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#95….Under the Net

October 27, 2009

“Events stream past us like these crowds and the face of each is seen only for a minute. What is urgent is not urgent for ever but only ephemerally. All work and all love, the search for wealth and fame, the search for truth, like itself, are made up of moments which pass and become nothing.”

Iris Murdoch’s 1954 novel, Under the Net, has been described as an example of the ‘picaresque’ novel, which Wikipedia terms as “an episodic recounting of the adventures of an anti-hero on the road”. There is no better one-sentence summary of Under the Net and its roguish ‘anti-hero’, Jake Donaghue, out there. Jake, a thirty-something, self-obsessed, angst-ridden slacker who spends his time translating cheesy French novels and mooching off his friends, is kicked out of his house by his ex-girlfriend. Having no real source of income and lots of free time, Jake decides to hunt down another ex-girlfriend for a place to stay, and it is there that the long-winded and pointless escapades of an uninteresting, unemployed single guy begin. Fiances of old girlfriends, horse racing, dog-stealing, binge drinking and skinny dipping abound in spades, as Jake flounders around London trying to find himself, or a place to stay, whichever comes first.

One thing I noticed (and disliked) about this novel was the amount of time Murdoch spent in Jake’s head. The book was essentially written like one long stream-of-consciousness, like Jake’s brain with closed-captioning. In keeping with the Existentialist tradition, of which Murdoch was a proponent, she gets into the minutiae of Jake’s life in order to more clearly define him….what he thinks about people, what he thinks they think about him, why he’s going to do something, what might happen if he does it, what he thinks people will do when he does this….ad nauseum. It was ‘too much information’ for me, personally. I wasn’t sure if I didn’t like Jake’s character because I knew everything he was thinking, or if he just wasn’t all that interesting. Probably a bit of both. Hugo, the one character I would have liked to know more about, and someone Jake found so interesting that he wrote an entire book on his philosophy of life, would have made a much more fascinating main character, but alas, Murdoch chose to go with Everyman instead. Lucky us.

I’ve read several other reviews from people who loved this book and its irreverant style. I hate coming to the end of books feeling like I missed something, but I just didn’t find it with this one, and I blame myself.

Grade: C-

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