Well, my latest read is something quite special indeed. Attentive readers of this site (who am I kidding?!) will remember how much I enjoyed reading Iris Murdoch’s The Sea, the Sea last summer, a book which kept coming to mind when visiting Cornwall last week. So, upon returning home I picked this other Iris Murdoch novel (her first) off the book shelves.

Under the Net by Iris Murdoch

Under the Net is ostensibly the story of a talented but lazy young writer called Jake Donaghue and the many scrapes he gets himself involved in. It is also a philosophical text though, exploring the complexities of human relationships, the difficulties in understanding one another and the limitations of language itself (language being the “net” referred to in the title). It is also a very funny read.

I hate solitude, but I’m afraid of intimacy. The substance of my life is a private conversation with myself which to turn into a dialogue would be equivalent to self-destruction. The company which I need is the company which a pub or a cafe will provide. I have never wanted a communion of souls. It’s already hard enough to tell the truth to oneself.

To me the novel has flavours of some of my other favourite authors: the style of the writing reminded me of John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row at times; the characters could easily have come from a Jack Kerouac novel (or, at least, a British version of his work); and the brilliant catalogue of comic set pieces brought to mind Evelyne Waugh’s Scoop.

I love the quiet humour that runs through this book and the many comic dialogs. In this respect, Iris Murdoch achieves a very difficult task in this novel: to produce an intelligent, philosophical work that is also flowing with life and fun and vigour. A remarkable achievement. Here is an example of the way that serious thought is combined with the more mundane interactions of life:

Hegel says that Truth is a great word and the thing is greater still. With Dave we never seemed to get past the word.

This really is great prose writing: the easy flow of the language reflects perfectly the attitude of the narrator, yet there is also clear design and intent underpinning the overall structure and some passages which really get you thinking. Definitely one of the best books I’ve read in recent months.

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