Author: Iris Murdoch
Details: (c) Iris Murdoch 1954; Pub Penguin 1974; ISBN 0-1400-1445-4
Verdict: Under the net is rather odd.
Reasons for reading it: I am generally a fan of Iris Murdoch, (although I absolutely hated The black prince). And after Terminal Café I had to read something I could expect to be well written.
How it came into my hands: Some charity shop in the UK somewhere. I've had the book for a while, partly because I have to be in the right mood for Murdoch, and partly because The black prince seriously put me off.
Under the net has very much the atmosphere of the kind of book where Things are Not as they Seem. But the resolution is more or less that things are in fact exactly as they seem, but the narrator is extremely fanciful and puts an overly complicated spin on everything that happens. It's doing the unreliable narrator thing in a really blatant way, and I can't quite decide whether Murdoch pulls this off or not.
UtN is a very slow paced book; I did find I was forcing myself to read it at some points. I think it is rather like the stereotypical idea I formed of Murdoch before I read any of her stuff, based on the way literary types rave about her. It's clever, and there's a pretty high level of technical skill, and it's just crying out to be analysed by literature students. It has a lot of good points: Murdoch's characteristic deep, detailed observation of people, situations and society pretty much justify the effort. The characters are not terribly sympathetic on the face of it, but real enough that one cares about them. I don't think this is at quite the level of mastery that some of her later books reached, but I'm possibly biased because I just generally didn't like the book very much. Certainly the writing is impressive.
There's quite a lot of humour and playfulness, but unfortunately the majority of it is not my style of humour; it tends to the slightly cruel or of the kind that makes the audience cringe as they helplessly watch the characters heading into awful or embarrassing situations. There seems to be a running joke about practically all the characters being Irish, which I didn't entirely get. I have a suspicion that the book is in some way reacting to or commenting on or even pastiching James Joyce, but I haven't read much Joyce so that's just a hunch.
I think the main conclusion is that I can see that UtN is good, but I'm very clearly the wrong audience for it.