Iris Murdoch writes strange novels. There’s an element of the grotesque in them that is not quite the same as say a Gothic novel or especially an American novel, but her characters are often quite capable of true horrors and awfulness without the kind of severity and cruelty of a Heathcliff but also not with the kind of detached irony of a parodic or satirical one. On the other hand, characters like Charles Arrowby might just be the most cruelly ironic evil character I can imagine.
In this novel, though, it’s something in the middle of all that. We have Henry, recently returned to London to collect his birthright after the death of his brother Sandy and we have Cato, a struggling priest whose best efforts to let his cloth hide his suppressed homosexuality are failing. Henry’s and Cato’s have a past together, and as the title of the novel suggests, a future. We begin with a salacious scene of Cato throwing a hidden gun off a bridge into the river, which sets a kind of tone for the novel, but more so one of reversals than certainties.
As the novel progresses Henry is generally not a good person, but also not evil, and Cato is more complex and interesting than his initial few moments suggest. They become entangled as Beautiful Joe, a protege of Cato’s has his eyes on Henry’s money, and hatches a plan to win it. Henry, for his part, befriend, and then falls in love with Stephanie, his dead brother’s apparent fiance, while fending off Collette, Cato’s teen sister who falls for Henry.
All of this swirls and swirls to handful of climactic collisions.
The novel, then, is a kind of modernish and ironic sort of Brighton Rock (the novel by Graham Greene), without so much of the Catholic parts, and told not from the narrative perspective of Pinkie, the embodiment of lapsed evil, but from those around him. It’s an interesting book, and quite readable (some of her later novels are repetitive and tedious at times), but ultimately it never quite has the punch of say The Black Prince or absolute magic of The Sea The Sea.