Wednesday, 8 November 2000

Iris Murdoch: Under the Net (1954)

Edition: Chatto & Windus, 1954
Review number: 676

The story of Jake Donaghue's aimless London adventures gives the reader the feeling all the way through that it has more meaning than is readily apparent. I found it difficult to see what this hidden significance might be, but still enjoyed the novel. The title probably has something to do with this; it has no obvious relationship to any of the events in the plot.

Jake is a writer who, at the beginning of the novel, is thrown out of the flat in which he's living, as the female friend who owns it has just become engaged to a man she thinks might object to a male flatmate. Seeking refuge with a series of friends, Jake is forced to take stock of his life, his past and his future. Various factors conspire to make this happen, including an affair between two of his friends, and the French novelist whose mediocre works have provided most of Jake's income in the last few years through translations suddenly winning the Prix Goncourt for his latest book.

Subtly funny, Under the Net manages to be both easy to read and cleverly literary. It is well written without showing off, containing interesting and differentiated characters. In its understated way, it certainly deserves to be considered one of the greatest English novels of the century.

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