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IN BRIEF

Fiction

February 25, 1996|SUSAN SALTER REYNOLDS

JACKSON'S DILEMMA by Iris Murdoch (Viking: $22.95; 249 pp.). God bless the British. Do you think they have more free time than we do? They certainly explore, in detail that seems far more painstaking than our fictional examinations of daily life in America, the ins and outs of social obligations and love relationships in a social context. Indeed, the social context is often the most compelling character--the web and not the spiders, who, in this novel as in many of Murdoch's other books, are at best bumbling and lovable, at worst insipid and self-absorbed. First off, everybody loves everybody and wants only the best for everyone else in the book. Then, there's a botched marriage and Edward is stood up, which turns out to be a good thing, because of something in his past that I can't tell you, and, anyway, Marian loves someone else, and there's the estate and Benet, who tries (quite good-naturedly) to organize everyone else's life but his own, which has Jackson in it (Jackson is his mysterious, Christ-like, centrifugal servant) and, most interesting of all, Anna's son Bran, who also has the sight. About three-quarters of the way through the novel (which for my taste is just a teeny bit too late), Murdoch must have had a few LaPhroiag's, because she really starts to have fun with her more mysterious characters and with history, will and fate. Back on the veranda, everyone couples up nicely and a stiff upper lip is had by all.

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