Under The Net - Book Review and Analysis - Kristopher Cook

Under The Net by Iris Murdoch

by Kristopher Cook
Genre: Classics
Time to Read: 3 minutes

Writer Iris Murdoch, or should I say, Dame Iris Murdoch, was an Irish writer (born in Dublin 1919) best known for her themes of; good vs evil, morality, the unconscious mind, and sexual relationships. Her first piece of work was a critical study, Sartre; Romantic Rationalist in 1953, followed by two novels, Under the Net in 1954 and The Flight from the Enchanter in 1956.

Iris Murdoch Under the Net Analysis
Writer Iris Murdoch

Having won the Booker prize, Iris Murdoch has also won the James Tait Memorial Prize for The Black Prince and the Whitbread Literary Award for The Sacred and Profane Love Machine.

Murdoch often dealt with everyday conflicts and household problems in her books, and Under the Net is no exception. She was known for her perfectionism to writing and not allowing editors to change her work.

Modern Library ranked Under the Net at #95 on its list of ‘the greatest English-language novels of the twentieth century.’


Jake Donaghue, a broke writer with no home, seeks to find an old girlfriend, Anna and her actress sister, Sadie. He also crosses paths with an old friend, Hugo, whose philosophy he once tried to interpret. These encounters have Jake, and his eccentric sidekick Finn, stumble into a series of adventures that include; kidnapping a dog, political riots, and a quest for love hoping that in all, he’ll become a recognized writer.

Under The Net Analysis

The book’s main character, James Donaghue (Jake) is a writer and translator, in his early thirties. Playing the starving artist, he must find a way to make a living, find a place to call home and win back the woman he loves.

It’s worth noting that Jake’s cousin Finn provides the majority of the comic relief due to his goofy nature and inability to grasp many social interactions.

Despite frequent uses of sexism and flashes of racism from both Jake and his companions, the story never becomes offensive in any way, rarely straying from its upbeat tone.

Likewise, Murdoch’s use of imagery had me swept away, with her delicate details of busy streets, giving every environment its own unique touches. She offers up some extraordinary human insights that have you taking to the characters in no time.

For instance, the highlight comes from Jake and Finn trying to steal a Stunt Dog, Mister Mars from its home, via a cage that’s too big to fit through the door. This shows the characters charm and their human qualities, which are present throughout.

Closing Thoughts on Under the Net

In summary, Under the Net is an enjoyable book with plenty of fun set-pieces to keep you entertained. Littered with philosophical metaphors, it will also have you thinking about the banalities of life. This, along with what it means to love, and why we do it, have you thinking way after finishing.

However, there are times when the plot can meander from side-to-side and not move forward for short periods but other than that, Under the Net is a light-hearted book that doesn’t take itself, or its characters, too serious.


Britannica, T. E. (2018, July 11). Dame Iris Murdoch. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Iris-Murdoch

Meyers, J. (2017, June 12). Iris Murdoch, The Art of Fiction No. 117. Retrieved from https://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/2313/iris-murdoch-the-art-of-fiction-no-117-iris-murdoch Awards listing

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As a late reader, aged 21, I fell in love with books after discovering George Orwell's Animal Farm. From there my collection has grown and grown, and as of today, I include Philip Roth, Chuck Palahniuk and Stieg Larson as some of my favourite authors.

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