Under the Net

Title: Under the Net by Iris Murdoch – A compelling exploration of identity, love, and the nature of reality

Publication Date: 1954
Genre: Fiction
Page Length: Approximately 400 pages


Under the Net, a novel written by Iris Murdoch and first published in 1954, takes us on a thought-provoking journey through the intricacies of human relationships, self-discovery, and the quest for meaning in a chaotic world. Through the eyes of the protagonist, Jake Donaghue, Murdoch delves into the complexities of existentialism, the struggle between illusion and reality, and the transformative power of love.

The novel is divided into four parts, each comprising several chapters that contribute to the overarching narrative. Let’s explore the key plot points, characters, and themes that shape this remarkable literary work:

Part One: Jake and Anna

In the introductory chapters, we are introduced to Jake Donaghue, a quirky and somewhat aimless writer living in London. Following the recent suicide of his friend, Hugo Belfounder, Jake embarks on a quest to recover his missing, intellectual cat, called ‘The Magician.’ Jake’s search leads him to many strange encounters and introduces him to a range of unique characters.

One such character is Anna Quentin, an enigmatic actress whom Jake falls passionately in love with. Although their relationship is tumultuous, with Anna’s complex personality and Jake’s insecurities, their connection serves as a catalyst for Jake’s self-reflection and growth throughout the novel.

Part Two: The Silenus Club

As Jake continues his search for the elusive cat, he becomes entangled in a web of intrigue and deceit. He infiltrates a philosophical group known as The Silenus Club, whose members discuss existentialism and question the nature of reality. Here, Murdoch explores the themes of truth, knowledge, and the elusive nature of human existence.

Part Three: Jake’s Adventures

In this part, Jake’s journey takes him to various locations, including Paris and the French countryside. Along the way, he encounters eccentric characters, like the wealthy Mrs. Tinckham and her peculiar son, Lefty. They challenge Jake’s perceptions of morality, friendship, and the constraints of societal norms.

Part Four: The Search Concludes

As Jake’s quest to find The Magician cat finally culminates, he experiences a series of revelations that shatter his illusions. This part delves into the themes of truth versus fiction and desires versus realities. Jake’s character arc reaches its climax as he learns to accept life’s uncertainties and appreciate the beauty of human connections.


1. Jake Donaghue: The witty and introspective protagonist who navigates a world of philosophical discourse and personal struggles.
2. Anna Quentin: The complex and enigmatic actress with whom Jake falls deeply in love.
3. Mrs. Tinckham: A wealthy and morally ambiguous woman whose unconventional lifestyle challenges Jake’s perceptions of morality.
4. Lefty Tinckham: Mrs. Tinckham’s son, a volatile and troubled character whose actions test Jake’s limits of friendship and loyalty.
5. Hugo Belfounder: Jake’s late friend, whose suicide at the beginning of the novel sets Jake’s search for meaning in motion.


1. Identity and Self-Discovery: Through Jake’s journey, readers witness his ongoing search for purpose and understanding of his own identity.
2. Illusion versus Reality: Murdoch explores the blurred lines between truth and fabrication, questioning the nature of reality and our subjective perspectives.
3. Love and Relationships: The complex dynamics between Jake and Anna exemplify the struggles, passion, and transformative power of romantic relationships.
4. Existentialism and Philosophy: The novel delves into philosophical discussions and existentialist ideas, reflecting the larger intellectual climate of its time.

Under the Net is often regarded as one of Iris Murdoch’s seminal works, winning critical acclaim for its introspective exploration of the human condition. By examining the intricate connections between characters, the novel invites readers to reflect upon their own lives, relationships, and the ever-elusive question of personal identity.