In Iris Murdoch’s Henry and Cato (1976), Henry Marshalson inherits the family estate when his brother Sandy dies.
Henry returns to the home where his mother Gerda still lives, with her kinda-sycophantic admirer, Lucius.
Cato lives nearby.
So does Colette.
Stephanie does not, but, because of her pre-existing relationship with Sandy, she becomes just as entwined with the characters’ lives too.
When readers meet Cato, he is tossing a gun into river, which is just how quickly things can turn in this story and how, even when things seem to be turning towards stability (say, away from the gun), chaos might ensure.
So many of these characters are struggling with matters of devotion (whether to the church or to a childhood sweetheart, to social expectations or to a fragile dependent).
Young and old, wealthy and poor: each of these characters confronts change:
“Have I come to the end of being a busy active sensible woman, and am now to become a useless whining spiteful old hag?”
It’s occasionally melodramatic, often sad, and sometimes funny – but always awkward.
And, as always, I came to this Murdoch novel expecting ruminations on philosophy, riffs on determinism, and rumblings about religion – but I left sniping and griping about broken hearts and selfish choices and letters that would have been better burned in the fireplace.
And I continued with Nuns and Soldiers (1980), which I also enjoyed.