I was originally going to call Iris Murdoch’s* Under the Net the poor man’s Lucky Jim, but by the time I finished, I changed my view. It’s more of the homeless man’s Lucky Jim – a similar modern picaresque around a hapless central character who can’t get out of his own way, but maybe 25% as funny as Amis’ novel with an ending that made no sense to me at all. It appears on both the TIME 100 and the Modern Library 100 (at #95).
*If Murdoch’s name rings a bell for you but the book doesn’t, the 2001 film Iris was about her, with Jim Broadbent winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Murdoch’s husband.
I admit, however, that the novel’s foundation in philosophy was probably lost on me, since I’ve never taken a philosophy course or had any interest in the subject. Murdoch herself was a philosopher, writing five nonfiction books on the subject, and philosophy is a running theme through Under the Net, with references to specific philosophers and discussions of the subject both through dialogue and through the plot. I didn’t appreciate any of the references and the dialogue tended toward the boring, while the narration … well, you tell me:
The roadway was glowing with light. One one side the Arc du Carrousel stood like an imagined archway, removed from space by its faultless proportions; and behind it the enormous sweep of the Louvre enclosed the scene, fiercely illuminated and ablaze with detail. On the other side began the unnatural garden, with its metallic green grass under the yellow lamps, and its flowers self-conscious with colour and quiet as dream flowers which can unfold and be still at the same moment. A little distance beyond the railings the garden ran into trees, and beyond the trees an explosion of light announced the Place de la Concorde, above and beyond which was raised upon its hill the floodlit Arc de Triomphe standing against a backdrop of darkness, with an enormous tricolore which reached the whole height of the archway fluttering inside the central arch.
That paragraph includes 143 words of descriptive text … in the middle of a pursuit scene. Just when I thought we were getting somewhere with the plot, Murdoch decides to stop and smell the roses.
Next up: Something a little more fun – Walter Moers’ City of Dreaming Books.