Iris Murdoch’s Under the Net (1954) and The Sandcastle (1957)

The winter months are good reading months for me, especially when snug indoors with a view of the snowy cityscape. I’ve been reading more than I’ve been reviewing here, so here’s a peek into the recent stacks.

Iris Murdoch’s Under the Net (1954) and The Sandcastle (1957) were read with Liz’s Iris Murdoch Readalong in mind, both library loans, in anticipation of reading some longtime shelf-sitters. I’ve read four of her novels previously, but both of these were new-to-me.

It’s interesting to wonder what Iris Murdoch might think of these early novels, approaching them so many years later. She gives Jake, the writer at the heart of Under the Net, the opportunity to reflect on the matter, and one suspects she would feel the same sense of disconnect and distant respect.

“It’s always a strange experience to read one’s own writings again after an interval. They so rarely fail to impress. As I turned the pages of this curious journal I felt that the years which separated me from the moment of its creation had given it a strange independence. It was like meeting as an adult someone whom one knew long ago as a child. It wasn’t that I liked the thing any better, but that now it somehow stood alone; and the idea crossed my mind that now at last it might be possible to make peace with it.”

It’s a long way from ‘making peace’ to admiration, and, yet, there is much to admire about these early novels.

They are uncomfortable reading at times, however, for relationships are mainly dissatisfying and disappointing. (They are not exclusively unhappy, sometimes disorienting and thrilling, but still not lastingly and not quite happily.)

The dialogue is always entertaining (more so than one might guess from Murdoch’s reputation as a serious and philosophical writer) and sometimes more so than intended (when comments about women wearing trousers arise, for instance).

My favourite parts are the description of Mrs. Tinckham’s Shop (Under the Net) and Tim Burke’s jewellery shop (The Sandcastle). They are such detailed and delightfully and dynamically chaotic spaces, which also offer (each in its own way) the space a character requires to envision their lives taking a turn.

Not only the descriptions of the shops are vivid and sharp: even minor characters are described in detail.

“Mr Everard had a plump healthy face of the kind which passes imperceptibly from boyhood into middle age without any observable intermediate phase. He always wore a tweed suit and a dog collar. His expression was habitually gentle, his eyes doe-like. His hair was light brown and rather fluffy and unruly. As a boy he must have been pretty; as a middle-aged man he appeared candid and disarming to those who did not see him as looking stupid.”

The next books in the Readalong were/are The Bell, The Severed Head and An Unofficial Rose, for January, February and March. The first two I read for bookclubs in 2001 (both were good for discussion as I remember them, particularly The Severed Head), and I tacked on An Unofficial Rose at the end. Perhaps I was, even then, half-heartedly attempting a chronological read-through!

Have you been reading any English classics lately?



  1. Laila@BigReadingLife February 21, 2018 at 4:47 pm - Reply

    I’ve never read Murdoch before, but your post is making me feel like I’m missing out!

    • Buried In Print February 21, 2018 at 5:43 pm - Reply

      If you like the quotes, maybe it’s time to take a swing through the M’s with Naomi… 🙂

  2. Naomi February 21, 2018 at 8:29 am - Reply

    I’he never read Iris Mudoch, but have imagined her books to be much like the way you describe them. I don’t think I even own one!
    I love your picture collage!

    • Buried In Print February 21, 2018 at 8:41 am - Reply

      Knowing how much you enjoyed the Davies book, I think you might be surprised to find yourself enjoying her stuff. I bet you’ll be scanning the shelves at work on the weekend… rubs palms in anticipation of data update (Speaking of which, should we plan for reading book two in Davies’ series before we forget?)

      • Naomi February 21, 2018 at 12:18 pm - Reply

        According to the computer we have 5 of her books at the library. That’ll do for now. 🙂

        Yes! Leaven of Malice, right? When do want to read it?

        • Buried In Print February 21, 2018 at 5:40 pm - Reply

          It’s nice to know they’re there!

          I just peeked inside and I barely remember the characters — uh oh, maybe I need to reread Tempest-Tost first…

          • Naomi February 22, 2018 at 11:41 am - Reply

            I think I remember it pretty well. Except for maybe a few character names. I can’t find my Leaven of Malice, though! I know it’s here somewhere!! This is what I get for “tidying up”. snicker

            • Buried In Print February 22, 2018 at 1:40 pm

              It is nearly always a mistake when one tidies up one’s books!

  3. Debbie Rodgers @Exurbanis February 20, 2018 at 8:48 am - Reply

    What a lovely collage of photos, Marcie. Makes me want to snuggle in with a cup of tea and one of the Murdoch’s that have been on my shelf for years. I have good intentions.

  4. […] on the point of view. Buried in Print reviewed it along with “Under the Net” (read it here), with some great […]

  5. Liz Dexter February 18, 2018 at 1:37 pm - Reply

    I love this joint review, thank you for posting it and linking to my post. I will link back to it in my roundups, and will mention those fab covers.

    I’m not sure there are THAT many happy relationships in Murdoch, are there? But I’m glad you’re getting pleasure out of re-reading her.

    • Buried In Print February 20, 2018 at 4:12 pm - Reply

      Thanks for hosting, Liz, for inspiring me to revisit and read on. I’m sure she’s not alone in focussing on unhappy relationships in fiction, but somehow it does seem even more apparent in her work than in some others’ fiction? I’ll have to think about why…

  6. Rebecca Foster February 16, 2018 at 3:57 am - Reply

    What a lovely stack of Murdochs! Are they all from the library? The library of the university where my husband works has a terrific collection of her stuff, but for the readalong I’m just joining in with the paperbacks I happen to own already. So I’ll be back in next month with A Severed Head, which promises to be short and sharp.

    • Buried In Print February 16, 2018 at 9:23 am - Reply

      Thank you! They were all passed to me a few years ago by a dear friend who was much older than I; she adored Murdoch and her social and psychological observation. You’re lucky to have the uni access but I also understand that you might not want to read them all. I think you’ll find Severed Head interesting!

  7. annelogan17 February 15, 2018 at 4:49 pm - Reply

    I haven’t read any classics lately, which is why I so enjoy reading blogs like yours! It reminds me of everything I’m missing by sticking exclusively to newly published books 🙁

    • Buried In Print February 15, 2018 at 4:51 pm - Reply

      I know what you mean: it’s very easy to get caught in the “new books” net. I’ve been wound up in that for long chunks of time myself!

  8. Heavenali February 15, 2018 at 12:39 pm - Reply

    I remember enjoying the early novels when I read them with Liz a few years ago. However I don’t remember much of the plots now. I certainly do remember how they all contain lots of complex, unsatisfying relationships.

    • Buried In Print February 15, 2018 at 1:23 pm - Reply

      Now that I think about it, that’s much as I would have described feeling before I got back into reading her recently; all the unhappy people were blurred together in my reading memory, with a good helping of loneliness along with all the whiskey and artsy bits. But her dialogue and description makes it far more pleasurable than it should be!

  9. kaggsysbookishramblings February 15, 2018 at 11:50 am - Reply

    I’ve abandoned Under The Net twice, but I do hope to get onto the Sandcastle eventually! 🙂

    • Buried In Print February 15, 2018 at 1:20 pm - Reply

      I can see where it would be easier to abandon the characters in Under the Net; I think the web of relationships in The Sandcastle might pull you in more concertedly (although I am not entirely certain that it would be a perfect match for you either). I’m still getting to know your taste!

  10. Stefanie February 15, 2018 at 11:44 am - Reply

    I read The Sea, the Sea years ago and really liked it and have always intended to read more Murdoch. Sigh, you know how that goes.

    • Buried In Print February 15, 2018 at 1:17 pm - Reply

      When I was a kid and “discovered” a “new” author, I would forsake all other writers and only read the new “discovery” until I had read them all, but I have lost that habit over the years. You too?

      • Stefanie February 15, 2018 at 4:14 pm - Reply

        If it was a series of some sort, most definitely! I would happily binge and not stop until there were no more books left. I never really author-binged though. The story was more important to me than who wrote it. Still, those were some good days!

        • Buried In Print February 15, 2018 at 4:51 pm - Reply

          I think I only mistakenly author binged, assuming that they were going to write on about the same characters (because I read so many series that I assumed that would be the case and, yes, was often disappointed)!

  11. A Life in Books February 15, 2018 at 7:39 am - Reply

    I haven’t read these for years. I waded through most of Murdoh’s novels a couple of decades ago when I was a bookseller and remember being transfixed by The Sea, The Sea.

    • Buried In Print February 15, 2018 at 8:13 am - Reply

      I read The Sea The Sea in 2007 and I remember being surprised by how quickly it read (for its size and for its teeny-tiny print); I’m curious whether I will feel like rereading that one (for the same reasons), but at least the library will have a copy, whereas I’m surprised to see that they are missing some of her earlier works (and don’t have, for instance, a circulating copy of The Bell).

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