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Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Friday, 27 April 2018

"Under the net" by Iris Murdoch

This picaresque novel follows the adventures of freelance translator and writer Jake as he travels around London (and Paris). Starting with his landlady evicting him so she can marry a bookmaker he pursues ex-flame singer Anna, her sister film star Sophie, and rich firework maker turned film producer his old friend Hugo. During the course of the book he drinks copiously and often, swims in the Thames in the middle of the night, kidnaps a film star dog, has to flee from a political riot in a film set of ancient Rome, and springs an old friend out of hospital, again in the middle of the night.

And yet nothing really happens, there seems no structure, no point to anything and few lessons appear to be learned. Jake and his friends seem to be free from the normal responsibilities of life. He sofa surfs at the houses of his friends. When he gets a job it seems to be for something to occupy his time rather than a need to earn money. This is, of course, a novelistic convention. How many of us could really spare the time and money needed to investigate a mystery, or sort out family problems, that are available to some many protagonists? Perhaps 'don't give up the day job' should be a rule of novels (as it is for most novelists).

Because of the lack of a structured plot I found it difficult to become involved in the protagonist. The quest to find Anna (just another ex-girlfriend whom he hadn't seen for years) and the quest to find Hugo (whom he felt he had betrayed) didn't seem urgent. Jake's involvement in dognapping and (repeatedly) breaking and entering had the casual quality of a boyish prank. I didn't really care.

On the other hand, Iris Murdoch is a philosopher and there were times when the writing sparkled with interesting ideas:

  • The one-sidedness of inevitably egoistic solipsism: "I count Finn as an inhabitant of my universe, and cannot conceive that he has one containing me" (p 9)
  • "Women think that beauty lies in an approximation to a harmonious norm. The only reason why they fail to make themselves indistinguishably similar is that they lack the time and the money and the technique." (p 10)
  • "There's something fishy about describing people's feelings ... things are falsified from the start ... If I say afterwards that I felt such and such ... this just isn't true ... All one could say at the time would be perhaps something about one's heart beating. But if one said one was apprehensive this could only be to try to make an impression ... it would be a lie." (p 59 - 60)
  • "When I speak to you ... I'm not saying precisely what I think, but what will impress you and make you respond." (p 60)
  • "English socialism is perfectly worthy, but it's not socialism. It's welfare capitalism." (p 99)
  • "Swimming has natural affinities with Judo. Both arts depend upon one's willingness to surrender a rigid and nervous attachment to the upright position." (p 107)
  • "Although I am not frightened of motor cars I am rather nervous of trains. This I know is illogical since, except in moments of crisis, trains run on rails and cannot pursue you across pavements and into shops as cars can." (p 140) Perhaps it is their inflexibility that makes them frightening, a bit like Daleks and stairs.

There are also some great descriptions:

  • "It was like a vast toy shop that had been hit by a bomb." (p 38)
  • "What has love ever meant to me but creaking stairs in other people's houses?" (p 40)
  • "I felt like a man who, having vaguely thought that flowers are all much the same, goes for a walk with a botanist." (p 61)
  • "If you have ever tried to sleep on the Victoria Embankment you will know that the chief difficulty is that the seats are divided in the middle." (p 155)
  • "The twisted hills of falsehood never cease to appal me, but I constantly enter them; possibly because I see them as short corridors which lead out again into the sun." (p 183) Perhaps this sentence would work better if the it were not 'hills' of falsehood. 
  • "Daytime sleep is a cursed slumber from which one wakes in despair. The sun will not tolerate it. If he can he will pry under your eyelids and prise them apart." (p 197)
  • "I felt neither happy nor sad, only rather unreal, like a man shut in a glass." (p 244)

An interesting book but lacking in passion.

According to wikipedia this was Murdoch's first novel. TIME have listed it among the hundred best English language novels since 1923. These lists are silly. The customers of Hatchards, the London bookshop, voted Trollope's The Warden as the best book of the last two hundred years. These selections show how subjective reading is (and makes it even more pointless that I should blog what I think and that you should read it).

I selected it because Michael Grant in Myths of the Greeks and Romans suggests that the title at least reflects the action of Hephaestus who used a net to entangle his wife Aphrodite in bed with her lover Ares which exposed them to mockery but also himself. There's another reference that was too subtle for me.

April 2018; 253 pages

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