(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Returning to London from France, Jake Donaghue learns that he and his friend, Finn, are being evicted from their free lodgings with their landlady, Madge. The two friends ask Dave Gellman, a teacher and philosopher, if they can stay with him, but Dave will only agree to allow Finn, and his and Jake’s baggage, to remain. Jake, Dave says snidely, has to make other arrangements with a lady friend. Finn suggests Jake ask Anna Quentin, Jake’s former girlfriend.

Though Jake has not seen or heard from Anna in years, he finds her easily once he starts looking. However, Anna will only let him stay one night, but suggests that he contact her sister, Sadie, who is looking for a caretaker for her place while she is away. Anna promises to contact Jake if she should need him.

The next day, Sadie agrees to let Jake watch her flat. She is especially concerned about the unwanted attentions of Hugo Belfounder, Jake’s former roommate. As roommates, the two had had many philosophical discussions, one of which Jake turned into a not-very-successful novel, The Silencer. In the novel, Jake had attempted to replicate one particular conversation with Hugo that dealt with language as the falsifier of experience. Jake feared his novel had betrayed Hugo’s ideas, so he ended their friendship by not meeting him one night as planned.

Reminded of all this, Jake returns to Madge’s to pick up her copy of The Silencer. Instead, he runs into Sammy Starfield, a bookie who thinks he has stolen Madge from Jake. He offers Jake money as compensation, but Jake refuses. Instead, he allows Sammy to bet money on the horses and, should they win, give the winnings to Jake.

On Tuesday, Jake reports to Sadie’s flat. As soon as she leaves, the phone rings. The caller is Hugo. Jake identifies himself, but Hugo hangs up. Jake decides to track Hugo down, even though Sadie had told him not to leave the flat. Jake finds that he is locked in. Luckily, Dave and Finn are walking down the street. They find Jake’s situation hilarious, but agree to get him out.

Finn picks the lock, and the three set off to find Hugo at the address Sadie had for him. There they find a note saying Hugo is at a nearby pub—but the note does not say which pub. They never find Hugo, but they do find Lefty Todd, leader of the Independent Socialists. Lefty and Jake have a political discussion until the pub closes. The group walks to the Thames River, and everyone but Dave strips for a swim. More drinking follows. Finally, Lefty leaves, and Finn passes out. Suddenly, Dave remembers that he has a note for Jake. The note, a couple days old now, is from Anna, asking Jake to see her at once. Afraid he is too late, Jake hurries to Anna’s mime theater.

Finding the theater empty, Jake spots a truck containing Anna’s things. A note attached to the neck of a rocking horse has Jake’s initial on it. Anna has had an offer and could wait no longer for Jake. At this upsetting news, Jake jumps from the truck and goes to Hyde Park, where he passes out in the grass.

Jake wakes up and returns to Sadie’s to retrieve her copy of his novel. There, he eavesdrops on Sadie and Sammy, who...

(The entire section is 1307 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Murdoch’s first novel and the only one that is clearly derivative, Under the Net was strongly influenced by French writer Raymond Queneau, to whom the book is dedicated, and author Samuel Beckett. The book is a combination of a picaresque novel and a philosophical enquiry. Although the work is not as tightly plotted and lacks the integration of her later novels, Under the Net exhibits many of the qualities that would become hallmarks of her style: a fast-moving story; precise, detailed descriptions of settings; strong use of contingency as a plot device; and philosophical deliberations about truth, love, and freedom.

Jake is a failed writer who earns money translating the works of a French writer. He is in love with Anna Quentin, a singer, and enormously influenced by Hugo Belfounder, a successful entrepreneur whom he meets at a clinic. There, they have serious dialogues about art and truth. When Jake is banished from his rooms, he tries to get in touch with Anna again. Through intricate and sometimes hilarious plot twists, he finds that Anna is in love with Hugo, and that Anna’s actress sister, Sadie, is in love with Jake. To complicate the plot further, Hugo is in love with Sadie.

This cast of main characters is rounded out by several minor characters who exhibit Murdoch’s remarkable inventiveness: Finn, Jake’s man Friday who eventually returns to Ireland; Lefty, a socialist organizer to whom Hugo donates a great deal of his wealth; Sammy Starfield, a self-made millionaire who used to be a bookie; and Mrs. Tinkham, the keeper of a dusty, dirty, corner newspaper shop where she sells ice cream, reads the merchandise, and offers a haven to drifters like Jake.

Jake starts out at the beginning of the book seeing everyone in relationship to himself. At the end, however, when he accepts that Anna will never be his, Anna exists for him as a separate being for the first time. He realizes that this, too, is a guise of love.