Under the Net Summary
by Iris Murdoch

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(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 are plotting to sell Jake’s translation of novelist Jean Pierre’s book The Wooden Butterfly to Hugo’s film company. Jake decides he must go to Sammy’s flat to retrieve his translation. He calls Finn to help him. At Sammy’s place, they find Mister Mars, a movie dog, but not Jake’s translation. Jake decides to kidnap the dog to exchange him for the translation.

Finn returns to Dave’s place, and Jake sets off for the Bounty Belfounder film studio with Mister Mars, intending to find Hugo and warn him about Sadie and Sammy’s plot. Jake tricks his way into the well-guarded studio, where a labor rally led by Lefty Todd is in progress. Hugo is listening to Lefty and will not talk to Jake. A riot ensues, and the police show up. Worried that he will be arrested for stealing Mister Mars, Jake gets the dog to play dead and then uses the...

(The entire section is 1,642 words.)