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VINTAGE CLASSIC MURDOCH: Funny, subversive, curious, fearless and fiercely intelligent, Iris Murdoch is one of the great writers of the 20th century. To celebrate her centenary Vintage Classics present a selection of some of her best and most engaging novels. ‘This is real life, Jake,’ she said. ‘You’d better wake up.’ Jake is clever and lazy and scraping a living as a hack VINTAGE CLASSIC MURDOCH: Funny, subversive, curious, fearless and fiercely intelligent, Iris Murdoch is one of the great writers of the 20th century. To celebrate her centenary Vintage Classics present a selection of some of her best and most engaging novels. ‘This is real life, Jake,’ she said. ‘You’d better wake up.’ Jake is clever and lazy and scraping a living as a hack translator. Jake loves Anna. Anna is an elusive and lovely singer. Anna loves Hugo. Hugo is a fireworks manufacturer turned movie producer and majestic philosopher. Hugo loves Sadie. Sadie is a glossy and dazzling film starlet. Of course, Sadie loves Jake. Then there's Marvellous Mister Mars, the famous hound, who might or might not be Jake's ticket up and out of this mess.


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VINTAGE CLASSIC MURDOCH: Funny, subversive, curious, fearless and fiercely intelligent, Iris Murdoch is one of the great writers of the 20th century. To celebrate her centenary Vintage Classics present a selection of some of her best and most engaging novels. ‘This is real life, Jake,’ she said. ‘You’d better wake up.’ Jake is clever and lazy and scraping a living as a hack VINTAGE CLASSIC MURDOCH: Funny, subversive, curious, fearless and fiercely intelligent, Iris Murdoch is one of the great writers of the 20th century. To celebrate her centenary Vintage Classics present a selection of some of her best and most engaging novels. ‘This is real life, Jake,’ she said. ‘You’d better wake up.’ Jake is clever and lazy and scraping a living as a hack translator. Jake loves Anna. Anna is an elusive and lovely singer. Anna loves Hugo. Hugo is a fireworks manufacturer turned movie producer and majestic philosopher. Hugo loves Sadie. Sadie is a glossy and dazzling film starlet. Of course, Sadie loves Jake. Then there's Marvellous Mister Mars, the famous hound, who might or might not be Jake's ticket up and out of this mess.

30 review for Under The Net: Vintage Classics Murdoch Series

  1. 5 out of 5

    Fabian

    The cocky narrator of "Under the Net" is precisely what all true antiheroes are (or should be) made out of. Roaming the streets of London like some vagabond (though money frequently touches his hands) & interacting with vile people, THIS is a true perpetual ode to laziness, the exact type of thing to spark my particular interest. The story is organic, its flow envious. Precious few writers can get away with such subtle themes and sensual undertow. It is eerie, weirdly & mysteriously symbolic. A The cocky narrator of "Under the Net" is precisely what all true antiheroes are (or should be) made out of. Roaming the streets of London like some vagabond (though money frequently touches his hands) & interacting with vile people, THIS is a true perpetual ode to laziness, the exact type of thing to spark my particular interest. The story is organic, its flow envious. Precious few writers can get away with such subtle themes and sensual undertow. It is eerie, weirdly & mysteriously symbolic. A more faithful rendition of London life had not crossed my eyes ever since Mrs. Dalloway. This novel is a true treasure, it's as delicious as revenge, as emblematic as Big Ben, and as readable & elegant a read as few books ever are.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Duane

    I may be alone in thinking this, but Iris Murdoch's main character here, Jake Donaghue, reminds me of Holden Caulfield of The Catcher in the Rye fame. Both are seriously separated from normality, and both take us on their disjointed, almost chaotic, trips around their respective cities; Jake in London and Holden in New York. Salinger's novel was published in 1951, Murdoch's in 1954, but I don't think there was any influence there, at least consciously, but their similarities struck me. But now o I may be alone in thinking this, but Iris Murdoch's main character here, Jake Donaghue, reminds me of Holden Caulfield of The Catcher in the Rye fame. Both are seriously separated from normality, and both take us on their disjointed, almost chaotic, trips around their respective cities; Jake in London and Holden in New York. Salinger's novel was published in 1951, Murdoch's in 1954, but I don't think there was any influence there, at least consciously, but their similarities struck me. But now over 60 years later, Holden Caulfield is certainly more famous than Jake Donaghue. Nevertheless, both novels are well entrenched in 20th century literary history, both appearing in Time Magazine's and Modern Library's best 100 novels list.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Trevor

    I loved this book. A first person narrative about a young man on a picaresque quest for love and friendship, with a good healthy dose of philosophy added in for good measure. The part of the story that stays with me is the story around Hugo. I think I liked most the idea that a friendship might end on the basis of an assumed betrayal and that the betrayal is one of the spirit and not one that occurred at all. Although, that is an interesting question in itself - does the person we feel we have be I loved this book. A first person narrative about a young man on a picaresque quest for love and friendship, with a good healthy dose of philosophy added in for good measure. The part of the story that stays with me is the story around Hugo. I think I liked most the idea that a friendship might end on the basis of an assumed betrayal and that the betrayal is one of the spirit and not one that occurred at all. Although, that is an interesting question in itself - does the person we feel we have betrayed have to feel betrayed to have been betrayed? This is the only of Murdoch's books I've ever read, but will read more now after this.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Bionic Jean

    Under the Net, from 1954, was the first published novel by Iris Murdoch, the distinguished academic, and professor of moral philosophy at Oxford University. As well as books on moral philosophy she wrote twenty-six critically acclaimed novels, one of which won the prestigious Booker prize. Yet Under the Net is sometimes dismissed as a light comic piece, in comparison with her later, lengthier novels. Certainly it can be read that way, as a humorous tale about a Bohemian young Irish man in London Under the Net, from 1954, was the first published novel by Iris Murdoch, the distinguished academic, and professor of moral philosophy at Oxford University. As well as books on moral philosophy she wrote twenty-six critically acclaimed novels, one of which won the prestigious Booker prize. Yet Under the Net is sometimes dismissed as a light comic piece, in comparison with her later, lengthier novels. Certainly it can be read that way, as a humorous tale about a Bohemian young Irish man in London, Jake Donoghue, who occasionally earns a crust by translating trashy French novels, but by and large has avoided getting a job, and as the blurb says “sponges off his friends”. However, appearances can be deceptive, and a closer look reveals that this novel is far more than that. Some critics now view it as her best work, and an excellent introduction to the philosophy of Existentialism. Our first clue to its depth is the title, Under the Net, which is a metaphor used by the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, in his famous work, “Tractatus”, of 1921. Wittgenstein believed that the deepest truths can never be fully verbalised. Although people might conceive of them, such truths are diminished by the limitations of language. He stated that any attempt to talk about, explain, or write a truth is similar to placing a net over the truth. Its effect is to blur the image, and make the truth less than perfect. Newtonian mechanics, Wittgenstein said, captures the world through the equivalent of a net, or many nets. The squares of the net determine how things are seen, which is different from that of a net with a triangular, or hexagonal weave: “To the different networks correspond different systems of describing the world, [and thus] this form is arbitrary.” This mesh may be fine or coarse, or its holes may be of different shapes, but it will always be regular, and represent an imperfect truth. We may have a unified form to describe the universe, but the selection of the form leads to a built-in inaccuracy. The novel can be seen as a process of revelation to Jake, that our subjective descriptions are apparent, and unreliable. They conform to our “Net”, and are not the world itself, which may slip away, Under the Net. However, Wittgenstein later referred to this work as meaningless nonsense, and in 1953 he totally rejected the concepts which he had originally published in “Tractatus”. Interestingly, Under the Net was published just a year later in 1954, and later in her own life Iris Murdoch too, professed to be embarrassed by her novel, saying that the writing was immature and juvenile. Nevertheless Wittgenstein’s influence remained clear in all her novels; she repeatedly demonstrated that life could only be shown, and not explained. Under the Net represents both the political and philosophical views which Iris Murdoch herself held at the time, but also her self-image. Although we think of her as a self-assured writer with many acclaimed works to her name, this was not always the case. This is not actually Iris Murdoch’s first novel, but merely the first one to be published; she had attempted to write five novels before this one. In 2010, a cache of letters was discovered, which reveal both the writer’s frame of mind at the time, and clarify to some extent its philosophical significance, which derives heavily from both Jean-Paul Sartre and Ludwig Wittgenstein. Her letters also show her insecurity, and how she struggled with her early, unpublished novels. She was finally to destroy a number of these early manuscripts in 1986. The 160 letters are to the popular French novelist, Raymond Queneau. They span 29 years, but most precede her marriage to the Oxford Professor of English Literature, John Bailey. She admired Raymond Queneau greatly as her mentor, looking to him both for intellectual stimulus and practical help. Queneau was a friend of Sartre: his works are said to have been a link between the Surrealists and the Existentialists. He was very interested in language, and some of his novels were written phonetically, rather than using conventional spelling. In some letters, Iris Murdoch wrote of the characters and plots she was working on. They show her filled with self-doubt, and even “hatred and contempt” for her writing, wondering whether she would “ever write something good”. One of these early works featured a “bogus scholar” and may have been instigated by Iris Murdoch’s own doubts about her intellectual stature. In 1947, when she took up the offer of a postgraduate scholarship to study Philosophy at Newnham College, Cambridge, she told Raymond Queneau that she had “started writing the novel about the Bogus scholar and the Archaic Goddess which has been in my head so long”. However, she later abandoned the novel, and confided to him her suspicion that what she had produced was “worthless”. In May 1946 she had told Raymond Queneau that she was inspired by a book by Whately Carington, a British parapsychologist and psychical investigator. A year later, while at Cambridge, she sent him a copy of Carington’s book “Telepathy”, saying that she was again working on a novel based on the idea. She may have returned to some of these ideas in later novels. Then in 1952, she referred to a work in progress: the story of struggling writer Jake Donoghue: “For some time now I have been writing a novel, a continuation of one I started two years ago. If it turns out to be any use (about this I still don’t know), I shall dedicate it to you.” Sure enough, Iris Murdoch’s first novel Under the Net is dedicated to him. Perhaps the extraordinary confidence and success of this first novel, was due in part to her willingness to abandon or destroy her early works. Under the Net tells the humorous adventures of Jake Donoghue, a picaresque hero, who was - significantly like the author - of Irish descent. Perhaps it is the mixture of the philosophical and the picaresque, which have made it one of Iris Murdoch’s most enduringly popular novels. In 1998, the editors of the American publishers “Modern Library”, named the work as one of the greatest English-language novels of the twentieth century. In 2005 Under the Net was chosen by the American magazine, “Time”, as one of the hundred best 20th century English-language novels from 1923 onwards. Ironically enough, Iris Murdoch herself was refused a visa to visit the United States, despite the fact that she had earned a scholarship from Vassar College in New York, because earlier, she had been a member of the Communist Party. During the 1930s, Iris Murdoch had read for a first degree in “Greats” (Ancient History, Classics, and Philosophy) at Somerville College, Oxford. After graduating, she worked as a civil servant. (It was during this time that she wrote the unpublished novels.) During the Second World War, she joined the “United National Relief and Rehabilitation Administration”, working in Belgium. She became fascinated by Existentialism, and especially the work of Jean Paul Sartre, the French philosopher and novelist. She wrote the first monograph about Jean-Paul Sartre to be published in English. Jake, the viewpoint character of Under the Net can be seen as exemplifying Existentialist philosophy, in his search for life’s meaning, and his quest for the truth. Jake’s quest begins as he walks down the street with his friend Finn, a man who seldom talks. However, Finn tells him that Madge: Magdalen Casement, a typist and Jake’s sometime girlfriend, has kicked them out of her house, where they have been living rent-free for eighteen months. Madge plans to get married to “Sacred Sammy”, (Sammy Starfield, a rich bookmaker). As Jake packs to leave, two of the books he takes are “Murphy” by Samuel Beckett, and “Pierrot mon ami” by Raymond Queneau. This choice signals the form this story will take; both are heavily referenced. “Murphy” is a story about an alienated young man who cannot hold down a job (view spoiler)[except for a temporary position as a male nurse in a mental hospital, which is echoed when Jake seeks out his first ever job, as a ward orderly (hide spoiler)] . Language in Beckett’s work is almost useless, as most of his characters try vainly to express what Wittgenstein concluded is inexpressible. There is also an introductory epigraph, from John Dryden’s “Secular Masque”, which is also a pointer, as it refers to the way in which the main character is driven from place to place by his misunderstandings. Wittgenstein said that any attempt to verbalise truth only results in lies and half-truths. This first scene gives us a perfect example. Jake had considered marrying Madge, but he could not commit to such a relationship. He does not want to leave Madge, but he does not want to marry her either. Madge does not really want to marry Sammy; she wants to marry Jake. But if Jake does not want to, she will find someone else to marry. Yet none of this is spoken. The character Finn, as he usually will, represents silence. It is only in silence that one remains truthful, according to Wittgenstein. There are to be many allusions to silence in this novel. And each character, as Jake makes contact with them, will reveal an aspect of the book’s philosophy. First, Jake goes to Mrs. Tinckham’s newspaper shop, to safely deposit some of his manuscripts. People tend to trust Mrs. Tinckham, and to her they will divulge their personal stories, knowing that she will keep them secret. Mrs. Tinckham, like Finn, also represents silence, and truth, and that is why she can be trusted. But is she very intelligent or very naïve? Just as one would have trouble defining truth, Jake has trouble defining Mrs Tinckham. He concludes: “Whatever may be the truth, one thing is certain, that no one will ever know it.” To know truth is to translate it, to put it into words. According to Wittgenstein, truth is beyond knowing. Jake’s quest next leads him to his friend Dave’s house. Dave Gellman is a philosopher, “a real one,” with whom Jake loves to discuss ideas. Yet no matter how much they talk, he finds that they never get anywhere. Jake tries to discuss various philosophical concepts from Hegel or Spinoza, which he did not fully understand. Dave often tells him that he does not understand Jake. “It took me some time,” Jake said “to realize that when Dave said he didn’t understand, what he meant was that what I said was nonsense.” This reflects Wittgenstein’s belief that all philosophers, including himself, could at best only write nonsense, because of the limitation of language. Jake finally gives up trying to talk philosophy with him, because “Dave could never get past the word.” When Dave mentions Anna Quentin, Jake suddenly feels he has a strong impulse to see her. She is, to him: “deep … an unfathomable being.” When he finds her (to complete the metaphor), she is the director of a theatre of mime: the “Riverside Miming Theatre”. Anna works with performers who move on the stage in silence, in order to portray the story. The audience is asked not to applaud: to keep the silence. Jake is disturbed by this silence, and finds it hard to face Anna. Significantly, as soon as she speaks, Jake says, “The spell was broken.” She had defined herself when she spoke, and imposed a limitation on the truth. Anna thus symbolises truth, although she is literally surrounded by fantastic appearances in the theatre. She is also, as truth is, very elusive. Jake is a seeker of truth, but it always frightens him. Although he is always drawn to her, Anna always seems to be slightly out of his reach. (view spoiler)[Towards the end of the novel, in Paris, he follows her, but is deceived by someone who looks like Anna. (hide spoiler)] Even when he catches her, he is afraid to confront her. In contrast, Anna’s sister Sadie is an actress: flashy and dazzling, but someone who always pretends, and in her personal life is also deceitful. Jake’s friends seem to present a paradox. Wittgenstein stated that language always imposes limitations on thought. This idea is proposed by one of the main characters, Hugo Belfounder. We hear a lot about Hugo Belfounder before he actually appears in the novel. Jake has looked up to Hugo ever since they met, at a medical research hospital, where the two of them had volunteered to be guinea pigs for a new cold remedy. Significantly, their first few days are silent, at Jake’s request, although they are roommates. It is Jake who breaks the silence, and from then on Jake is fascinated by this mild mannered and softly spoken intelligent man. The two have long philosophical discussions, which both enjoy so much that they enlist for a second medical experiment. Yet Jake has now lost touch with Hugo, quite deliberately, as Jake feels ashamed of what he has done. He wrote down what he could remember of his conversations with Hugo, editing them, and trying to make some things clearer. Originally this because he missed the discussions, and was attempting to relive them; to somehow capture and make sense of the truth. But he went on to present these discourses between the fictional “Annandine and Tamarus”, and publish them in a book, which he called “The Silencer”. Again this is a supremely ironic title, as the book is a conversation - words - about truth, which Wittgenstein stated could only be known in silence. Iris Murdoch herself stated that with this novel she was attempting to refute Wittgenstein’s contention, which is why the book embarrassed her later in life. Her attempt to explain what Wittgenstein believed could never be made clear, struck her in retrospect as rather foolish. Iris Murdoch was never a student of Wittgenstein, but she did once meet him, and befriended Wittgenstein’s star pupil, Yorich Smythies. It is likely that she based Hugo’s character on Yorich Smythies. Jake considered Hugo to be the most objective person he had ever met. Hugo had no general theories, but a separate definition, and theory, about everything. If Jake tried to tie him down to some particular concept, he could not. He was impossible to define. “What if I try to be accurate?” Jake asked. Hugo’s response was: “One can’t be … The only hope is to avoid saying it … Language just won’t let you present it as it really is … [it] is a machine for making falsehoods … One must just blunder on. Truth lies in blundering on.” The role of Hugo is one which recurs in many of Iris Murdoch’s novels. He is a wise figure, a kind of saint, or enchanter, whom others revere. In Under the Net, it is Hugo who best represents truth. He dislikes definitions, and (view spoiler)[ when he reads Jake’s book, he does not even recognise the thoughts contained in the book as his own, and congratulates Jake for his originality. (hide spoiler)] Hugo believed: “For most of us, for almost all of us, truth can be attained, if at all, only in silence.” In a way, the relationship between Jake and Hugo is one of artist versus saint. The role of the artist can be seen as to express and communicate ideas, putting them into some kind of form. The saint’s function, however, is contemplative: to be a medium through which ideas are born. Jake and Hugo are closest while they are part of a medical experiment. During this time they are able to spend their time discussing theories and philosophising. Hugo is seen to be the contemplative one, whose concepts are stronger than Jake’s. Hugo even states that some of the thoughts expressed in the book were a bit too deep for him. When Jake translated Jean-Pierre Breteuil’s work, he said it was clumsy, and claimed to streamline it and improve it. In a similar way, he took Hugo’s thoughts, rearranged them, and made them more accessible. Hugo himself has no impulse to put his thoughts on paper. (view spoiler)[Although Jake is very critical of Breteuil’s novels, he does not sit down to create an original work until the end of the novel, stimulated to do so by Breteuil’s vastly improved writing. However, Hugo has no such aspirations, and at the end of the book, Hugo desires only to learn how to make watches, which could be, in a way, another form of meditation. (hide spoiler)] Throughout the novel, in various comic situations, we see that when Jake surrounds himself with silence, he is at his most comfortable. His safe place, where he keeps all that is precious, is with the enigmatic Mrs. Tinckham, and her clan of wordless cats. His closest friend Finn, is virtually silent, and Jake is immensely happy when the two of them (view spoiler)[ kidnap Mister Mars, a dog who by definition cannot speak, and rarely barks. (hide spoiler)] Other examples are when he is in France, where it is not his language, or when he translates work for Jean-Pierre Breteuil, (view spoiler)[or when he becomes a ward orderly, staying mostly uncommunicative, and never speaking his true thoughts. (hide spoiler)] The ending, (view spoiler)[when Jean-Pierre Breteuil’s latest novel, “Nous les Vainqueurs”, has won the Prize Goncourt (hide spoiler)] turns all Jake’s preconceptions upside down, and shows him a way forward, and a new way of life. No longer will he attempt to decipher and interpret. (view spoiler)[ Never again will he translate others’ words. Instead he will create and write his own. (hide spoiler)] Jake has always hidden behind others’ words. Now he will find his own voice. Under the Net is an extraordinary novel which can be read on so many levels. The setting switches between London and Paris on a whim. Most of the characters seem to play at life: to dabble in one thing or another. Time and again we see facades and illusions, such a movie theatre set of an impressive Roman temple, which is shown to be a paper and plaster sham, crumpling to nothing. A simple reflection in a lake dissolves in an instant when it is disturbed. The truth is not how it appears. Iris Murdoch’s biographer Richard Todd said she was a “powerfully intellectual and original theorist of fiction”. Her characters in Under the Net are almost absurdly implausible, yet all their actions and interactions are believable. They are types, unlike characters in her later novels. We have among others, a bookmaker, a movie mogul, a glamorous actress, a fireworks inventor, a singer and a left-wing activist. We have several episodes of drunken revelry, a tale of kidnap, (where the intended target is most unusual), and another where a character is locked into a penthouse suite. There are instances of gambling on horses, and winning against all the odds, and a theft which proves to be more trouble than it was worth. We have proposed movie deals, and attempts to overthrow society. Many of the situations in the middle are pure farce, and the riot between Socialist agitators and the police had me laughing out loud. My favourite parts of all were the madcap escapades with Jake and his adventurous canine friend. Iris Murdoch has a wonderful way with words, and can write ridiculously humorous episodes in a most entertaining way. Yet the more I think about his novel, the increasing plethora of cunning allusions I see, and the more brilliant Iris Murdoch’s achievement proves to be. “All speech lies, and art is only a special form of speech, yet great art can lie its way into the truth.” “All theorizing is flight. We must be ruled by the situation itself and this is unutterably particular. Indeed it is something to which we can never get close enough, however hard we may try as it were to crawl under the net.” (From “The Silencer”)

  5. 4 out of 5

    Nandakishore Varma

    I put aside the book I was reading and rang for Jeeves. As he shimmied into existence beside me, I gave him a scathing look: I wanted him to know I was miffed. "Jeeves!" I said. "You remember you recommended this tome to me?" I showed it to him. "Ah, yes, sir." He said. "You said you wanted to read serious literature, and I thought you would find this one enjoyable. Miss Murdoch is thought of very highly in literary circles, sir." "I don't care what they think of her!" I bellowed. "If you ask me, t I put aside the book I was reading and rang for Jeeves. As he shimmied into existence beside me, I gave him a scathing look: I wanted him to know I was miffed. "Jeeves!" I said. "You remember you recommended this tome to me?" I showed it to him. "Ah, yes, sir." He said. "You said you wanted to read serious literature, and I thought you would find this one enjoyable. Miss Murdoch is thought of very highly in literary circles, sir." "I don't care what they think of her!" I bellowed. "If you ask me, the woman is batty. I have never read such utter bilge in my life!" Jeeves was quiet. I glanced up at him, and found the corner of his mouth turned down one-sixteenth of an inch. Blast the chap, he was sneering at me! "Jeeves," I said, steel in my voice, "I'll thank you not to laugh at me." "Oh, no, sir," the man was all apologies immediately. "Such behaviour is furthest from my mind, I assure you." "Then why were you sneering? Don't deny it!" I cut off his objections before he could mouth them. "You were smiling. I saw it." "Well, sir, I must confess that I was a trifle amused by your forthright opinion of Miss Murdoch's work and her person. I was just trying to imagine what kind of impression it would create on Goodreads if you expressed it there. I am sorry if I caused anguish, sir." Jeeves said. Now, those of you who have been religiously following these chronicles of mine know that Jeeves has been infesting that blasted book reviewing site, Goodreads, for quite some time. I had a brief stint there and found that it was not suited to chappies like me who read books only for enjoyment. "Never mind those blighters at Goodreads! What do you feel, Jeeves? Did you like it?" I asked. "Actually, sir, my taste runs more towards philosophical works by the great masters such as Spinoza. I read fiction very sparingly, so my opinion is necessarily limited by my lack of experience. But from my imperfect viewpoint, I would count this novel as an accomplished work, sir." He said. "Accomplished work my foot!" I exploded. "This tale of a dotty bounder who wanders around London, going on one continuous toot - I mean, there is hardly a scene where he is not having a drink - and getting the raspberry from one popsy after the other, until he winds up on the road with an aged Alsatian dog is considered an 'accomplished' work?" Jeeves's tone was reproachful. "Reduced to the bare essentials, sir, any work of art will look puerile. It is not what is written, but how it is written that matters in all forms of high literature. Interpolating a philosophical argument into a picaresque novel, and carrying it off without the pace flagging or the thread being lost, requires quite a deft hand. Miss Murdoch has accomplished it seamlessly, sir." "Jeeves," I said reproachfully. "This is pure apple sauce. Philosophy? What philosophy is there in this load of tripe other than the nonsense the hero - what is his name? Yes, Jake Donaghue - and his friend Hugo Belfounder keeps on jabbering about, and which he had the crust to publish as a book? I thought the whole thing was a joke. No wonder, in the novel itself, that the book didn't sell. And what did you mean by that word - pic-something?" Jeeves was quiet, and when I looked up, I found that he was smirking again. Seeing me watching, he immediately went back to his usual impassive self. "Picaresque means episodic, sir," he explained. "A type of narrative in which the protagonist moves from happening to happening. In this novel, the author has created the incidents in such a way as to make them traverse the whole range from the humdrum to the fantastic without straining the reader's credibility, and without losing sight of the underlying philosophy. A creditable achievement, sir." "Jeeves," I said in a strained tone of voice. "Can you tell me what is this philosophy that you are going on about?" "Logical atomism, sir." Jeeves was ready with his answer. "As explained in the great philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein's Tractus Logico-Philosophicus. Newtonian mechanics, the philosopher says, capture the world through the equivalent of a net, or many nets. The mesh may be fine or coarse, and its holes of different shapes, but it will always be regular, will always bring description ‘to a unified form’. But the world will always defy our descriptions and slip 'under the net' - that is where the novel's title comes from, sir." I was by this time gasping like a landed fish, but he went on. "Mr. Donaghue is the one who is constantly in search for form, sir. If you recall, he says many a time he hates contigency. He is contrasted with Mr. Belfounder, who is not interested in any grand theory, but sees only the details. You must also have observed, sir, that Mr. Belfounder is a success at whatever he does without trying while Mr. Donaghue struggles till the very end, when he learns to let go of his net. Mrs. Tinckham's cat who manages finally to mate with the Siamese is a fine touch, sir." I raised my hand. "Jeeves!" I croaked. "Enough! You are telling me that the story of this bozo doing daft things like skinny-dipping at two o'clock in the morning in the Thames and his pal blowing up studio sets is somehow connected to some deep philosophy?" "Undoubtedly, sir." "Then that's it! I am done with serious literature for the nonce. Soon you will be telling me that me and Pongo Twisteton and Freddie Widgeon and the rest of the chaps stealing policemen's helmets during Boat Race Night is also somehow connected to Spinoza." I leaned back in my chair. "Gosh, I wish I had Rex West's latest whodunit. From all reports, it's a humdinger." Jeeves gave a deferential cough. "Will this be the volume that you are enquiring about, sir?" He extended a book to me. The Secret of the Bloodless Corpse by Rex West! "Jeeves! Where did you get it?" I asked. "The bookseller just delivered it, sir. I heard you discussing this book with the other gentlemen from the Drones, and took the liberty of ordering a copy. I anticipated that you would be in need of some light reading after finishing Miss Murdoch's book. I hope it was not too much of a liberty, sir." "Jeeves! Liberty? You did exactly right!" I cooed. "You are a life-saver! One in a million!" "I endeavour to give satisfaction, sir," said Jeeves.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Alex

    You can't spend too much time figuring Iris Murdoch out. It's better to just buckle in with her. Her characters are basically insane, and so are her plots, and so are her sentences. They have a tidal effect; they pull you under. Under the Net reminds me of Martin Amis's Money, or more accurately Money reminds me of it. They feature amoral protagonists in the entertainment industry, and they're both nuts. I actually think Money is a little better. It's certainly amped up, which is startling consi You can't spend too much time figuring Iris Murdoch out. It's better to just buckle in with her. Her characters are basically insane, and so are her plots, and so are her sentences. They have a tidal effect; they pull you under. Under the Net reminds me of Martin Amis's Money, or more accurately Money reminds me of it. They feature amoral protagonists in the entertainment industry, and they're both nuts. I actually think Money is a little better. It's certainly amped up, which is startling considering how far Murdoch is already amped past mostly everyone else. She published this, her first novel, in 1954, so just before the similarly unhinged On the Road blew up the Beats. She was Irish, and you know how Irish novelists are. (Recent discussion: "Has there ever been a sane Irish author?") So far as the plot matters, it follows Jake Donaghue through a series of misadventures. He kidnaps a dog. He schemes to get money, while steadfastly turning down every opportunity to have it. He gets drunk. He discusses philosophy and socialism. The most memorable character is the dog. Murdoch is not my favorite author. I like her but I'm not burning to read every one of her books. I'm going to read some of them, though! They strain at the seams. She's thoroughly off on her own trip and you're not invited to participate; you may watch. She's distinct, thus the like. Some books are like marathons and some like sprints, and hers are like meandering chases through side streets, after which you are out of breath and sweaty and you've pulled a hamstring and you're not sure if you lost the guy chasing you or not.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    (3.5) I plan to dip in and out of Liz Dexter’s two-year Iris Murdoch readalong project to increase my familiarity with Murdoch and get through some of the paperbacks I happen to own. Even though I don’t own it, I decided to join in with Under the Net (1954) to see how her fiction career began. Under the Net is narrated by Jake Donoghue, a translator who arrives back in London after a trip to France to find that he’s being kicked out of the flat where he’s been living for free with his friend Finn (3.5) I plan to dip in and out of Liz Dexter’s two-year Iris Murdoch readalong project to increase my familiarity with Murdoch and get through some of the paperbacks I happen to own. Even though I don’t own it, I decided to join in with Under the Net (1954) to see how her fiction career began. Under the Net is narrated by Jake Donoghue, a translator who arrives back in London after a trip to France to find that he’s being kicked out of the flat where he’s been living for free with his friend Finn. In his desultory search for where to go next he takes readers along to Mrs Tinckham’s cat-filled shop, his Jewish philosopher friend Dave’s place, and the theatre where a former girlfriend, Anna Quentin, is in charge of props. (One of my favorite scenes has him accidentally locked into the theatre overnight; he has to sleep among the costumes.) Anna’s sister Sadie, an actress, offers Jake a role as her bodyguard; she has a stalker of sorts, fireworks manufacturer and film studio owner Hugo Belfounder – whom, it turns out, Jake already knows. Together they were guinea pigs for an experiment on the common cold, and Jake secretly worked up Hugo’s conversations into a poorly received book called The Silencer. “Hugo was my destiny,” Jake muses; even though he’s embarrassed to see Hugo again, he gets drawn back into a connection with him. One of the central themes of the novel, playing out with various characters, is the difficulty of seeing people clearly rather than resting with the image of them you’ve built up in your mind. I enjoyed Jake’s contrasting of physical and intellectual work, and his (sometimes contradictory) reflections on solitude and introversion: I sometimes feel that Finn has very little inner life. I mean no disrespect to him in saying this; some have and some haven’t. I connect this too with his truthfulness. Subtle people, like myself, can see too much ever to give a straight answer. I hate solitude, but I am afraid of intimacy. The substance of my life is a private conversation with myself which to turn into a dialogue would be equivalent to self-destruction. The company which I need is the company which a pub or a café will provide. If like myself you are a connoisseur of solitude, I recommend to you the experience of being alone in Paris on the fourteenth of July. Many readers probably expect Murdoch’s books to be dense and difficult, bogged down with philosophical ideas. But what I most noticed about this first novel is how humorous it is: it’s even madcap in places, with some coming and going via windows and Mister Mars, the film star dog, playing dead to get Jake out of a sticky situation. Over at Liz’s blog we’ve been discussing whether Murdoch is a typical ‘woman writer’; if her books had been published anonymously or under her initials, would it have been assumed that she was a man? I think so, given her success in creating a male narrator and her focus on the world of work and less traditional domestic arrangements. This is my sixth Murdoch book. I didn’t enjoy Under the Net as much as the Booker Prize-winning The Sea, The Sea or The Bell, but liked it more than The Black Prince and An Unofficial Rose (I’ve also read one of her philosophy books, The Fire and the Sun; I could make neither head nor tail of it), so it falls right in the middle for me so far. I’m looking forward to participating with several more of the readalong books next year, starting with A Severed Head in March. Another favorite line, spoken by Hugo: “One must just blunder on. Truth lies in blundering on.” Originally published, with images, on my blog, Bookish Beck.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Bettie

    Description: Iris Murdoch's first novel is set in a part of London where struggling writers rub shoulders with successful bookies, and film starlets with frantic philosophers. Its hero, Jake Donaghue, is a drifting, clever, likeable young man who makes a living out of translation work and sponging on his friends. A meeting with Anna, an old flame, leads him into a series of fantastic adventures. Jake is captivated by a majestic philosopher, Hugo Belfounder, whose profound and inconclusive refle Description: Iris Murdoch's first novel is set in a part of London where struggling writers rub shoulders with successful bookies, and film starlets with frantic philosophers. Its hero, Jake Donaghue, is a drifting, clever, likeable young man who makes a living out of translation work and sponging on his friends. A meeting with Anna, an old flame, leads him into a series of fantastic adventures. Jake is captivated by a majestic philosopher, Hugo Belfounder, whose profound and inconclusive reflections give the book its title - under the net of language. Opening: When I saw Finn waiting for me at the corner of the street I knew at once that something had gone wrong. This is me trying to read all of Murdoch's oeuvre and will admit to being grateful that didn't have the bad luck to have encountered this one first. My mid-teen initiation to Murdoch in the newly sprung 70s was 'The Severed Head.' 'Under the Net' does have some adorable moments to treasure, not least with Mister Mars, but the philosophical aspects were very heavy-handed, and dare I use the word pompous. The title could just have easily been 'Between the Lines' or 'Behind the Mask', nothing very deep after all. But the language use is there, such a repertoire of delicious combinations, and my 2016 quest of reading chronologically, will see IM develop . 3* Under the Net (1954) TR The Flight from the Enchanter (1956) 5* The Bell (1958) WL The Unicorn(1963) TR The Nice and the Good (1968) 5* A Severed Head(1971) 5* The Black Prince(1973) 5* The Sacred and Profane Love Machine(1974) 5* A Word Child(1978) 5* The Sea, the Sea (1978) 4* Existentialists and Mystics Writings on Philosophy and Literature 4* Living on Paper: Letters from Iris Murdoch, 1934-1995

  9. 4 out of 5

    Cecily

    "Review" in 2008 from reading in 2001: Her first published novel, set in "contemporary" 50s London. Aimless youth gets philosophical. He oughtn't to be a sympathetic character and nothing much happens, but it's strangely compelling. Comment in 2020: It was my first Murdoch, picked at random in a second-hand bookshop, because I wanted to have read one of hers before going with a friend to see the biopic, Iris, starring Judi Dench, Jim Broadbent, Kate Winslet (see imdb). I didn't really appreciate i "Review" in 2008 from reading in 2001: Her first published novel, set in "contemporary" 50s London. Aimless youth gets philosophical. He oughtn't to be a sympathetic character and nothing much happens, but it's strangely compelling. Comment in 2020: It was my first Murdoch, picked at random in a second-hand bookshop, because I wanted to have read one of hers before going with a friend to see the biopic, Iris, starring Judi Dench, Jim Broadbent, Kate Winslet (see imdb). I didn't really appreciate it back in 2001, but since then, I've read and reviewed a dozen other Murdochs, and I now count myself a fan. Some of the other reviews are more substantial than this. They're all on GoodReads, HERE.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Aly Lawson

    When I read this in college our modern literature professor warned us against being hayseed critics. We need to have a basis for our criticism, a chunk of spoken reason, or thought, behind our critiques and accolades of each book we read. Otherwise we’ll end up looking like the foolish critic in Norman Rockwell’s painting, sucking on a strand of hay while we squint and furrow at a work of art still in progress. By the time Murdoch’s book was assigned that quarter, I was trying hard not be caught When I read this in college our modern literature professor warned us against being hayseed critics. We need to have a basis for our criticism, a chunk of spoken reason, or thought, behind our critiques and accolades of each book we read. Otherwise we’ll end up looking like the foolish critic in Norman Rockwell’s painting, sucking on a strand of hay while we squint and furrow at a work of art still in progress. By the time Murdoch’s book was assigned that quarter, I was trying hard not be caught with straw between my teeth as I read about a struggling writer. Iris was female. (She passed away only a few years before I read this first published novel of hers.) Her gender didn’t keep her from writing from a man’s perspective. The author created a sparkling account of Jake Donaghue, the penniless artist who networks with an array of magnetic characters throughout London and Paris. Drifting through these quintessential corners of the world, Jake flirts with starlets, crosses bookies and brainstorms about life with the eccentric. Rekindled love and episodes of the absurd burn and douse the pages; smoldering gems of satire and panache (too much?) reveal themselves en route to Jake's final philosophy on life. From page one, witty phrases made me smile--and this marvelous little world that was constructed never ebbs far from the insightful. Virginia Woolf called novels “life escapes.” She continued, “and perhaps without life nothing else is worth while.” If we didn’t have existence in all its zaniness--all its pitch changes and scars—where would books take us? There would be nothing left to write about and no reason to read. Many people question writers, wondering how someone can have so much to say when most are running on fumes by the end of page one. But there’s no EMPTY line for the imagination coupled with experience. Ms. Murdoch proves there’s always something worth writing about. And always something worth experiencing, read or lived.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

    It seems to me that most male authors have male central characters, and female authors female central characters, especially when the novel is in the first person. It also seems to me that female authors (in general) create more believable female central characters, and male authors (in general) more believable male characters, especially concerning central characters and particularly when in the first person narrative. This shouldn't be surprising. That said, this novel, for me, is the best exc It seems to me that most male authors have male central characters, and female authors female central characters, especially when the novel is in the first person. It also seems to me that female authors (in general) create more believable female central characters, and male authors (in general) more believable male characters, especially concerning central characters and particularly when in the first person narrative. This shouldn't be surprising. That said, this novel, for me, is the best exception to this putative rule. There are acute problems that I had with the ideas/motivations of the central male character, but aside from them Murdoch does a *wonderful* job of crafting a believable, fascinating male central character. Oh, and the novel is very good, too.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Deea

    Iris Murdoch is among my favorite writers. I’ve read 4 books by her so far (this is the 4th) and I was amazed with her capacity to touch psychology and philosophy at the same time, while focusing on crucial moments from the lives of her characters. I read “The Sea, The Sea” (her Man Booker Prize work) and I considered it stunning, but the other books I read by her were even more powerful than her award-winning novel. “Starting a novel is opening a door on a misty landscape; you can still see very Iris Murdoch is among my favorite writers. I’ve read 4 books by her so far (this is the 4th) and I was amazed with her capacity to touch psychology and philosophy at the same time, while focusing on crucial moments from the lives of her characters. I read “The Sea, The Sea” (her Man Booker Prize work) and I considered it stunning, but the other books I read by her were even more powerful than her award-winning novel. “Starting a novel is opening a door on a misty landscape; you can still see very little but you can smell the earth and feel the wind blowing.”, says Murdoch. This is how this novel started: promising at the beginning, it seemed to raise a lot of psychological questions. Its intricate plot seemed promising at the beginning as well. Through the book, I felt the author was rather drifting than continuing with the problems introduced upon the reader at first. This might have been only a strategy and having read Murdoch before, I was actually expecting this, but in the end, the problems were still there, alive and untouched. Maybe this was the whole idea: just to put some philosophical ideas out in the open and not really debate on them, but rather to stir the mind of the reader and determine him to ponder upon them. Although I like subtlety, whatever the intention of the writer in this book, the approach was a bit too subtle for me to appreciate it at its fullest. Jake Donaghue, a rather bohemian writer who once wrote a book, but is now only doing translation work is kicked out of his accommodation and has to look for a solution. He contacts a friend (Dave) for help and he suggests Jake should contact Anna, a woman he had loved years ago. He meets her and a chain of events is determined. Jake gets to find out that everything around him is somehow connected: Anna is in love with a person whom he had considered his best friend, while this friend is in love with Anna’s sister. He had stopped talking to this friend long ago because the only book he published was a modified version of their discussions and he thought his friend (Hugo) would be offended. As Murdoch says so poetically, “we all live in the interstices of each other’s lives, and we could all get a surprise if we could see everything”. Jake Donaghue gets to know a bit of this "everything" and he realizes that all his perceptions had been totally wrong. As I have read in one of the reviews from Goodreads, I do think too that “Under the Net” is a book about language and its inability to express certain things and it stresses on the fact that life itself is an amalgamation of meaningless events to which the individual gives meaning. Jack’s life goes through a series of misunderstandings and all this mixture of chance and chaos conspires to transform his perception of life: his past, present and future rewrite themselves and renegotiate his true feelings towards Anna, Hugo and his writing career. His revelations through the book are described very poetically by Murdoch in the next fragments: “What then took place within my mind was much the same as happens in a huge theater if the lights suddenly go out, and someone shrilly screams in the swift-winged darkness, and other voices join in, resulting in a blind tempest, with the black thunder of panic growing-until suddenly the lights come on again, and the performance of the play is blandly resumed.” and “Events stream past us like these crowds and the face of each is seen only for a minute. What is urgent is not urgent for ever but only ephemerally. All work and all love, the search for wealth and fame, the search for truth, like itself, are made up of moments which pass and become nothing. Yet through this shaft of nothings we drive onward with that miraculous vitality that creates our precarious habitations in the past and the future. So we live: a spirit that broods and hovers over the continual death of time, the lost meaning, the unrecaptured moment, the unremembered face, until the final chop that ends all our moments and plunges that spirit back into the void from which it came.” Now that I come to think of it while writing this review, Murdoch’s book is not bad at all: it’s actually really good, but it just needs a lot more pondering than the others maybe in order to decipher its meanings. She highlights with subtlety that language is a barrier and we are trapped under the net of language: it can create emotional prisons and our feelings become sometimes impossible to express because the power of words is limited. My first reaction was to declare myself disappointed. After reanalyzing my thoughts about this book, I can say that Murdoch has managed to impress me once again with her ability of putting out there very deep psychological problems. I somehow feel like her character Jake Donaghue: I feel that I had a misperception when I finished the book and after a time of pondering, I come to realize through analysis the depth of what I read. Way to go Murdoch. You’re still among my favorite authors! I knew it that you could not disappoint me!

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jonfaith

    Containing all the requisite hilarity and pathos of a first novel, Murdoch succeeds where others fail, by aiming at one person and finding half-measures which translates into a fleeting philosophy but little transformation. This will likely spur me to read more of Murdoch’s books over the summer.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Barry Pierce

    At the beginning I was enjoying this semi-farcical/semi-philosophical novel. I love the ridiculousness of the entire plot and the characters but after a while it just became a bore. Once I hit the last hundred page stretch I found myself picking it up, reading ten pages, and putting it down again ad nauseum. It was a bit of a struggle to finish. However this book has not put me off Murdoch's work thankfully so I will be revisiting her again sometime in the future. At the beginning I was enjoying this semi-farcical/semi-philosophical novel. I love the ridiculousness of the entire plot and the characters but after a while it just became a bore. Once I hit the last hundred page stretch I found myself picking it up, reading ten pages, and putting it down again ad nauseum. It was a bit of a struggle to finish. However this book has not put me off Murdoch's work thankfully so I will be revisiting her again sometime in the future.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Zaki

    I don't think I'll ever tire of Iris Murdoch and am on a mission to read every book in her oeuvre. Under the Net is a brilliant book about language and its inability to express certain things. It's leitmotif is that life is an amalgamation of meaningless events to which only the individual gives meaning. It's a very British book and is full of sounds and rhythms of London life. I don't think I'll ever tire of Iris Murdoch and am on a mission to read every book in her oeuvre. Under the Net is a brilliant book about language and its inability to express certain things. It's leitmotif is that life is an amalgamation of meaningless events to which only the individual gives meaning. It's a very British book and is full of sounds and rhythms of London life.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    I must admit that I find this novel difficult to rate. It was quite a fast read for me and every time I picked it up I did enjoy it, but the writing skill and the plot progress varied. It is my first Iris Murdoch novel and I think I need to read more.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Paul E. Morph

    This is my first Iris Murdoch novel (although I've been meaning to read something of hers for years) and I was half expecting it to be dense and somewhat stuffy (literary award winning author and all that jazz). Much to my great delight, it was no such thing. This book has a likeable, somewhat puckish, picaresque protagonist who leads you through a few days of his life in a conversational, easy-to-read style. We see the carousel of his relationships as the people in his life dance around him, we This is my first Iris Murdoch novel (although I've been meaning to read something of hers for years) and I was half expecting it to be dense and somewhat stuffy (literary award winning author and all that jazz). Much to my great delight, it was no such thing. This book has a likeable, somewhat puckish, picaresque protagonist who leads you through a few days of his life in a conversational, easy-to-read style. We see the carousel of his relationships as the people in his life dance around him, we witness his philosophy of life as it evolves and grows and we share in some rather amusing hi-jinx involving a canine movie star. While it didn't exactly blow me away or move me deeply I can honestly say Under The Net was a joy to read. This audiobook version was read by Samuel West and his narration was superb. So much so that I'm tempted to check out other audiobooks he's read, regardless of author.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ange

    3.5 Stars

  19. 4 out of 5

    Kirsten

    I really find it hard to put in words why I have come to love Iris Murdoch. I was first exposed to her writing with The Black Prince. It isn't the plot or even really the characters that draws me in. In point of fact, I really don't like the people in her books. In this book, however, there is a lot more humor to be had. It is like a slow, drawn out Wodehouse novel. So, it must be something about her writing that I like. That must be it. It's a comfortable style. A soothing style. I will have to I really find it hard to put in words why I have come to love Iris Murdoch. I was first exposed to her writing with The Black Prince. It isn't the plot or even really the characters that draws me in. In point of fact, I really don't like the people in her books. In this book, however, there is a lot more humor to be had. It is like a slow, drawn out Wodehouse novel. So, it must be something about her writing that I like. That must be it. It's a comfortable style. A soothing style. I will have to find more of her books.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Matthew

    I wasn't expecting to love this so much. It's the best feeling when a book unexpectedly impresses you. I bought this in London with a friend, who I lived with at university, so reading it then about these young men drinking together and talking politics, it was very relatable to my time at University, which is sadly now over. Of course, the plot then takes wind and some semi-mad, but wholly serious, events happen. I've never been more in love with a dog in any film or book before than I am with I wasn't expecting to love this so much. It's the best feeling when a book unexpectedly impresses you. I bought this in London with a friend, who I lived with at university, so reading it then about these young men drinking together and talking politics, it was very relatable to my time at University, which is sadly now over. Of course, the plot then takes wind and some semi-mad, but wholly serious, events happen. I've never been more in love with a dog in any film or book before than I am with Mister Mars. What a hero. I wish I could take him too, though he belongs quite rightly with Jake. Surprisingly entertaining, funny and heartfelt. I wasn't expecting this from Murdoch at all so I look forward to reading some of her other novels and seeing what they're like.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Mark Joyce

    I thought this was a wonderful book, though apparently the author herself didn't rate it very highly. The central character, Jake Donaghue, is a deeply flawed, self-absorbed artistic underachiever of the type that Murdoch went on to develop so memorably in later novels like The Black Prince and The Sea, The Sea. Under the Net is not as savagely funny as those books but has a greater innocence and vitality, probably because of the main character's (and the author's) relative youth. Because of thi I thought this was a wonderful book, though apparently the author herself didn't rate it very highly. The central character, Jake Donaghue, is a deeply flawed, self-absorbed artistic underachiever of the type that Murdoch went on to develop so memorably in later novels like The Black Prince and The Sea, The Sea. Under the Net is not as savagely funny as those books but has a greater innocence and vitality, probably because of the main character's (and the author's) relative youth. Because of this, Donaghue's meditations on love, artistic and philosophical endeavor, friendship, London, Paris and the meaning of life in general come across more as charming than preening and self-indulgent (although he is undoubtedly both of those things too). There is a chapter about a quarter of the way into the book in which Jake and his mates Dave and Finn hook up with a left-wing activist during a spontaneous drinking binge that culminates with them swimming naked in the River Thames as dawn approaches. It is one of the most evocative things I've read in a long time, perfectly capturing the joyousness of a particular type of night out at a particular time in life in a big city, and particularly that feeling of boundless optimism with an undertow of melancholy that tends to come on at the point of peak inebriation. The book is also packed with quotable passages and aphorisms, of which it's impossible to select a single favourite, so I'll go with two. This: "I hate solitude, but I'm afraid of intimacy. The substance of my life is a private conversation with myself which to turn into a dialogue would be equivalent to self-destruction. The company which I need is the company which a pub or a cafe will provide. I have never wanted a communion of souls. It's already hard enough to tell the truth to oneself." And this: "Events stream past us like these crowds and the face of each is seen only for a minute. What is urgent is not urgent for ever but only ephemerally. All work and all love, the search for wealth and fame, the search for truth, like itself, are made up of moments which pass and become nothing. Yet through this shaft of nothings we drive onward with that miraculous vitality that creates our precarious habitations in the past and the future." It's hard to know what to say to that, other than yes and bravo.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Angie

    Absolutely loved reading this again - it was a hoot from start to finish. What an entertaining experience this was. Witty, sharp, hilarious and colourful are the only words I can use to describe this tale of the hapless anti-hero, Jake Donaghue. At times this reminded me a little of Richard E Grant's wonderful Withnail character of the film; theatrical, fully versed in the power of the English language, sponger, all-time heavy drinker and leading the most charmed existence possible in 1950's Lond Absolutely loved reading this again - it was a hoot from start to finish. What an entertaining experience this was. Witty, sharp, hilarious and colourful are the only words I can use to describe this tale of the hapless anti-hero, Jake Donaghue. At times this reminded me a little of Richard E Grant's wonderful Withnail character of the film; theatrical, fully versed in the power of the English language, sponger, all-time heavy drinker and leading the most charmed existence possible in 1950's London. All of these ingredients mixed with a hugely imaginative plot lead Jake through a series of insurmountable twists and turns which he faces with marvellous alacrity and spirit. Add a cast of fruity and eccentric characters and a fantastical plot and you will not be able to put this little gem down.

  23. 5 out of 5

    David

    I’m of an age at which the idea of returning to writers once loved but long unread has come to mind, and the day after I decided that Iris Murdoch should be on the list I discovered a cache of Murdoch first editions in the Tokyo book district, on offer inexplicably for not very much. I’m more in sympathy with the idea of synchronicity than with Divine Intervention but sometimes one wonders. It’s been about thirty years since I read Murdoch, and even then only a few novels and not this one. I rem I’m of an age at which the idea of returning to writers once loved but long unread has come to mind, and the day after I decided that Iris Murdoch should be on the list I discovered a cache of Murdoch first editions in the Tokyo book district, on offer inexplicably for not very much. I’m more in sympathy with the idea of synchronicity than with Divine Intervention but sometimes one wonders. It’s been about thirty years since I read Murdoch, and even then only a few novels and not this one. I remembered her as clever, sly even, but I’d forgotten that she could be wickedly funny, also. Under the Net is the first of her twenty-six novels, published in 1954 when she was thirty-five. It’s an audacious beginning. The first-person narrator, James (Jake) Donaghue, a wastrel and writer and translator I found impossible not to like, has been turned out of Madge Casement’s house on Earls Court Road, which for eighteen months he has inhabited rent-free with his ‘cousin’ (‘people . . . get the impression that he is my servant’) Finn. Other Goodreads reviewers have compared Jake to Holden Caulfield and John Self, which I can see, but in the end he is a one-off. His flight to secure a new place to bunk gets quickly complicated in a beautifully-realised London. One could construct a reliable map of Soho and The City from Murdoch’s descriptions, and central Paris in two chapters set there as Jake wanders around chasing a shoeless woman on Bastille Day night is nearly as sharply drawn. Jake’s entanglement is in a net of memorable characters: Anna, a singer and briefly a mime artist and in any case Jake’s former lover; Anna’s glamorous film-star sister, Sadie; Hugo, a philosopher cum fireworks manufacturer who loves one of the sisters and is loved by the other; Sammy Starfield, a wealthy bookie; an anti-materialist Jewish philosopher on Goldhawk Road; a motherly chain-smoking cat-loving newsagent on Charlotte Street; the loopy firebrand leader of the New Independent Socialist Party. Typical Murdoch lineup, I guess, but in prototype, and with no suicides. What’s Madge up to anyway? Madge is being double-crossed by Sammy, who ditches her for Sadie. Sammy uses Madge and Sadie uses Sammy to get her revenge on Hugo and make a fortune. . . . I began to see the whole picture. Well, that’s from page 136. It turns out not to be the whole picture, but such was the apparent state of the situation itself then, a sound deduction at that point in the story, which by the way includes the madcap kidnapping-for-ransom from Sammy’s flat of a 14-year-old Alsatian star of many animal films. If you’re interested in this sort of thing, Under the Net appears as the only Murdoch title in the 1998 Modern Library editorial board’s list of the 100 Best English-language novels published since 1900, #95, between Wide Sargasso Sea and Sophie’s Choice, and in 2010 was the only Murdoch title in Lev Grossman and Richard Lacayo’s selection of Time magazine’s 100 best English-language novels published since 1923. Don’t read it for that, though. Read it to be present at the brilliant first flash of a novelist who’ll merrily fuck up your expectations before every turn to another page.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Doug H

    I found it impressive for a first novel, but I only semi-liked it. The First Person POV misanthropic antihero reminded somewhat of Salinger; the highly detailed descriptions reminded me somewhat of A. S. Byatt, and the semantics/linguistics philosophy reminded me strongly of Alfred Korzybski and S. I. Hayakawa. I admire all of these other writers and thinkers, so I'm surprised I didn't like it more than I did. Maybe the wandering nature of the plot left me wanting more narrative pull? Whatever, I found it impressive for a first novel, but I only semi-liked it. The First Person POV misanthropic antihero reminded somewhat of Salinger; the highly detailed descriptions reminded me somewhat of A. S. Byatt, and the semantics/linguistics philosophy reminded me strongly of Alfred Korzybski and S. I. Hayakawa. I admire all of these other writers and thinkers, so I'm surprised I didn't like it more than I did. Maybe the wandering nature of the plot left me wanting more narrative pull? Whatever, I’d like to try another one of her novels in the future. If you're a fan and have a favorite, please send me a recommendation.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Lee Foust

    An unpredictable and charming novel. I'd never read Iris Murdoch until this little hardcover 1955 reprint caught my eye in a second hand shop in Venice a couple of weeks back. (Yeah, only a week before the extra-high aqua alta of a few days ago, so I'd like to think I saved this lovely little tome from being lagooned before its time.) Opening the cover (to get a good whiff of the aging, thick, yellowing hardcover paper--mnmnmnmn), I spied that the novel was dedicated to Raymond Queneau. That sett An unpredictable and charming novel. I'd never read Iris Murdoch until this little hardcover 1955 reprint caught my eye in a second hand shop in Venice a couple of weeks back. (Yeah, only a week before the extra-high aqua alta of a few days ago, so I'd like to think I saved this lovely little tome from being lagooned before its time.) Opening the cover (to get a good whiff of the aging, thick, yellowing hardcover paper--mnmnmnmn), I spied that the novel was dedicated to Raymond Queneau. That settled it--it was time to read some Murdoch. And I was not disappointed. Despite the very British tone and intimately described London locales of most of the novel, there is a strange motif of absurd coincidence (a kind of parody of fate?) in the episodic story of our protagonist, Jake, a writer with shattered nerves who translated instead of writing, avoids responsibility, work, and rent at all costs, as he searches for a new rent-free situation when the woman whose rooms he inhabits (along with Irish sidekick Finn) throws the deadbeats out. I enjoyed this mix of British realism and french surrealism, the silly coincidences, the many serio-comic love triangles, flamboyant yet fairly stock characters, political rallies, dognapping, horse betting, music, mime, and film motifs, as well as the general tension between realism and absurdity that appeared, to me, to be the point of Jake's otherwise pointless, if entertaining, adventures. It even felt a bit Kafkaesque at times as Jake moved from one space into another, a bit like K. passing through the various compartments of the city in The Castle (which makes me want to read that novel again). I also picked up a paperback copy of Murdoch's A Severed Head in the same shop so I'd also like to get to that--but maybe a silly sci-fi or horror novel for a break and then back to the good stuff. We shall see. Off to my shelves to browse...

  26. 5 out of 5

    Celia

    Synopsis (from Wikipedia) Under the Net is a 1954 novel by Iris Murdoch. Set in London, it is the story of a struggling young writer, Jake Donaghue. Murdoch's first novel, its mixture of the philosophical and the picaresque has made it one of Murdoch's most popular novels. What the heck is picaresque?? Wikipedia says!! The picaresque novel (from Spanish pícaro, for "rogue" or "rascal") is a genre of prose fiction that depicts the adventures of a roguish, but "appealing hero", of low social class, w Synopsis (from Wikipedia) Under the Net is a 1954 novel by Iris Murdoch. Set in London, it is the story of a struggling young writer, Jake Donaghue. Murdoch's first novel, its mixture of the philosophical and the picaresque has made it one of Murdoch's most popular novels. What the heck is picaresque?? Wikipedia says!! The picaresque novel (from Spanish pícaro, for "rogue" or "rascal") is a genre of prose fiction that depicts the adventures of a roguish, but "appealing hero", of low social class, who lives by his or her wits in a corrupt society. Other Characters (from Wikipedia and the ones important to me!!) Magdalen Casement (Madge), Jake's 'land lady' Hugo Belfounder, a fireworks manufacturer and film magnate Anna Quentin, a singer Sadie Quentin, a film star Mr. Mars, an Alsatian (dog) Themes (at least two that I thought compelling) Inadequacy of Language Quote No 1- "The whole language is a machine for making falsehoods.’" Quote No 2- "Actions don’t lie, words always do.” But now I see that this was all a hallucination.’" Unrequited Love -Jake loves Anna -Anna loves Hugo -Hugo loves Sadie -Sadie loves Jake I am amazed by how much I liked this book. There's nothing to admire about Jake, yet his story is entertaining and a breeze to read. Iris Murdoch, in this, her first novel, is quite good in her descriptions and phrasing. Another new favorite author!! 5 stars

  27. 5 out of 5

    Sandy

    Only a few weeks late, I finished this book for a July literary birthday read. What an odd book. At first, I took it seriously - that is, until I realized that it was meant to be funny. Parts of it were totally absurd and reminded me of that crazy movie that the Beatles put out in 1964 (A Hard Day's Night), which was a madcap romp around London. No particular destination, just following whims and the needs of the moment. Running from people; racing around trying to find other people. It was funn Only a few weeks late, I finished this book for a July literary birthday read. What an odd book. At first, I took it seriously - that is, until I realized that it was meant to be funny. Parts of it were totally absurd and reminded me of that crazy movie that the Beatles put out in 1964 (A Hard Day's Night), which was a madcap romp around London. No particular destination, just following whims and the needs of the moment. Running from people; racing around trying to find other people. It was funny for a while but then it became confusing. On the other hand, parts of this book were extremely philosophical, almost wise! I haven't thought about it enough to figure out exactly what Murdoch was trying to say (if anything) but I read a nice review on GR which seemed to sum it up quite nicely. The review is here. I think that I need to ponder the book some more. There is a lot in it - it's just hard to see how it all connects.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Val

    Iris Murdoch is very good at contemplative, philosophical novels. This one, her debut, is also very funny. It follows the wanderings of a young man called Jake, through London, through his thoughts and through his attempts to understand other people. He is not very good at relating to others, Jakes' world revolves around Jake. He is self-centred in a way many young men are, not because he is selfish, but because he cannot empathise, however much he might like to. This makes Jake both irritating a Iris Murdoch is very good at contemplative, philosophical novels. This one, her debut, is also very funny. It follows the wanderings of a young man called Jake, through London, through his thoughts and through his attempts to understand other people. He is not very good at relating to others, Jakes' world revolves around Jake. He is self-centred in a way many young men are, not because he is selfish, but because he cannot empathise, however much he might like to. This makes Jake both irritating and endearing, and completely authentic.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    I wasn't aware that this was the first book written by Iris Murdoch. But certainly it isn't by favorite book by one of my favorite writers. 4* Living on Paper: Letters from Iris Murdoch, 1934-1995 5* Iris: A Memoir of Iris Murdoch 5* Iris Murdoch: Dream Girl 4* A Severed Head 4* The Sea, the Sea 4* The Black Prince 4* The Bell 3* Under the Net TR The Sacred and Profane Love Machine TR A Fairly Honourable Defeat TR The Nice and the Good TR The Philosopher's Pupil TR The Sandcastle TR The Italian Girl TR The Goo I wasn't aware that this was the first book written by Iris Murdoch. But certainly it isn't by favorite book by one of my favorite writers. 4* Living on Paper: Letters from Iris Murdoch, 1934-1995 5* Iris: A Memoir of Iris Murdoch 5* Iris Murdoch: Dream Girl 4* A Severed Head 4* The Sea, the Sea 4* The Black Prince 4* The Bell 3* Under the Net TR The Sacred and Profane Love Machine TR A Fairly Honourable Defeat TR The Nice and the Good TR The Philosopher's Pupil TR The Sandcastle TR The Italian Girl TR The Good Apprentice TR The Red and the Green

  30. 5 out of 5

    Chris Chapman

    A lot of fun. Beautifully written. It does feel like a first novel though. Not sure if the philosophising - mostly about people’s need to create a global theory for things that happen to them - really merged successfully into the story. Another thing was the really absurd coincidences in the plot. This could’ve been intentional, like in Lodge’s Small World, but it wasn’t clear If this was so or why. Still, there were moments of incredible insight, which could inspire you to see the world differe A lot of fun. Beautifully written. It does feel like a first novel though. Not sure if the philosophising - mostly about people’s need to create a global theory for things that happen to them - really merged successfully into the story. Another thing was the really absurd coincidences in the plot. This could’ve been intentional, like in Lodge’s Small World, but it wasn’t clear If this was so or why. Still, there were moments of incredible insight, which could inspire you to see the world differently or even ‘be in the world’ differently. I’m pretty happy if a novel does that for me.

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