Under the Net

by Iris Murdoch

So what do I mean by this micro/macro dichotomy? I mean precisely this: Iris Murdoch has written individual sentences here that are so meaningful, I think I shall remember them forever. However, the narrative as a gestalt just isn't my cup of tea. Perhaps it's just that I'm not a fan of the "comic novel" (which is how this book is described in its cover blurb). And when I say something to the effect of, "I'm not sure what the fuss is about Iris Murdoch," I don't proffer it rhetorically. I mean just this: I'm really not certain. I've never read any of her work until now, & I know nothing about her life, her contribution. (I am dimly aware of some movie made recently about her life. And that she succumbed tragically to Alzheimer's Disease...is this right?)

So I've ranked the book the lowest so far on my Classic Bitch scale. I don't know if the narrative really hangs together that well, and I also think the book ends much like a sitcom might. At times reading Under the Net, I alternately am not sure if the protagonist isn't mentally ill, and at other times if some of the supporting characters aren't imaginary. The story is mundane in places, yet not at all believable in others. But maybe that's the point? That's life.

So, on to what I love. (I actually mark the text with a pencil as I read & even dog-ear some pages, something that for some reason I typically forbear doing.) Here are two quotes as a sampler of the genius in Iris Murdoch's craft.
• "Dave once said to me that to find a person inexhaustible is simply the definition of love, so perhaps I loved Anna."
• "Arriving in Paris always causes me pain, even when I have been away only a short while. It is a city which I never fail to approach with expectation and leave with disappointment. There is a question which only I can ask and which only Paris can answer; but this question is something which I have never yet been able to formulate. Certain things indeed I have learned here: for instance, that my happiness has a sad face, so sad that for years I took it for my unhappiness and drove it away. But Paris remains for me still an unresolved harmony. It is the only city which I can personify. London I know too well, and the others I do not love enough. Paris I encounter, but as one encounters a loved one, in the end and dumbly, and can scarcely speak a word."

There is not much I can say here, as the quotes stand alone of course. I suppose I could add that the former is trenchant for me in that it is topical, while the latter conveys a feeling about a place that I do not specifically share with the writer. Perhaps the genius lies in eliciting feeling & understanding from a reader where common ground exists, but also where it is absent.