to the New Yorker.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

The book is very descriptive of their life together.
Frank Richards
Almost finished my read of this book and dreading the end; in a good way.
So says a testament to quiet strength, bravery and love.
Matthew Weaver

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

41 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Lev Raphael on August 23, 2000
Format: Paperback
If you've lost a loved one to dementia, whether caused by Alzheimer's or strokes, you know that this dreadful change in your life can be--as a woman in Elegy for Iris notes so terribly--like "being chained to a corpse." You may feel you exist in a perpetual state of mourning, and release seems impossibly distant since the process of degeneration can last for a decade, fifteen years, or more.
Four years ago before this book was published, Alzheimer's began to chip away at acclaimed novelist Iris Murdoch and she started to lose memories, associations and connection with herself. Her husband of forty years, English critic John Bayley, has written a memoir about this escalating series of losses that is imbued with admiration, love, and gentle humor. Bayley compellingly interweaves descriptions of his wife's sad deterioration with stories of their courtship and long, contented marriage. What is remarkable about this narrative (which needed better editing, however), is that despite the very real tragedy of Alzheimer's, he is not bitter or self-pitying, and what links him and his wife now is anything but a chain.
Murdoch and Bayley seem to have given each other the freedom to live complete lives, however they needed to, and that freedom was a profound tie. "We were together because we were comforted and reassured by the solitariness each saw and was aware of in the other," he observes. And tracing their growing love for one another, he makes one envy the balance they found between separateness and companionship (which counterpoints their domestic squalor). From the earliest days onward, marriage and solitude were not contradictions for them.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 17, 2001
Format: Paperback
(...) I have been interested in Iris Murdoch for a long time, not really having a clue as to what her novels might be like, what I should expect from her; should I steel myself and keep guard, or quite to the contrary - open the door to her literary world and let myself immerse in it completely. As is consistent with my long-standing ritual, I approach the writer from unusual angles - this has certainly been the case with Iris Murdoch. Instead of listening to friendly spirits telling me this and that, I acted spontaneously, and started my exploration from a postmortem memoir written by her husband, John Bayley. Exploration it shall be, for having read this volume, I am absolutely certain to release the internal guard, and open the door to the unknown world of Iris.
The memoir is an elegy for Iris, and it is not a typical biography, for it is written by her husband, with whom she spent over forty years together. Just like their marriage was, the introduction of Bayley to Iris was awkward, and I couldn't help but smile at Bayley's admission to his shortcomings as an admirer of Iris back in the fifties. Romantic at heart, helpless in practice, Bayley manages to attract Iris, and the story is indeed enchanting, even if told with such a burden of perspective of what happened later, or rather, just as he was writing the memoir. As is often the case with academics, they live in an unreal world of unmet expectations, sharpened visions and blurred emotions. Such was Iris; such has been Bayley. Every now and then the romantic and yet very earthly story of their early years and then marriage is interrupted with the present day reality of Iris terminal case of Alzheimer's disease. Interrupted, yes, but never disturbing.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth Hendry VINE VOICE on June 27, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This book is heartbreakingly beautiful. Bayley loved his wife, Iris Murdoch, so deeply, and on so many levels and that love comes across beautifully in this book. Bayley brings us into the intimate private world that he and Murdoch shared. As a longtime fan of Iris Murdoch, I am thankful for the insight into her life and her work. This book is very personal, so much so that I don't think it can be read in one sitting, but rather should be savoured slowly and deliberately. I remember the sadness I felt hearing that she had Altzheimer's and then hearing that she died. This book brings back that sadness, but it comes back stronger because it also brings John Bayley's sadness. That is not to say that this book is a "downer" on any level. Quite the contrary. John Bayley has constructed a beautiful book focused mainly on his love for his wife, and how the love between them grew, from his first sighting of her riding a bicycle to the time when he wrote this book, as she was suffering from the ravages of the disease.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 29, 1999
Format: Hardcover
When one considers that John Bayley can write ANYTHING about his wife, Iris Murdoch, because she will never be able to read his words, what he chose to write is fascinating. First of all his modesty: he remains an admiring swain to the end of the book, taking very seriously the job of adding to the world's knowledge of his famous wife. Yet I ended the book thinking that I would like very much to meet this man. He makes me think of the male companion in the Miss Marple series, supportive and not resentful about his place in the background.He quietly brings up instances where he believes that his insights helped Iris with her fiction, but he needn't have even done so. By the end of the book, it is obvious why she must have valued the relationship. Besides the scenes of daily life in the working lives of the couple,this book offers comfort to anyone who has loved a person and has experienced that person's decline from dementia. The manner in which Bayley talks about married solitude and then contrasts this with the bondage of 24-hour care for the declining Murdoch left me feeling for the first time that I could begin to understand how love can transform the people involved. It was a wonderful book. I'm only sorry I didn't know about Bayley before, and I hope that he lives to write more about his own life after the death of Iris. The only reason I didn't give it five stars is that sometimes I became a little sleepy reading the details. It was as if I was sitting across the table from Bayley, listening to the monologue of a grieving and grateful man filling the hours with his thoughts, those hours that would have been spent talking with Iris Murdoch or working, uninterrupted, on his scholarship. Yet, I wouldn't have edited out anything.
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