Thursday, July 16, 2009

Iris Murdoch's Kitchen

"Lunch was over. The sunlight revealed the grey newspaper stuck to the kitchen table by layers of grease, two burnt saucepans and a boiled-over mess upon the stove, a wide scattering of crumbs and cigarette ends upon the floor, a group of milk bottles containing various levels of coagulated sour milk, and a mass meeting of the pink transparent beetles in a far corner."

This passage appears on page 92 of Henry and Cato which was Iris Murdoch's 18th published novel. I am rereading it at present because my daughter is in England and her absence from San Francisco is quite palpable. Henry and Cato is for me deeply associated with her presence because I read it the first time in the year it came out, which was 1976, and that was also the year of my daughter's birth. Unsurprisingly, the book still glows with the joyous light of that amazing year in which everything glowed.

But the particular passage quoted here is not associated with my daughter. I quote it because it makes me laugh. Every Iris Murdoch novel has at least one description of a squalid kitchen. Often there are several. Years ago I thought about writing an article examining this odd, consistent motif. One afternoon I even went up into the stacks of the library where I worked then (and where I still work) to page through her books, looking for the kitchen descriptions. That was entirely frustrating, because I couldn't find any. But even if I had located every single one, what was there to say about them? Nothing much, except that they always make me laugh.