Thursday, August 2, 2012

#58 - 'Under the Net' by Iris Murdoch

I finished Under the Net a couple of days ago, my 58th book from the list.  It was a fun, entertaining read, featuring at times a complex story with some interesting characters.  As I've mentioned before, it very much reminds me of Lucky Jim and The Sot-Weed Factor for its sympathetic and perhaps socially clumsy main character, as well as its comedic value.
Jake Donaghue is a failed writers, sometimes translator, and general bum, loafing around 1950's London, mooching off friends for money, food and lodgings.  After being dismissed from his most recent residence, he calls on old friend and former flame, Anna.  While she doesn't take him in, she does help him out by sending him to her sister, star of stage and screen, Sadie, who is only too happy to help a man down on his luck.

But it turns out, Jake might have received more than he bargained for, and soon finds himself in a fiendish plot involving an aging movie dog (Mister Mars), a stolen manuscript for one of the world's worst books and a love 'square' involving his long estranged friend Hugo.

Under the Net is successful because it doesn't really strive to be anything more than a light-hearted comedy.  Despite Jake struggling to find a place to live, and never really having any decent prospects, the novel doesn't chronicle a man in a desperate situation.  Nor does it ever try to take it's self too seriously, even at moments where there is a bit of a serious undertone to the rather absurd happenings.

The best part, at least for me, was the characters, specifically Jake Donaghue.  Obviously the man is not without is faults, in fact he has more faults than virtues, but he is a lovable character because of this.  Almost bumbling through his adventures, Jake finds himself in awkward situations only because he has made poor decisions which have put him there.  But through it all, he always has a laid-back, almost care-free attitude, which for whatever reason, I found quite comforting.

After having become so attached to the protagonist, there was a time, near the end, where I feared things would not work out for him. I worried that a novel that had been so fun and funny, would end on a sour note. Well not necessarily a sour note, but a less than ideal note. I always contend that all the good books are depressing in a way, but I suppose there are always exceptions. This would be one of them.
The writing itself is entertaining and at times I even laughed out loud.  I think Catch-22 and The Sot-Weed Factor  are the only other books from the list to have accomplished this.  While I know it was a funny book, I wonder how much my laughs were the result of having just finished Things Fall Apart, which didn't feature anything close to a laugh.

Next I'll be reading Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates, which I know little about and have not seen the movie.  However, I was advised to have a cyanide pill with me at all time whilst reading, so I can kill myself when it becomes too depressing.  Comforting.    

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