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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on October 20, 2001
A perfectly Shakespearian comedy. Three, practically four, weddings like in As You Like It (four) or A Midsummer Night's Dream (three). The threads are so entangled that everyone is about to marry the wrong matches. Luckily some Puck-like Jackson appears in the picture and sets things right, with the help of a twelve-year-old boy.
Iris Mirdoch is quite apt at organizing sentimental suspense, bends and U-turns in the plotline, and at evoking the perverse atmosphere of a place where everything is wrong, the chaotic drama and then the cleansing of the mess and the thoroughly happy atmosphere of the crowning weddings.
Jackson comes from nowhere, has to go no one knows, not even him, where, and is there to sort out odd ends and unmatched couples. He brings the right ones to the right others, and he brings happiness.
But his alter ego is Benet, the wall-named, since his name means « dumb » or even « retarded » meaning late in historical time. He is the one who creates havoc by insisting on some totally wrong unions. This creates a new level of reading. The rich, the upper class, high society, are nothing but the psychiatric ward of the social hospital. They are all spaced out and corrugated, and their treatment comes from a guardian angel who makes them comb out straight their disorderly interlaced hairs.
The end is just mysterious but serene and it shifts from Jackson to the little boy who is understood as the naive Ariel of so many Shakespearian comedies. And we are at the beginning of a new stage, just like the sunshine breaks through after The Tempest.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on June 12, 2004
The truth is that this book is, while not bad, surely not as good as Murdoch can be. Of course, she was a victim of Alzheimer's, and this was was her last book. But it is important to warn readers to do a deep reading of the literary criticism given to the book. Critics, obviously aware of Murdoch's illness, wanted to be kind - she is a powerhouse of a genius after all. But the book, while engaging, takes a long time to become truly absorbing, and even then, the story's inconsistencies remain and are impossible to ignore. Nonetheless, Jackson's Dilemma is a good read, and I do genuinely appreciate it.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on May 28, 2001
Iris Murdoch's death is a great loss but she leaves such a wonderful, rich legacy. Jackson's Dilemma is much lighter on philosophy than previous books and is by no means among her stongest (for me, The Unicorn, A Severed Head, The Flight from th Enchanter, but it is hard to select when the picking's are all so ripe). Despite that it is still a good read, particulary for those readers not familiar with Dame Murdoch, and this could, hopefully, lead these readers further into the treasure trove left behind by the very sad passing of the author. All the basic themes and situations that Dame Murdoch likes to play with are in Jackson's Dilemma, from the the antic comings and goings of friends and lovers to the observer who knows something no one else does know. A good read.
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12 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Never read Murdoch before, and unfortunately this awful book doesn't seem like the place to have started either. After finishing it, I discovered she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's right after completing the manuscript-which goes a long way toward explaining how such an acclaimed author could produce such a monumentally uninteresting book. Another somewhat telling thing I discovered is that the reviewers of this book seem fairly evenly split between describing it as a comedy and describing it as a mystery, of which it is neither.
The rough gist of the book is that there is a circle of upper-class Brits who have become friends over the years, plus an enigmatic butler/manservant Jackson. One of the circle is to wed another, when complications arise, sending the whole group into a tizzy. Secret longings are revealed, secret pain and guilt expounded on, endless pontificating and empty philosophizing ensure. I suppose it's vaguely reminiscent of Austen, with various upper-class, and poor hanger-on's all repressing themselves until, in an orgy of Shakespearean homage, everyone gets duly paired off with the behind the scenes assistance of Jackson (can you say "Puck"?).
It sounds vaguely enjoyable, but it isn't. First of all, it's not funny in the slightest. Ever. Secondly, as a satire of the upper class it's halfhearted. Yes, they're all self-absorbed idiots in one way or another, requiring the practical blue-collar help of Jackson to put anything right. But it's a very gentle and loving satire, with no teeth whatsoever, and therefore fails to leave an impression. Thirdly, it's not suspenseful in the slightest. For there to be suspense, there must first exist characters that one cares about, and there are none here. There are some things to be curious about (what's Jackson's story), but nothing that is engaging on anything but the most superficial level. Finally, as writing, it's pretty bad. Given the tremendously stilted dialogue, and bizarre repetitions in some passages, one has to assume that Murdoch was beginning to lose the plot already and that no editor dared point out some of the obvious weaknesses.
Best to skip this and concentrate on her earlier work.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on April 25, 2013
I was very impressed by The Sea, the Sea and I really enjoyed The Philosopher's Pupil, but this reads like a third rate romance novel. A decline in her ability is noticeable and I read it with sympathy. I retain enormous respect for her, but I cannot recommend this novel. It lacks the sparkle and magic of the previous two and I found it quite boring. I am grateful for the earlier novels.
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8 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on July 6, 1998
Fans of Dame Iris Murdoch will be disappointed in this last book by the writer before she contracted Alzheimers. Very Murdochian in plot but does not live up to her early novels...she will be missed.
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2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
To be fair to Iris Murdoch, I suggest that a first-time Murdoch reader avoid choosing Jackson's Dilemma for a first exposure to Murdoch. Not knowing that this was her last novel I began my Murdoch adventure at a disadvantage. Although I found the novel interesting it was definitely unsatisfying because her concept of Jackson was not well enough developed. In light of recent research regarding the effect of Alzheimers Disease on her writing, I'll certainly read some of her earlier novels.
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1 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on February 22, 2009
This was the first book by Murdoch I'd read (listened to) - a big mistake. It is AWFUL. Without her name it would never have been published. Though trying to be set in the time of writing (she mentions the Holocaust) it is really 1910. None of the characters have jobs or even think of working, spend half the book telephoning each other or staying home to get a call (answering machines don't seem to exist) and the other half driving back and forth from their country houses to their London houses. (They make do without servants in their London houses.)

There is no plot, just one thread of a story, and the point of focus jumps from one character to another for no reason. Almost at the end two characters who haven't opened their mouths before suddenly declare love
and, naturally, propose immediate marriage (in 1995?) to two other peripheral characters - as if this novel had just divided into two daughter novels.

All the characters who are at all developed are unlikable, the others unbelievable. Jackson seems to be treated as a Symbol but of what I couldn't make out, since he is hardly present for most of the book and does almost nothing.

The total impression is of a kaleidoscope where the glass bits are just pieces of broken bottles.
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1 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on March 3, 2007
My dilemma was whether to finish this annoying book or not. My choice was to finish it, hoping it would be redeemed by the clarification of Jackson's Dilemma at last. It was not.

I found the dialogue repetitive, overly sentimental, hard to follow (like very bad stream of consciousness)and the characters, other than Owen and Jackson, uninteresting people with too little to do and too much time to think about it.

There was some plot resemblence to A Midsummer Night's Dream, or A Winter's Tale, but in this book at least, Iris Murdoch is no Shakespeare.

Unfortunately for me, this was my first Iris Murdoch. It will be awhile before I pick up another.
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