Now, after reading The Golden Bowl, I am naturally predisposed to think that just about anything is more readable than James' voluminous prose. Nonetheless, I am convinced that Iris Murdoch's Under the Net is a true gem -- and one that I had never heard of before beginning my Modern Library quest.
The plot is simple, but the ordinary events capture the fantastic. The writing is witty and sparkling, subtle but hilarious. The end is poignant and understated. And there's love between a man and a dog. What more could this girl ask for?
"Anna is one of those women who cannot bear to reject any offer of love...To anyone who will take the trouble to become attached to her she will immediately give a devoted, generous, imaginative and completely uncapricious attention, which is still a calculated avoidance of self-surrender."
"Oh, love, love!" said Anna. "How tired I am of that word. What has love ever meant to me but creaking stairs in other people's houses? What use has all this love ever been that men forced on me? Love is persecution. All I want is to be left alone to do some loving on my own account. ... This talk of love means very little. Love is not a feeling. It can be tested. Love is action, it is silence."
"When does one ever know a human being? Perhaps only after one has realized the impossibility of knowledge and renounced the desire for it and finally ceased to feel the need for it. But then what one achieves is no longer knowledge, it is simply a kind of co-existence; and this too is one of the guises of love."
ON TRUTH AND PERCEPTION:
"Some situations can't be unravelled...they just have to be dropped. The trouble with you is that you want to understand everything sympathetically. It can't be done. One must just blunder on. Truth lies in blundering on."
"...I felt neither happy nor sad, only rather unreal, like a man shut in a glass. Events stream past us like these crowds and the face of each is seen only for a minute. What is urgent is not urgent forever but only ephemerally. All work and all love, the search for wealth and fame, the search for truth, life itself, are made up of moments which pass and become nothing. Yet through this shaft of nothings we drive onward with that miraculous vitality that creates our precarious habitations in the past and the future. So we live; a spirit that broods and hovers over the continual death of time, the lost meaning, the unrecaptured moment, the unremembered face, until the final chop chop that ends all our moments and plunges that spirit back into the void from which it came."