This is my favorite Murdoch novel so far.
“A lay community of thoroughly mixed-up people is encamped outside Imber Abbey, home of an enclosed order of nuns. A new bell, legendary symbol of religion and magic, is rediscovered. Dora Greenfield, erring wife, returns to her husband. Michael Mead, leader of the community, is confronted by Nick Fawley, with whom he had disastrous homosexual relations, while the wise old Abbess watches and prays and exercises discreet authority. And everyone, or almost everyone, hopes to be saved, whatever that may mean….Iris Murdoch’s funny and sad novel has themes of religion, the fight between good and evil, and the terrible accidents of human frailty.”
The leader of the community is essentially a pedophile, having had an almost chaste affair 20 years ago with a 14 year old boy at the school where he was teaching. The boy ridden with guilt, squeals to the headmaster, claiming he was pressured and that the affair was actually more than it was, ruining the man’s career. That boy, now a grown man, shows up at the lay community to be with his twin sister. The leader of the community, after having managed to control himself all these years, is set up to be the mentor of an 18 year old boy who is coming to the community to work for a month before beginning university. Our ped falls in love sort of with this kid, and falls off the wagon and kisses the kid.
Meanwhile, Dora has married some kind of controlling weird guy, and has left him, but he is doing some historical research at the grounds of this community, and she agrees to come and stay and see if they can reassemble their marriage.
It all revolves around a church bell. Well, two, actually. One was dumped in the lake centuries ago, and now finally a new one has been crafted to the cloistered nuns community and is to be delivered. Dora and the young man scheme to raise the sunken bell, and secretly replace the new one for the unveiling. On the big day, as the community hauls the new (old) bell over the wooden causeway to the nunnery, the causeway collapses, dumping the new (old) bell back into the drink.
It has a sort of all’s well that ends well finale, and it is all weird and strange, as are most of her books. But I really liked it. Full of nifty characters and odd situations.