Hide this

Results from Google Books

Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.

Under the Net by Iris Murdoch

Under the Net (original 1954; edition 1971)

by Iris Murdoch

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,453305,153 (3.61)112
Title:Under the Net
Authors:Iris Murdoch
Info:Penguin Books Ltd (1971), Edition: New impression, Paperback, 256 pages
Collections:Your library, ebooks and online books
Tags:contemporary, novel, british author, ebook

Work details

Under the Net by Iris Murdoch (1954)



Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book.

No current Talk conversations about this book.

» See also 112 mentions

English (28)  Dutch (1)  Hebrew (1)  All (30)
Showing 1-5 of 28 (next | show all)
  BrokenTune | Aug 21, 2016 |
Quite quickly you realize that Murdoch's fiction wears her love for philosophy on her sleeve, as even in this comic outing, her first novel, there is depth and insight. From start to finish, the complexities of relationships, love, life, the supernatural, art, and any number of other things pique our interest. The novel is written as a first-person narrative, and is clearly meant to be published by the protagonist once the novel comes to a close. The central character, and narrator, is a young author himself, and espouses some of Murdoch's own thinking on the life of a young author and the intrinsic debates that must rage within the mind of the young artiste. I particularly liked the depiction of the Bohemianesque artistic milieu of mid-twentieth century London and Paris, especially the central character's escapades around Paris in search of his lost love. Some of the comical moments are hardly laugh-out-loud, but still a fantastic first novel from one of the twentieth century's greats. ( )
  m-andrews | Feb 2, 2016 |
Six-word review: Picaresque adventures of a would-be writer.

Extended review:

One of the rules of improvisational theatre is to say yes--to go along with everything another suggests. Sometimes this rule is expressed as "Yes, and." Denying and blocking bring a scene to a halt; "yes" allows it to build.

Numerous times in reading Under the Net I had the feeling that the novel was working on the principles of improv comedy, and nowhere more so than in the passages pertaining to the kidnapping of the dog. The aftermath of that impulsive act colors the rest of the story and serves as an effective device for exposing character.

At other times, I was reminded of the delusions and paranoid fantasies of a Dostoevsky character, particularly Golyadkin in The Double. The inner life of the narrator and main character, Jake Donaghue, appears as quirky and self-contradictory as a creature of Lewis Carroll.

Jake is a semi-employed translator of French pulp novels who has been sponging off a friend and is suddenly evicted for reasons of disappointed romance. He thinks that he may be able to solve his homelessness and cash-flow problems with the aid of a former amour. His life is too complicated a history of mistaken choices and poor judgments to be readily untangled by his present behavior, but he flails on, vacillating between the philosophical and the comic. His remorse for past misdeeds is genuine, and yet his present conduct borders on the slapstick as much as on the poignant. Jake is a sympathetic antihero whose way of skating through life, tragicomic elements aside, raises interesting questions about the implausible possible.

One of the aspects that I took to heart is a lesson that I know I struggle with as much as anyone: the degree and depth to which one can hold to a conviction, a certainty, about which one is utterly wrong. Coming to terms with that unpalatable revelation is easier than recognizing it in the first place. Luckily for Jake, not all such epiphanies are painful in the end. ( )
4 vote Meredy | Sep 7, 2015 |
This is Iris Murdoch's first novel has an uncharacteristically manic, almost madcap plot. Told in convincing male first person, this is the story of Jake, a lazy and failed writer, who makes a living translating trashy French bestsellers for the English market. He lives largely by sponging off friends, and has a series of highly improbable adventures involving a series of ex-girlfriends, a purloined potential film script, a canine movie star, and an escape from a hospital. The silliness of it all sometimes close to a madcap comedy or rom-com than a usual Murdoch novel. Still, this is beautifully written (of course) and entertaining. ( )
  sjnorquist | Sep 2, 2015 |
Let’s imagine we are at one of those raucous, intellectual cocktail parties where certain stimulating conversations pierce one’s cerebral cocoon, to bury and linger for years, periodically calling out to be resolved somehow. Suddenly, in the middle of the room, a glittering gauntlet is thrown down:

“Can you name a living American philosopher?”


The centathlete was about to blurt out, “Rick Roderick,” a charismatic professor from his college days. A self-described revolutionary materialist, Roderick idiosyncratically engaged the classroom, and even participated in a national “superstar” lecturer video series. In parsing Plato, Nietzche or Kierkegaard, he would draw analogies to Blade Runner, Neuromancer and Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. He was unpredictable in thought and deed: he cut short certain classes in order to make it home in time for Star Trek reruns; and he mentioned how as a younger man he had injected psychedelics into his optic nerve for ostensibly faster and more intense results (the benefits have been debunked by various scientist friends in conversation). An authentic provocateur who was denied tenure and then fired from Duke University, he wanted people to think critically and flourish.

But Rick Roderick died in 2002 in his early 50’s of heart disease, so while his name was not mentioned at our party, it is set down here. His insights and legacy are preserved at www.rickroderick.org and at this fine site, which feature his lectures, interviews, and more...

Then, in this odoriferous salon, one luminary—hey, it’s actor and model Lauren Hutton!—proclaims that Camille Paglia, the author, columnist and professor, is “the greatest thinker of our time.” Paglia, an adept, compulsive self-promoter, has echoed Hutton's assessment.

Another shadow utters, “Noam Chomsky is America’s greatest intellectual.” It’s Chris Hedges, the celebrated journalist and activist. He’s seconded by two rock ‘n’ rollers: Zack de la Rocha and Tom Morello of Rage against the Machine. They assert, “Noam Chomsky books are the ones most prominently featured on the 'Rage' tour bus.”

Paglia and Chomsky were generally welcomed, although the centathlete may have detected scattered, derisive coughing when the former was announced. Someone muttered that Paglia had a crush on Madonna, dressed it up as post-feminist aesthetic, and has been essentially recycling the work she published 25 years ago…

In any case, Philosophy Now recently asked accredited philosophers the following: “Please name the five living philosophers you consider the most interesting or important.”

For those disinclined to click through for the results, Saul Kripke came out on top. Unsurprisingly, the centathlete had not heard of this esteemed thinker, who has on at least one occasion contemplated the importance of first-hand experience in a genuine moral life.

This ground has also been trod by another philosopher, neither American nor living, one Iris Murdoch. She published on metaphysics and morals, and taught at St. Anne’s College at Oxford University.

Murdoch is known to pedestrians on account of her novels, such as her first, Under the Net from 1954, not her Neoplatonic endeavors. Cinema furthered her celebrity through the posthumous 2001 biopic Iris. Early in that movie, the young Iris, played by Kate Winslet, says her first novel is about, “How to be free, how to be good, how to love.” For the centathlete, that statement expressed the theme of Richard Eyre’s film, rather than that of Murdoch’s Under the Net. We’re concerned here, allegedly, with the novel.

Under the Net is a funny, picaresque romp whose star is Jake Donaghue, a bumbling, harmless boozer and author. His antagonist is Hugo Belfounder; their love interests are two sisters, Anna and Sadie Quentin. Murdoch liked her pairs for drama and dialectics. She included a nested, platonic dialogue between Tamarus and Annandine--the centathlete thought of “timorous and anodyne" and how those adjectives might fit Jake and Hugo, respectively.

But Murdoch didn't get too heavy. "My novels are not 'philosophical novels,'" she told The Paris Review. In Under the Net, thought and philosophy emerge sporadically and immediately attract our admiration, like the spray from a surfacing whale. At one point, Jake describes how, in meeting Anna, “...in the intense equilibrium of the meeting we both experienced almost a moment of contemplation.”

Jake does manage to reflect on various occasions. For example, he tells us, “In my experience the spider is the smallest creature whose gaze can be felt.” This was no idle observation: 36 years after Under the Net was published, Murdoch confessed, "I’m very interested in spiders. I like spiders. Spiders are my friends, and I have read books about spiders."

Donahue's claim can be tested first-hand by readers of all ages inclined to creep around a porch, backyard or park. The centathlete succumbed to the contemporary preference to ask a specialist, and sent a Facebook message to a coleopterist friend. She answered:

“Most of the beetles I studied are basically hidden until you find them and then are killed shortly after to become a specimen, so there's very little time for gazing. One exception is the tiger beetle. They are super hard to catch. They can go 5.5 mph, so if they were our size that'd be equivalent to about 450 mph. Anyway, you definitely get the sense they are watching you and messing with you as they continually elude capture.”

Though concerned with a different branch of arthropods, Miss Murdoch, it seems, was on to something as she sat beside a spider. Regarding the defiant, elusive tiger beetle, this video shows it is too speedy for eyesight to be its sole information gatherer. The creature doesn’t run continuously full-bore; it practices stop-and-start running, which lets it periodically register and process what lies ahead before advancing. For those of us racing, often thoughtlessly, through our workdays and posting impetuously on social media, this behavior seems worth emulating. Jake himself writes, “All one can do is first reflect and then act.”

However, reflection, when overwrought, can misguide us. Hugo tells Jake, “You’re always expecting something,” a critique that goes a long way toward explaining the hero’s recurring disappointment in his quest for meaning. He should expect less, and he ultimately concludes, “One must just blunder on. Truth lies in blundering on.”

At one point, when Jake is over thinking things, he says he undergoes, a “dérèglement de tous les sens.” This is a reference to Arthur Rimbaud’s credo: the poet must make himself a seer through a rational derangement of all the senses. The quotation is a comic step from the ridiculous to the sublime, as Jake was prompted to the Frenchman during a rambling monologue that included ferry and train smells on his way to Paris.

Sadly, Iris Murdoch suffered a form of derangement. Her struggle with Alzheimer’s was played out sensitively by Judi Dench in Iris. Such performances have helped make Dench the second-most admired English woman today.

The centathlete was reminded of his late relative Y., who similarly capitulated. Long ago, Y. secured job interviews for an unformed centathlete who had studied Liberal Arts and was rather uncertain about how to identify and pursue a line of work. One of those interviews resulted in a job and a career began. We look back and recognize how many people helped us on our way, and some acts become in hindsight even more magnanimous and pivotal. Much gratitude and respect owed to Y, and much love: the centathlete relished conversations with him over three decades.

Y. was an erudite, successful and portly man with a mordant sense of humor. He did not suffer those he perceived as fools and consequently could seem imperious. He would offhandedly praise or, more frequently, dismiss select works by his rough contemporaries: Vidal, Mailer, Capote, Cheever, Updike and others. During the Mad Men era, Y. was a senior executive at J. Walter Thompson and other public relations agencies; his duties included traveling the world buying and launching satellite offices. He helped people whom he liked, and he liked many, to advance their careers through heightened introductions.

Y. was a member of The Princeton Club in Manhattan by affinity, not schooling: he’d actually attended Brooklyn College. He dined regularly at the club, where he preferred shrimp cocktail for his belly and sundry cocktails for his significant intellect. His eyes sparkled with both mischief and the calculating regard of someone who has used and hustled others—the same gleam one sees in many photos of Vidal, Mailer and Capote.

The last two conversations with Y. stand out in part because his Alzheimer’s arose during the time between. During the last call, after Y. had been moved to a facility, Y. repeated how glad he was for the call and he asked about the centathlete’s grandmother’s well-being. Other topics were beyond his reach; no literature was discussed. The voice was thin and trebly, and all mischief had been flushed out by the disease or the medication. The man was nearly gone.

Several years earlier, the previous chat was lengthy, probably an hour long. Y. asked the centathlete for help in writing a philosophical novel in a sort of Ayn Rand style. It would be a book about ideas, aliens and atheism, Y. said—he was a devout, vocal non-believer dating back to his college days. The clincher of this book, Y. emphasized with relish several times, would be that, “in the end the bad guys win.” Mischief and calculation emanated from the phone.

Y.’s cynical stance would have placed him at odds with Iris Murdoch. “She had such a sweet nature,” said her widower, John Bayley. Indeed, Under the Net advocates hope. The novelist herself said more broadly, "A readable novel is a gift to humanity. It provides an innocent occupation. Any novel takes people away from their troubles and the television set; it may even stir them to reflect about human life, characters, morals."

A noble, generous thinker and a larger-than-life person, Iris Murdoch inspired much admiration, and some damning praise. A.N. Wilson wrote, “[Murdoch] had all the qualities of greatness except greatness. She seemed like a great woman when one was in her presence, and her novels have a compelling quality of almost-greatness.”

We might rise to Murdoch’s defense by observing that if one’s few detractors are especially eloquent, then one has done something right.

In an earlier interview with The Guardian, Bayley said about his remarkable, prolific wife, “I used to think the attitude she took to her books rather splendid: she'd be in the middle of a novel and she'd say, “Oh I don't think this one is much good, but better luck next time!” She was like a gambler, you know, there was always another roll of the dice.'”

The centathlete relates to the gambler’s mentality: some posts outshine others. In this running of the centathlon, 29 rolls are now completed and the pace has lagged. 71 to go…
  MichaelMenche | Apr 30, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 28 (next | show all)
One feels uneasily that any analytic explanation of the book weighs it down, adds a portentousness to what is in fact, light, amusing and rapid. I would plead in extenuation that this, of all the books [ASB covers only the first seven novels of IM], is the most philosophic, the one where analysis of ideas, such as Miss Murdoch herself applies to Sartre's novels is the most apposite technique of understanding the action, and not illegitimate, Since every sentence, as is not always true in the later books, has a sense of being carefully written, 'placed'.... Relationships between characters, although they *exist*, are worked round ideas, and are in very large part relationships of ideas.
added by KayCliff | editDegrees of Freedom, A. S. Byatt (May 29, 1970)
You must log in to edit Common Knowledge data.
For more help see the Common Knowledge help page.
Series (with order)
Canonical title
Original title
Alternative titles
Original publication date
Important places
Important events
Related movies
Awards and honors
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.

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.
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.
After the dignity of silence and absence, the vulgarity of speech.
If one has good reasons for an action one should not be deterred from doing it because one may also have bad reasons.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
Publisher series
Original language

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English


Book description
Haiku summary

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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:47 -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)

Legacy Library: Iris Murdoch

Iris Murdoch has a Legacy Library. Legacy libraries are the personal libraries of famous readers, entered by LibraryThing members from the Legacy Libraries group.

See Iris Murdoch's legacy profile.

See Iris Murdoch's author page.

Quick Links

Swap Ebooks Audio
7 avail.
111 wanted
6 pay1 pay

Popular covers


Average: (3.61)
0.5 1
1 5
1.5 1
2 17
2.5 5
3 64
3.5 27
4 101
4.5 9
5 33


You are using the new servers! | About | Privacy/Terms | Help/FAQs | Blog | Store | APIs | TinyCat | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | Common Knowledge | 113,209,681 books! | Top bar: Always visible