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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Under the Net (1954) by Iris Murdoch

Iris Murdoch

Book Review
Under the Net (1954)
by Iris Murdoch

  Under the Net was the first novel of Iris Murdoch.  Under the Net is a real audience pleaser, mixing elements of a philosophical novel with those of picaresque and utilizing an appealing milieu of post-war London and Paris. It remains her most popular novel (she published over 20 during her lifetime) and is a mainstay of "Top 100 novel" lists of all types.  Her protagonist is Jake Donaghue, a translator of French best-sellers and sometimes writer who is determined to work as little as possible.  He bears a strong resemblance to Murphy in Samuel Beckett's novel, Murphy.  Upon his return from Paris, Donaghue is ejected from his rent-free apartment by Madge, who is set to marry or at least co-habitat with wealthy bookmaker Sammy Starfield.

  This eviction sets in motion the mechanics of the plot, which expands to include a pair of sister singer-actresses, a friendly philosopher, the owner of of a fireworks factory, a socialist rabble rouser and various mis-adventures in and around London and Paris, culminating with Donaghue taking a job as an orderly in a hospital- the exact same position accepted by Beckett's Murphy in that book.  Murdoch was frank about acknowledging the creative debt, but her book is light and airy, where Beckett's Murphy was as dark as novels come.

  Although none of the characters serve as a direct stand in for Murdoch herself, the entire novel is a great example of why people found her so interesting- she combined intellectualism with a sexy, fun lifestyle in a way that anticipated the sexual revolution of the 1960s.  

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