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UNDER THE NET by Iris Murdoch, Book Review: Unravelling farce

Under the Net, Iris Murdoch’s first novel, features Jake Donaghue and sidekicks getting into predicaments, barbed banter and deception.

Under the Net Synopsis:

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Under the Net - Iris Murdoch

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, who’s profound and inconclusive reflections give the book its title – under the net of language.

Narrated by Samuel West

BOOK REVIEW

I’m in two minds about Under the Net, the first of Iris Murdoch’s works I have read. 

Being a long-time fan of all things British and quirky, I adored some of the comedic (and at times, farcical) situations protagonist Jake Donaghue and his loyal sidekicks get themselves into. Their predicaments and barbed banter were delightfully entertaining (particularly those involving a dog), and I was highly amused by Jake’s quixotic, single-minded approach to unravelling the mysterious plot he uncovers.

But over an extended period, it is hard to remain engaged with a narrator that is feckless and at times self-sabotaging, amid large swathes of existential content. That said, I did find the philosophical debate centring on language, writing and communication rather stimulating.

All the time when I speak to you, even now, I’m saying not precisely what I think, but what will impress you and make you respond. That’s so even between us – and how much more it’s so where there are stronger motives for deception. In fact, one’s so used to this one hardly sees it. The whole language is a machine for making falsehoods.

Audiobook narration

Under the Net was a relaxing title to listen to, narrator Samuel West giving a great performance bringing to life Jake’s self-involved persona, ranging from the pithy to soporific. In fact, I suspect it is West’s nuanced portrayal that stopped me just short of disliking Jake.

In Under the Net Murdoch delivers self-reflection and a measure of insight and growth for her characters but (as in real-life I guess) less traditional plot resolution than I had hoped for. I was however charmed by moments of great authorial talent, and will definitely sample more from her large catalogue of titles in the future.

BOOK RATING: The Story 3 / 5 ; The Writing 4 / 5  —  Overall 3.5

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Genre: Audio, Classics, Drama, Literature, Adventure, Mystery

This review contributes to my participation in the 2015 Audiobook Challenge and Back to the Classics Challenge 2015.

About the Author, Iris Murdoch

Iris Murdoch (1919-1999) was one of the most influential British writers of the twentieth century. She was awarded the 1978 Booker Prize for The Sea, The Sea, won the Royal Society Literary Award in 1987, and was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1987 by Queen Elizabeth. Her final years were clouded by a long struggle with Alzheimer’s before her passing in 1999.

Other reviews of Under the Net

“I am unused to feeling so little feminist rage during a Murdoch novel; this one was light-hearted and lacked the sinister undertones present in, for example, The Sacred and Profane Love Machine and Message to the PlanetUnder the Net could even be called a buddy novel.” — The Millions

“Murdoch would go on to publish some of the sharpest and most comic novels of the 20th century but this debut shows her as a novice still getting a handle on her power.” — FreeRangeReading