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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Under the Net

Iris Murdoch

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To purchase Under the Net

Title: Under the Net
Author: Iris Murdoch
Genre: Novel
Written: 1954
Length: 255 pages
Availability: Under the Net - US
Under the Net - UK
Under the Net - Canada
Under the Net - India
Sous le filet - France

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Our Assessment:

B : decent romp, with some fun scenes and clever thoughts, but doesn't quite come together as a novel

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 1/6/1954 Patricia Hodgart
New Statesman . 5/6/1954 John Raymond
The NY Times Book Rev. . 20/6/1954 Edmund Fuller
The Spectator . 11/6/1954 Kingsley Amis
TLS B 9/7/1954 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Miss Iris Murdoch's first novel, Under the Net, reveals a brilliant talent. (...) Set against this dazzling array of virtues, the weaknesses of Under the Net pale into their proper significance. They are faults of construction and design." - Times Literary Supplement

  • "Iris Murdoch started her career with one brilliantly funny novel, Under the Net. From then on, it was downhill all the way" - Boyd Tonkin, The Independent (8/5/2003)

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Under the Net was Iris Murdoch's first novel. It is narrated by James (Jake) Donaghue. In describing himself he admits:

I am something over thirty and talented, but lazy. I live by literary hack-work, and a little original writing, as little as possible.
       At the beginning of the novel Jake (and his mate Finn) find themselves in need of new digs. Magdalen -- Madge --, who they have been staying with, turns them out, having apparently gotten herself engaged to Sacred Sammy Starfield, "the diamond bookmaker".
       Jake is a cheerful, happy-go-lucky sort of fellow. He does just what needs to be done for him to get by. Money isn't a great priority for him -- and he manages to scrape by, even though he seems terminally short of cash. (Money -- and its absence -- is central to the novel: Jake and his friends are constantly scrounging around for just enough to buy another drink or hire a taxi (for a person with limited funds at his disposal Jake takes taxis with alarming frequency); it is also a facet of the novel that quickly wears thin.)
       Jake doesn't need much: his first night he wraps himself up comfortably in a "bearskin complete with snout and claws". Still, he does look for some place more suitable to bunk down. A former lover, Anna, isn't much help, but her sister Sadie wouldn't mind him around the house.
       Sadie leads Jake to another old acquaintance: Hugo Belfounder, a curious and very talented soul who dabbled (successfully) in a variety of undertakings. Hugo and Jake used to have grand philosophical discussions, and Jake used this material in one of his books; out of embarrassment Jake cut his ties with Hugo, but now their paths cross again.
       Things get complicated: Jake wins some money at the races (courtesy of Sacred Sammy), one of Jake's manuscripts goes missing (and it seems there is some interest in making a film of the material), Jake kidnaps a famous dog (as part of his plot to get the manuscript back), and the French hack Jake has been translating all these years goes out and writes a book that wins him the Prix Goncourt. All the while Jake rushes to and fro and all about (including, briefly, to Paris), getting involved in a number of capers and some madcap misadventures. Politics gets in the way of things too, and there is a spectacular scene at a movie studio. Love -- as always -- complicates things too; it is not a book a bout happy relationships.
       It is all in good fun, but also a bit too manic. And Jake is a bit too unsettled (becoming, at one point, a hospital orderly). Things comes to a reasonable conclusion, but it's all a bit much for such a slim volume.
       Murdoch does write well, though. Some of the scenes are hilarious -- and the brief philosophical excursions are also very good.
       Hugo's philosophy has a bit of Wittgenstein to it (and the character, too, is in some -- though not all -- ways Wittgensteinian). Communication, he feels, is practically impossible: "The whole language is a machine for making falsehoods". And he tells the flighty Jake: "All theorizing is flight".
       Anna echoes some of Hugo's words early on (before Jake can make the connection), and the ideas are well integrated into the story as a whole -- but not quite well enough. (Of course, one tends to measure Murdoch against her own great achievements in her later books, brimming with ideas, neatly tied to their stories: a high standard to measure up to.)
       In the end Hugo has philosophically accepted: "One must just blunder on. Truth lies in blundering on." Murdoch's first effort here is a fine example of such blundering on -- but she perhaps remained too wary of trying harder to get close enough to "crawl under the net".
       "I know that nothing consoles and nothing justifies except a story", Jake quotes from his own Hugo-influenced work, The Silencer. The ideas are already here, and the talent too, but Murdoch wasn't fully able to make a story out of it yet.

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Under the Net: Reviews: Iris Murdoch: Other books by Iris Murdoch under review: Books about Iris Murdoch under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary British fiction at the complete review
  • See Index of Philosophy under review

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About the Author:

       Iris Murdoch (1919-1999) studied at Oxford and Cambridge, and was a fellow of St. Anne's College, Oxford. She published twenty-six novels and won the Booker Prize in 1978.

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