As well as being Iris Murdoch's biographer, Conradi was her disciple and close friend, and towards the end of her life, her carer. In Murdoch's centenary year, this multi-stranded and deeply thoughtful memoir provides a more much personal account of their friendship than his official biography could. It takes in Conradi's upbringing in an upwardly mobile European Jewish family, his life in London as a gay man before homosexuality was decriminalised, his part in the early campaigns for gay rights, becoming a Buddhist, and finding peace in the Welsh Marches.
Even if you don’t think you want to know about Conradi’s forebears, and aren’t particularly keen on raking over various niggling confusions and clarifications to do with his 2001 biography of Murdoch, I recommend this book, because he writes thoughtfully and well. Born on VE Day, he has clearly been thinking too hard, and worrying too much, since the age of about two. Growing up as the son of warring parents, he writes:‘I acquired a lifelong tendency to hyper-vigilance: looking for danger.’ He quotes Henry James: ‘I have the imagination of disaster.’
Family Business, out in June, is less chronological narrative, more a pot pourri of past and present, a very personal, cultivated and richly documented story — or perhaps quest — through seven decades that shook social convention like a wet dog. ... In the biography of Murdoch he published two years after her death, Conradi exercised protective caution; 18 years on, his aperçus on the novelist whose towering oeuvre spanned 20 years, are fascinatingly frank, offering glimpses of her open marriage, her many affairs with men and women, her view that one could love multiple people at once but that each should, as Bayley chronicled, be special and separate, as innocent as in the Garden of Eden.