Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Iris Murdoch

I must admit, now that I've finished it, I'm not sure what to do exactly with Iris Murdoch's Under the Net. The novel started strong -- or strong enough: a memorable stylist wielding an interesting story line. I was hooked.

But whereas I expected something resembling the novels of David Lodge -- fun and full of character -- the sense I had after completing Under the Net was one largely of dissatisfaction: as if Murdoch had been on the right track, only to veer off course, into a fictional realm without consequence. 

No doubt, there's something to Jake Donaghue's story, and to his interactions with his philosophical muse, Hugo Belfounder. And for the first one hundred pages or so, I felt this relationship might result in an interesting meditation on the nature of literary invention. 

But it was just as this point -- when I expected to Murdoch to the turn the corner toward ideas of inspiration and influence -- that the novel moves in a different direction: one involving Jake's love interests, and the extent to which he and Hugo get caught up, however unexpectedly, with the same group of women. 

For me, this just didn't play: I wasn't taken with the comedy of errors, and wasn't very much convinced by the ending either: where Jake discovers some sort of new beginning, where the whole thing comes full circle. 

Ultimately, I wish Murdoch had closed the loop on something else: the nature of influence in the creative process, and the extent to which our lives -- despite our best efforts otherwise -- serve as the foundations for fiction. As Murdoch seems to imply: there can be no other way.


  1. I haven't read through the book in about forty years. It left me at the time with the impression that she Murdoch wrote quite well, but didn't manage to end the novel well. Having since encountered any such, I'd say that it is not unlike many first novels in that: the author has done well to put together some hundreds of pages mostly of narrative that will hold the interest. Mastery might or might not come later. (It strikes me as I write that Walker Percy's case might suggest that a polished first novel is not a good sign for a writer.)

    But bits and pieces stick with me: Davey holding out his hands and turning one or the other over as he writes an article on identity for a philosophical journal; Jake seeing the new novel by a man he thinks a hack win the Prix Goncourt, and feeling as a man might who had just his favorite opinion refuted, conclusively and in detail, by a chimpanzee.

  2. I read this in the LRB the other day:
    It might help.

  3. I agree, George, especially with your opening statement. Appreciate your sharing this. It's helpful context. --Jesse