Book 931 Don DeLillo – Underworld

When I read Underworld in 2000, I absolutely hated it. I thought it was just some meaningless ramble with a couple of old pop culture references just to make DeLillo sound cool. I’ve also read Falling Man and White Noise, which I didn’t really warm to.

Ten years later and I decide to re-read the book again and I LOVED it!

It seems that every decade there is an American author who writes a huge book which criticises the world today. In the ’00’s it was Jonathan Franzen with ‘The Corrections’ and in the 90’s it’s Underworld.

Now it is very difficult to actually summarise Underworld as it is a chunky novel which has many reoccurring themes. Yet these themes are spread out though the last fifty years of American history.  To confuse matters more this is told backwards (with the exception of the prologue and epilogue). That’s right the book’s first part starts off in 1998 and ends in 1951.

As you can see I still haven’t really mentioned the plot. As there are many narratives but the main one deals with an Italian/American called Nick Shay and how his life revolves around contemporary society. There are threads, Nick’s brother Matt, his one time fling with the artist Klara Sax, his dealings with a baseball memorabilia collector called Marvin Lundy. This is just the surface, there’s a lot going on but this forms part of the main plot.

Not to mention the themes that dominate Underworld. Waste and garbage, baseball (make sure you read that prologue, it’s the key to understanding the book) Stand Up comedy, Graffiti,  the Cuban Missile Crises and more. The thing is DeLillo weaves all these themes together and traces them to Nick Shay. By the time you read the epilogue all loose ends are tied and you have a feeling of satisfaction when you close the book.

Underworld is a breathtaking and intelligent novel, but unfortunately there is one flaw : It has a weak midsection ( I know that sounds weird but you get what I mean) It does not drag but after reading an exhilarating 400 pages or so, you do feel disappointed that the middle does not live up to the high standards of the beginning. It does pick up again, and very smoothly. Don’t let this put you off the book. Underworld is a truly essential novel and a prophetic one (you’ll see what I mean) at that!


4 thoughts on “Book 931 Don DeLillo – Underworld

  1. uncertainprinciples February 28, 2010 / 11:38 am

    Re-reading a novel you once hated is quite commendable. It’s something I’ve never been able to do. I have tried to re-read novels I didn’t finish on the first attempt though…

    Not heard of this book yet, but thanks for the review. I’ll give it a shot someday soon!

    • deucekindred February 28, 2010 / 12:04 pm

      When I started this challenge I made sure I would read every single book from cover to cover so if I disliked a book long ago I would have to re-read it. Funnily enough though these are the books i’m liking even more!

      As for books I’ve never finished, well now I’ve officially have one which I gave up after a 100 pages and that’s Doris Lessings’ The Golden Notebook. Whether it forms part of the 1001 list, I don’t know.

      If you have a lot of time and patience Underworld can be rewarding – At least now I know why there’s so much fuss about this book!

  2. selena March 3, 2010 / 8:29 am

    Another book to add to my pile! After reading your review, I went to read a few more (mostly talking about plot) and it sounds super interesting. I’m a sucker for books told in weird ways (backwards, in this case).

    You’re a truly amazing man if you made yourself read this after hating it. I don’t know that I have that in me, in any way.

  3. deucekindred March 3, 2010 / 9:09 am

    Hey there.

    I’m learning that after a period of time things do change so if you have read a book that you disliked way back then try approaching it again. You never know!

    Just for the record here’s a list of books which i’ve hated

    1. Doris Lessing – The Golden Notebook
    2. Sebastian Faulks – Birdsong
    3. John MaGahern – Amongst Women
    4. Jane Smiley – A Thousand Acres
    5. Jon Banville – The Sea (and after a three year break i still didn’t like this novel!)

    from the challenge there’s only been one real stinker of a novel and that’s Dan Sleighs Islands.

    If you do tackle Underworld do tell me about it! 🙂

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