The Sacred and Profane Love Machine by Iris Murdoch

Hubby recently confessed to an affair with a younger woman, who became pregnant. That was nine years ago and the child, a boy called Luca, is now eight. Hubby still visits the woman, Emily, and rents a flat for her, though he swears he doesn’t love her and maintains contact only because of Luca. I was shocked, obviously, but my initial reaction was to hug him.  He needs all my love and support, poor man.

I want to establish a relationship with Emily. I think she must be very unhappy. First I insisted Hubby took me round to her flat for a surprise visit. Emily told Hubby to leave and we talked alone for a bit before she told me to go.

Then I asked Hubby to bring Emily over to our house for a cup of tea and a chat. She’s not someone I’d normally be friends with but I want her to agree to let us pay to send Luca to a private school. I’d like to adopt Luca. I can’t understand why our own son David doesn’t like him being around all the time.

When Emily was leaving, on the spur of the moment I invited her over for drinks on Saturday and suggested she brings her flat-mate, Pinn, who Hubby has mentioned several times. Do you think I’m doing the right thing?

By now I expect / hope you’ll have realised that the above is pure fiction. It’s actually the plot of The Sacred and Profane Love Machine (part of it, at least). But when did the penny drop? Was it when the confession of infidelity was met with a hug instead of sobbing and screaming? Was it the readiness to socialise with the “other” woman? Or perhaps the attachment to a “cuckoo”?

You get the picture. I don’t know anyone who would act like the wife (Harriet) or the ‘mistress’ (Emily). I don’t believe the husband (Blaise) would simultaneously be in love with these two women, or that his author-neighbour (Monty) would invent a fictional patient for him as a pretext for visiting Emily. I don’t believe in Monty’s friend, the classical scholar / buffoon Edgar, or Emily’s friend / flat-mate Pinn, or Pinn’s unlikely French friend, nubile teenager Kiki Le Foy.

The only character that is believable in any way is Harriet’s ‘true’ child, the disaffected teenager, David. After Harriet breaks the news of his father’s affair David laments “Oh if only I could take my mother away and never know of these things again. But it was impossible, the machine would go on and on and nothing would stop it.” It’s a nod to the title and arguably the most genuine emotional reaction in the novel.

So…the subject matter is brutal (and I haven’t even mentioned Monty’s relationship with his dead wife, yet) and the characters are unbelievable. On the upside the novel is beautifully written, which possibly explains why The Sacred and Profane Love Machine won the Whitbread novel of the year award in 1974.

Rating * Worth a try but not for me.

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