Now we are together for the first time. We have actually become, as is often said of a happily married couple, inseparable, John Bayley writes of his current life with his wife Iris Murdoch. Murdoch, one of Britain's most learned and noted novelists, suffers from Alzheimer's disease, and Bayley's Elegy for Iris recounts their marriage in two sections tellingly named Then and Now. Togetherness, and the struggles the couple have with their peculiar brand of inseparability are Bayley's themes in his moving memoir. Bayley describes his romance with Murdoch with nostalgia, hearkening back to scenes of Oxford dons and bicycling around campus. After a dance, the two return to Bayley's apartment and begin to get acquainted, foreshadowing the extraordinary vulnerability and strength that will characterize their life together. She seemed to be giving way to some deep need of which she had been wholly unconscious: the need to throw away not only the maneuvers and rivalries of intellect but also the emotional fears and fascinations, the power struggles and surrenders of adult loving, Bayley writes. As he illustrates the beginnings of their love affair, Bayley never lets the present escape entirely, reminding the reader that Alzheimer's sufferers are not always gentle: I know that. But Iris remains her old self in many ways. Past and present are intertwined, imbuing Bayley's narrative with a sense of completeness. Throughout the narrative, Alzheimer's and its repercussions are never distant from even the most long-ago recollections.
With the image of a vibrant, younger Iris pedaling around Oxford in mind, scenes in the Now portion of his memoir seem poignant, but never saccharine. Bayley writes of Iris's love for the Teletubbies, her insistence on wearing trousers to bed, how difficult is it to travel with someone who keeps asking Where are we going? and can never remember the answer. In Elegy for Iris, Bayley demonstrates their experience as not necessarily negative, but alternative to most people's experiences of aging. As Bayley reminds us, She is not sailing into the dark: The voyage is over, and under the dark escort of Alzheimer's, she has arrived somewhere. So have I. Eliza McGraw is a graduate student in Nashville, Tennessee.