Friday, 19 December 2008

Iris and the Friends - John Bayley

Earlier this year, I read the first part of the Iris trilogy, written by her husband, John Bayley. Iris and the Friends (1999) is the second book in this trilogy. More contemplative and reflective in style, this book is a mixture of childhood memories (Bayley's) and a more insightful look at life with Dame Iris Murdoch during her final couple of years, as Alzheimer's disease truly set in and manifested within her.

The 'friends' are not people, as such; instead, they are the personification of various symptoms of Alzheimer's. Bayley likened these symptoms to 'friends' who would visit from time to time and, on occasion, some would stay longer than others. Before the final, most difficult months, some of the friends were considered a reassuring part of the disease, returning for a while before being replaced by another. The friends visited in different orders, and not necessarily within rhyme nor reason.

These kinds of tales are more endearing than any romance athor could ever dream up; the ongoing compassion and love shown by Bayley as he cared for his wife right until the end of a difficult and tragic illness is beyond anything these stories try to portray. Bayley was honest: there were times when he lost his patience, got angry and shouted at Iris who, in turn, sat looking at him expectantly, and seemingly appeared not to notice his frustration. Then, he was back to it again, ever-patient and caring. Amazing.

I hope to read the final book in the trilogy, Widower's House (2001) over the summer break.

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