Iris Murdoch’s first novel Under the Net is a book I should have read 18 years ago, for one of my college papers. I managed to take the paper without reading Murdoch…and it took me all these years to get back to her.
It’s not a book that grabs you immediately; rather it reeled me in slowly and almost without noticing it, I was quite hooked onto Jake Donaghue’s escapades in 1950’s London. There are parts that are philosophy (a theory that says language is a series of falsehoods, that it cannot describe any particularity without falsifying it, that however much we try to crawl under its net, we are condemned to a travesty of truth each time we open our mouths or put pen to paper), parts that are first rate comedy and parts that are some of the most lyrical descriptions ever (the night of drunkenness that ends in Jake, Finn, Dave and Lefty swimming in the Thames is a chapter worth reading all by itself).
Under the Net is a first person narrative of Jake, too lazy and too scared to commit to being a writer. He ends up making a living by translating second rate French novels and cadging off his friends. Life takes a turn when he is thrown out of his friend’s apartment by her impending marriage and he is forced to look for alternative accommodation. This leads Jake to go looking for an old flame Anna and this in turn brings back into his life Anna, her sister Sadie who is in love with him and an old philosopher-friend Hugo. Innumerable twists and turns later (providing for a lot of comic farce), Jake is forced to look deep within to figure out what matters to him at heart. The end of the novel sees Jake committing to what he knows is ultimately what he wants to do most in life – write and write well.
1950s London is at the heart of the novel. There is also some amount of Paris, but Murdoch and Jake romance London beautifully. The characters of Finn, loyal and unquestioning, Hugo the philosopher, Sadie the beautiful and manipulative actress, Lefty the socialist and even weird Mrs. Tinckham are etched in ways that draw you in. And there are times you wonder if there isn’t a little bit of Iris Murdoch herself in Jake Donaghue, so real seem the protagonist’s dilemmas. It is not tough to see why the publication of this novel catapulted Murdoch into the top echelons of British literature.
After Dark is of course, vintage Murakami. Set over 7 hours in a Tokyo night, it tracks Mari, a young girl who has missed her train and her encounters with Takahashi a young jazz musician, a Chinese prostitute hurt by a client, a Chinese gang and Kaoru the woman who runs the hotel where the prostitute is hurt. Mari’s beautiful sister Eri in the meantime is in a deep sleep, from which she does not want to awaken. She has been in this deep sleep for months and Murakami, in his inimitable way takes us to her room where there is a TV screen that comes on by itself and sucks Eri in. Yes, this is Murakami after all, and there are things that happen in his world that do not make sense in ours. But at the end of the dark, when morning light sneaks into the world, Eri is back in her bed and with Mari too in hers, there just might be hope for a renewed connection between the sisters.
As is normal, this is a Tokyo that could be a big city in any part of the world. And with all pop culture references being Western (Jean Luc Goddard, Duke Ellington…), I am still quite flummoxed by Murakami and his Japan. But having read my fair share of his books, I should say there is something there that though strange and surreal, often proves fascinatingly addictive.
Jab We Met is fluffy and cute and adorable. I am a sucker for sweet, funny love stories and this is one. A train journey, a couple of popular tracks, an effervescent Kareena, the ubiquitous Punjab scenes and a quite humorous script made this DVD a worthwhile watch. Shahid Kapoor was surprisingly cool but I can well understand why Kareena dumped him in real life. She is so much a woman and he is such a boy!
All in all, good weekend R&R.