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Widower's House: A Study in Bereavement, or How Margot and Mella Forced Me to Flee My Home Hardcover – June, 2001

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Following the February 1999 death of his wife of 44 years, novelist Iris Murdoch (whose lapse into Alzheimer's he chronicled in his bestselling Elegy for Iris), Bayley just wanted to live undisturbed, as "a widower in my own house." Yet he can't seem to get any peace and quiet with all the widows coming around an old friend of Iris's, a former student and hundreds of Murdoch fans who admire his sensitive account of his wife's decline and consider him the widower of their dreams. Bayley goes along, playing a passive but willing victim of their "well-meaning persecution," which involves household chores and chat as well as intimate companionship. (Perhaps the gentleman doth protest too much?) All the while, he's musing on the lack of a job description for widowerhood "being bereaved was not a career" while coming to terms with its unpredictability. Behind this curtain, another more subtle drama is unfolding: Bayley is letting go of his life with Murdoch. At first, his writing is filled with anecdotes about life with Iris, but by the end of the book, he's realizing he can't even picture the pre-Alzheimer's Iris anymore and that, in fact, he'd never really wanted to marry her. As Iris recedes, Bayley takes hold of his life again and remarries. Bayley's style is arch and self-critical, rather like that of one of Barbara Pym's skittish Oxford dons (no coincidence: Bayley, a literary critic, is a retired Oxford professor and Pym fan). Although precious at times, this memoir is engaging. (June)Forecast: Though too dark to become a mainstream pick-me-up for widowers, this may well become a letlles lettres classic.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Bayley, an accomplished literary critic and Oxford don, was married to the novelist Iris Murdoch for 44 years. Following Elegy for Iris (LJ 12/98) and Iris and Her Friends (LJ 10/15/99), this memoir is Bayley's third attempt to exorcise his grief over her death. As the subtitle intimates, it is really too different stories: a long meditation on the nature of bereavement and an irreverent tale of Bayley's efforts to escape the attentions of two designing women. Bayley's style is conversational yet elegant; his polished prose is sprinkled with literary and historical allusions, ranging from Viking history to the Booker Prize. Murdoch fans should be warned, however, that while the author recalls intimate details of his life with Iris, the book's focus rests squarely on Bayley's struggle with widowerhood. A pleasant, interesting read, this book is recommended for larger literature collections.
- William Gargan, Brooklyn Coll. Lib., CUNY
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1st edition (June 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393025616
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393025613
  • Product Dimensions: 0.7 x 0.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,941,344 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Eileen G. on August 11, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Literary critic John Bayley, husband of novelist Iris Murdoch and her devoted caregiver during the several years that she was infirm with Alzheimer's until her death last year, has written several personal and revealing books on the last days and the death of his wife. This is the third of his trilogy.
Bayley says early that after his wife's death, he felt afraid, and really quite unable to cope. Even old friends seemed frightening: "All old friends were now threats." Of his wife's effect on him he writes, "And although Iris was unaware of it in the old days, before she was ill I was always under her protection." A catastrophe, then, has occurred; he is alone in the world, and scared of the world. But she is gone, and he finds himself in demand, the object of solicitous attention and effort � but unable or unwilling to value the people, especially the women, who offer it. Of his situation he writes that widowers "don't lead lives. They wait for something to happen. And when something does happen, it becomes a muddle from which at once they have to try to escape." In fact, Bayley writes that he wants solitude, not company, but it is company that he is warmly and enthusiastically offered.
An old family friend, a widow, "Margot," extends courtesy, warmth, and a variety of selfless kindnesses to him. Margot brings him casseroles. Bayley confides to his reader that he dislikes casseroles, but it is an unendearing confession. Eventually he becomes reacquainted with "Mella," an enigmatic and unlucky young woman, a former student, who not only makes a series of good attempts to clean his famously squalid house, but also passes many not at all unpleasant hours with him. These two women shower the recalcitrant Bayley with attention and affection.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 29, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I'm sorry--I'm sure it's uplifting, for some, cathartic--but out of respect for one of my favorite novelists, who was a very PRIVATE person, I wish Bayley would keep his precious journaling to himself. Perhaps I, too, have kept diaries during and after the deaths of dear family members. Some of them quite well-known in their "fields." I have kept these to myself.
There seems to be a great need in Bayley to see himself as a special sort of caregiver, and to relegate Iris Murdoch to a sort of eccentric baby. You like reading this, you respect him for publishing it and getting money for it, you find it touching? Well, find five stars in place of my one.
I'm just, frankly, revolted, and horrified at all this. Perhaps I'm the only one! Though I got the book as well, just like the others, always looking for substance--of this I suppose there are different kinds. Has Mr. Bayley ever written a novel, I wonder? Or 26 of them? He's quite prolific in a small-book kind of way of see where I'm going, and here I will stop, for I've seen grief drive men mad on more than one occasion.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on December 6, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Widower's House: A Study Of Bereavment, Or How Margot And Mella Forced Me To Flee My Home is a wistful memoir of wit and openness, as author John Bayley continues his comedy of errors from a fresh vantage point. Bayley recounts Margot and Mella, whom he found to be only barely tolerable before the death of his wife Iris; after, they threatened to drive him insane with unwanted comfort, consolation, and fierce competition for his time and attention. Humorous, touching, and ultimately uplifting as Bayley learns how to mourn his wife and find joy in the present, Widower's House is not to be missed. Also recommended are Baley's previous two memoirs, Elegy For Iris, and Iris And Her Friends.
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Format: Hardcover
For those who enjoy the rhythms of JB's prose this is a nice sequence to the Iris books - and Iris pops in and out of this one too. This is his widower's house (not houses). Interestingly, this book has a bit of a plot to it. Less memories fade in and out so we hear less about JB's past life and spend more on the memoir's present. Rare occasions bring thoughts about Iris. There are interesting quotes to spice up the lot as in: "When men chose not to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing. They then become capable of believing in anything." -- G.K. Chesterton
All in all a pleasant read.
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