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Under the Net by Iris Murdoch
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Under the Net (original 1954; edition 1995)

by Iris Murdoch

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1,268256,225 (3.61)87
Member:letterpress
Title:Under the Net
Authors:Iris Murdoch
Info:Penguin USA (1995), Paperback
Collections:Your library
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Tags:Fiction

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Under the Net by Iris Murdoch (1954)

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Murdoch’s first novel is an irresistible mixture of philosophy and farce and with London and Paris as essential backdrops to all the crazy happenings I could not help but be bowled along by Jake Donague (Murdoch’s central character) as he searches for something, anything that will make sense to him.

Jake’s only connection with reality is the city of London, we first meet him on a return trip from Paris struggling down the Earls Court road with a heavy suitcase full of books. His friend Finn is waiting for him and his first words to Jake are “She’s thrown us out”. It transpires that their landlady has a new fiance and she wants rid of her two tenants. Jake is taken completely by surprise and we soon learn that most things and certainly all other people are a mystery to him. Jake is a very self absorbed individual; an intellectual who scrapes together a living by translating novels from French into English. His work makes few demands on him and this is just how he likes it, but his unexpected eviction sets him in motion, to find somewhere for him and Finn to live. His first port of call is Dave a teacher of philosophy who is far more grounded in the real world than Jake will ever be and after being asked some searching questions Jake realises he must find himself somewhere else to live. This enforced journey takes him to revisit old girlfriends and he soon gets involved in a web of intrigue involving stolen manuscripts, a canine film star, a revolutionary socialist, a firework making film director and sisters Anne and Sadie both of whom might be in love with him. He breaks into houses, gets locked into houses, breaks into and out of hospital, goes on drunken binges through London, gets caught up in Bastille day celebrations in Paris, kidnaps a dog and holds it to ransom and even gets a job.

Jake’s journey is a journey of self discovery, but of course he does not realise this and what he learns by the end of the novel is far less than what we as readers learn about him. It is written in the first person from Jake’s point of view, which in the 1950’s was a brave step for its female author to take for her first novel. Especially when her protagonist Jake has such a clouded view of all the characters around him, especially the female ones, for the most part she pulls this off with wit and understanding only occasionally giving the game away; for example when she has Madge one of the female characters say:

“You don’t understand Sammy” said Madge (to Jake), This is a standard remark made by women about men who have left them.

Jake has difficulty understanding anything about people to the extent that his old friend Hugo who Jake thought was totally out of touch with everyday life has to explain to him who is in love with whom. In the end this is why Murdoch can make her readers sympathise and empathise with Jake, for all his self absorption and all his laziness, his predicament has forced him to take stock and his actions however silly and fruitless make sense on some sort of level and one can understand why other characters in the novel can warm to him.

Murdoch’s novel at times threatens to spiral out of control, when the farcical elements take over and she goes for laughs, but it is grounded by its attention to detail and it’s depiction of life in London in the 1950’s. I was a teenager in the 1960’s and the feeling that you could live just under the net was just starting to be realised. It was a time of more freedom of thought, prosperity seemed just round the corner, jobs were easy to come by and just as easy to let go, there were milk bars and coffee shops, there was always someone who would let you a room that you could afford, there were shops like the one owned and run by Mrs Tinckham where you could leave your possessions for safe keeping and where you could go for a sympathetic ear. Smoke filled rooms, tops of buses, taxi rides, pub opening times, empty city streets in the early hours of the morning and the freedom to get drunk and blunder your way down to the River Thames in the Docklands through narrow dark alleyways to the foreshore for a dip. London and to a lesser extent Paris becomes almost as bigger character as Jake. Murdoch describes in detail routes from one section of the city to another. I know many of those trails and would have had no qualms about long hikes from Hammersmith in the West of London to Soho near the centre. I found myself walking along with Jake in a time that no longer exists but is vivid in my memory. Paris sounds just as gorgeous then as it is today.

There is hardly a dull moment in the book even when Murdoch is intent on raising philosophical questions, as for the most part they are handled with a lightness of touch that push the reader into thoughts about Jake and his world. I am sure there are characters like Jake around today, but they will have lost their innocence and this is the essential quality that shines out from this book and perhaps it is no longer there, in the meaner streets of todays world. This is a stunning first novel that I enjoyed immensely, but it is very much of it’s time and while issues raised are still relevant today I feel that those issues have moved on. Murdoch does not always get the balance right, but I would take her mixture of philosophy and storytelling over much that has been published recently and so a four star read. ( )
3 vote baswood | Dec 6, 2014 |
I confess that I liked it after putting it down. But now, less than two years later, I cannot recall a single thing about this novel. Obviously, not comparable with a host of other works I've read. So, it appears to be a good book - just not memorable (despite the accolades from the critics). So why waster your time? ( )
  JVioland | Jul 14, 2014 |
Mildly funny and entertaining, without much substance, though. ( )
  thatotter | Feb 4, 2014 |
"Under the Net" was my third time reading an Iris Murdoch novel. While this was probably my least favorite of the three, it clearly demonstrates why she is such a terrific author -- all of her books have been very different in terms of style and story.

In this novel, the narrator, Jake Donaghue is a translator who basically runs about London and Paris, all because he is completely inferring all the wrong things from every communication he has. The book is really about the little lies that crisscross in language (as no one every truly speaks their entire mind.) The philosphy never gets particularly heady here-- it's more a madcap story for the most part.

I don't think this is Murdoch's best work (thus far I liked "The Sea, The Sea" best) but overall I did enjoy this book. ( )
  amerynth | Sep 3, 2013 |
Evocative and well-written. Murdoch does a remarkably convincing male point of view. One for the blokes. ( )
1 vote Angela.Kingston | May 1, 2013 |
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Epigraph
All, all of a piece throughout:
Thy Chase had a Beast in view:
Thy Wars brought nothing about;
Thy Lovers were all untrue,
'Tis well an old Age is out,
And time to begin a New.


DRYDEN: THE SECULAR MASQUE
Dedication
To: RAYMOND QUENEAU
First words
When I saw Finn waiting for me at the corner of the street I knew at once that something had gone wrong. Finn usually waits for me in bed, or leaning up against the side of the door with his eyes closed.
Quotations
Hugo noticed only details. He never classified. It was as if his vision were sharpened to the point where even classification was impossible, for each thing was seen as absolutely unique. I had the feeling that I was meeting for the first time an almost completely truthful man ...

Starting a novel is like opening a door on a misty landscape; you can still see very little but you can smell the earth and feel the wind blowing.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140014454, Paperback)

A comic novel about work and love, wealth and fame

Jake Donaghue, garrulous artist, meets Hugo Bellfounder, silent philosopher.

Jake, hack writer and sponger, now penniless flat-hunter, seeks out an old girlfriend, Anna Quentin, and her glamorous actress sister, Sadie. He resumes acquaintance with the formidable Hugo, whose ‘philosophy’ he once presumptuously dared to interpret. These meetings involve Jake and his eccentric servant-companion, Finn, in a series of adventures that include the kidnapping of a film-star dog and a political riot on a film set of ancient Rome. Jake, fascinated, longs to learn Hugo’s secret. Perhaps Hugo’s secret is Hugo himself? Admonished, enlightened, Jake hopes at last to become a real writer.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:39:31 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"Jake, hack writer and sponger, now penniless flat-hunter, seeks out an old girlfriend, Anna Quentin, and her glamorous actress sister, Sadie. He resumes acquaintance with formidable Hugo, whose 'philosophy' he once presumptuously dared to interpret. These meetings involve Jake and his eccentric servent-companion, Finn, in a series of adventures that include the kidnapping of a film-star dog and a political riot in a film-set of ancient Rome"--Cover.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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