Several years have passed since I last encountered a book by Annie Dillard, but her images remain as strong in the memory as Proust's madeleine. Her gaze concentrates on the ordinary until it is transformed into the transcendent: a tree so intensely colored that it gives off light; a sky's invisible clouds revealed only in reflected images on the surface of a glassy lake; a bowl of pond water where one-celled creatures are visible to the naked eye.
The literary critic John Bayley has written a deeply affecting lament for his late wife, the philosopher and novelist Iris Murdoch, as she disappeared into the insidious fog of Alzheimer's. She died at roughly the same time the book was published, in January of this year. Yet Bayley's book is not only a threnody; it is also an epithalamium, a nuptial hymn offered in praise of their 40-some years of marriage.