Henry and Cato

Henry and Cato

by Iris Murdoch

This is the story of two prodigal sons.

His friend Cato is struggling with two passions, one for a God who may or may not exist, the other for a petty criminal who may or may not be capable of salvation.

  • Language: English
  • Category: Fiction
  • Rating: 3.83
  • Pages: 400
  • Publish Date: October 27th 1977 by Penguin Books
  • Isbn10: 0140045694
  • Isbn13: 9780140045697

What People Think about "Henry and Cato"

La autora está firmemente convencida de la importancia de la novela en el desvelamiento de la complejidad del ser humano y del poder del arte para sacarnos y salvarnos de nosotros mismos. Para disfrutar su obra hay que aceptar su juego, entrar sin prejuicios en su mundo particular, un mundo muy parecido al nuestro -Murdoch es una novelista de corte realista e incluso con un cierto estilo decimonónico-, pero en el que no son raros los sucesos azarosos y extraños, los giros impredecibles, las inspiraciones repentinas y fortuitas de sus personajes capaces de cambiar por completo su visión del mundo y de ellos mismos, y, de paso, la que nosotros nos habíamos formado de ellos; es necesario aceptar sus claves, no siendo la menos importante el patetismo de nuestra condición (Los seres humanos siempre se las ingenian para fomentar su propio infortunio) digna de compasión (la vida es una ópera bufa en la juventud.... Murdoch nos vuelve a habla del azar, de la fragilidad e inseguridad del ser humano, de la culpa y la redención, de la importancia e inevitable necesidad de símbolos, de puntos de referencia que nunca serán definitivos (Se puede llegar lejos pero no más allá); del consuelo que nos procura la liturgia de la religión o el arte, fuentes inspiradoras en un mundo donde dios ha muerto; del drama de la vejez y la muerte (La muerte es lo que más nos instruye de todas las cosas, y solo cuándo se encuentra presente. "El amor es el último y secreto nombre de todas las virtudes." Para todo aquel que sienta el deseo de conocer este mundo particular, Que el espíritu del amor y de la verdad y de la paz habiten en tu corazón, ahora y siempre.

As with all of Iris Murdoch's books, "Henry and Cato" is an unpredictable story with really thought-provoking aspects. Murdoch typically plays around with the element of contingency, with the result that the reader has no idea where the plot is heading and the characters themselves are taken off guard by events. For readers who enjoy in-depth character portrayal and the exploration of philosophical and psychological conundrums, this makes for a very satisfying read.

This is my second Murdoch novel and I find her characters rather tiresome with their self-absorbed posture. The dialogue between Cato and his friend in the final chapter about the unknowability of God and the opposition between certainty and faith seemed to be hinting at a key to unlock the meaning of this story, but I could not figure out how to use it.

It's a subtle reminder to the contemporary reader of how Murdoch draws on a style and setting rooted in the 19th century despite the post-war existential crises of her characters. In a single compact paragraph Iris Murdoch performs a sensory immersion on the old wrought iron bridge. Is Cato now responsible for Joe? As confessor is Cato fulfilling his spiritual commitment or is he a captive audience, both enabling and colluding with Joe's fantasies? Joe Beautiful Joe Murdoch's characters wrestle with doubt and delusion and with her third person point of view she provides the reader with a front row seat. Meanwhile, Cato's childhood friend Henry Marshalson, age 32 and employed at a third-rate liberal arts college in rural Missouri, is rejoicing. Like Cato, Henry feels he has emerged into sunlight. Murdoch's narrative alternates between Cato and Henry, but places the events simultaneously in time. Rounding out the cast of characters are Lucius, Gerda's emotionally dependent, past his prime, permanent boarder; Collette, Cato's younger sister who may be in love or may be merely infatuated with Henry; Stephanie who had some mysterious connection to Sandy; and Brendan Craddock, Cato's confessor, friend, and spiritual mentor whose arguments resemble the intonations of a Greek chorus. Gerda is disappointed with both Lucius and Henry. Lucius and Henry are disappointed with themselves. A love scene between Henry and Stephanie seems cut from a Victorian melodrama. There are frequent shifts between the Cato sections and the Henry sections.

3.5 stars Henry and Cato, the two title characters of Iris Murdochs eighteenth novel are young men in their early thirties who were friends as children yet have grown apart as the years have gone by. We also have Catos father John Forbes a strident man who believes that education is the only worthwhile path to follow, Colette, his daughter who is one of those willowy young women that populate Murdochs novels, leading with her heart and pining for love and finally Stephanie who, despite her opaqueness and apparent fragility, is surprisingly intriguing and for me it is the women who are the most enjoyable element of this novel. Henry and John Forbes are both misogynistic, believing that they are sympathetic to women while at the same time convinced that they know whats best for the women in their lives and that they are weak and stupid.

And then I asked myself "why?" after all Murdoch was a defender of Plato and believed that good would win over evil, and that one could better oneself. I thought maybe Beautiful Joe should win perhaps in his creepy way, and I even feared it until I came to my senses and realized this was an Iris Murdoch book.

As with all of Murdoch's novels, the reader has a sense that she is a simmering volcano of ideas, and there is not world enough and time to even begin to fathom the depths of her capacity. You're not allowed to write novels nowadays in the way this one is constructed, with the first 20% of the book being unintegrated exposition, an excellent example of telling rather than showing.