Iris, you let me down on this one. Having read nine of your novels, I’ve come to expect three elements in perfect balance: strong characterizations, especially of hapless or arrogant male protagonists, moral dilemmas, and a certain “talkiness” in the prose. The Good Apprentice had all these elements, but they were out of balance and failed to deliver an enjoyable reading experience.
Murdoch’s protagonist is Edward Baltram, a young man who played a prank that went horribly wrong and resulted in a friend’s death (this is not a spoiler; it happens in the first few pages). Edward is fortunate not to be charged with a crime, but he is devastated and knows his life is permanently changed. His family throws a dinner party to help him “get over it,” which is mostly a way for Murdoch to introduce a broad cast of characters. We meet his stepfather Harry, Harry’s son Stuart, Edward’s aunt Midge and uncle Tom, and Ursula, the family physician. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the dinner party fails to lift Edward’s spirits. He decides he’ll escape to the country and reunite with his biological father Jesse, and Jesse’s wife and adult daughters.
Flip ahead about 100 pages, and you’ll find Edward settled in Jesse’s house, surrounded by quirky relatives and still wandering around morose and confused. And you’ll also find Stuart, a religious fanatic, in endless philosophical dialogue with Tom, and Midge thinking way too much about how to shorten a dress and insert a new panel of fabric.
Amazon calls this book, “Funny and compelling, … at once a supremely sophisticated entertainment and an inquiry into the spiritual crises that afflict the modern world.” Sorry, but I found it repetitive and boring. I’m sure Murdoch’s symbolism and ideas become clearer by the end of the book, but I just didn’t have the patience to struggle through more than 550 pages.