Don’t worry about the pronouns

Michael Wood

  • Under the Net by Iris Murdoch
    Vintage, 432 pp, £9.99, July, ISBN 978 1 78487 518 3

Jake Donaghue, the endlessly discomposed hero of Under the Net, is a careful composer when it comes to his narrative, as distinct from the life he has notionally been living. He refers to ‘earlier events related in this story’, restricts himself to what is ‘of any interest from the point of view of the present story’, and describes his feelings as they were ‘at the point which our story had now reached’. At one minute he calls what will happen to him his ‘destiny’ and flashes forward to a later moment of awareness: ‘I had no notion how fast it was galloping at that very moment to overtake me.’ ‘Galloping’ is a nice touch, since narrative custom mostly suggests that destiny sneaks up on us, that it can’t be seen in the offing. Jake’s ‘I had no notion’ respects this principle but the rest of the sentence ruins it, plants us firmly in narrating rather than narrated time. And of course destiny itself, whatever else it may be, is always a narrative effect, the insertion of a later perspective (real or imagined) into an earlier one.

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