Under the Net by Iris Murdoch
Murdoch, a philosophy don at Oxford, was that rarity, a philosophical novelist who could create real characters, not premises with names attached. Born in Ireland, she revered Wittgenstein, who fostered her contempt for abstractions. (Her title refers to the "net" he believed language cast over truth.) She also wrote the first English-language elucidation of Sartre, whose existentialism was behind her sharp appreciation of the human potential for leaps into the void. But it was as a novelist that she will be remembered. Until she began sinking into Alzheimer's in the mid-1990's, she maintained a ferocious output. This was the first of her 26 novels, about a circle of bewildered and lovesick friends and acquaintances in London, with excursions into aesthetics and left-wing politics. Right out of the gate she displayed all her sinuous gifts—her questing mind, her comic skepticism, her wildly entangled plots.— R.L.