Under the Net by Iris Murdoch

First read: 5/07
Reviewed on: 5/5/07
Click here to buy it

I did not like it.
I liked it.
I thought it one of the Best Novels of All Time

You will like the structure of this novel. For most of it, the plot is similar to Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Our protagonist finds out right at the start that he needs a new home, and then event leads to event.

...or so you think. Murdoch is great at giving you the impression that Jake Donaghue has no choices, that he is doing what he has to do next at every turn. And that is clearly the way that Jake sees it. It is only after you finish the book that you think, "hey, wait, he didn't have to steal that animal movie-star..." Not only does everything seem like a good idea at the time, everything seems like the only idea at the time. Murdoch makes the most outrageous stuff believable. Jake gets involved in a massive fistfight riot in a simulacrum of Ancient Rome? No problem, couldn't be any other way.

We meet characters along the way who are like people I went to school with, and Jake is reunited with some old friends with whom he's lost touch. Lately I've been really missing some old friends. Jake's encounters made me miss them more.

So you are reading merrily along, swept with Jake along with the events, feeling what he feels, laughing at the light parts, being surprised at the surpising parts, and then things are about to work out okay for ol' Jakearoo, and then...

He makes a choice. Almost like a character in a movie refusing to follow the script. There's a break. And Jake and you part company, because he doesn't feel like he's making a choice, he feels like he's still following his only course of action.

I went to high-school. I went to college. I got only crappy job offers so I got a Masters. I got a crappy job offer, working for Ross Perot, and a good job offer, so I took the good one at GE. I felt I was following a script at all times. And then I quit and went back to grad school to get a Ph.D. in hopes of being a professor someday. To everyone I knew, I was deviating from the script. But at the time, I felt like I had no choice, that I was still walking along the path, even though it wasn't going in the direction I thought it would. So I related.

But I was still yelling at him.

Up until this point, I kept thinking, "I'm enjoying this and all, but why is it on the list of Great Novels of All Time?"

And then the book should end. He made his choice. But instead, the book goes on, with a different tone. There is this sense of sadness and loss throughout. And "the book isn't over?" The adventure ends with his decision... but life continues after the adventure is over.

The writing during the last part is amazing. You don't know what's going to happen, and you care. It is a very satisfactory denoument. Revelations put the past in a new light, Jake continues to surprise us. The book doesn't just end, like many do, it really concludes.

This was a light, fun, read that was quite well written. You'll like it.

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