If one is to take Found, Lost, Found seriously it is necessary to recognize that J. B. Priestley is a writer of prodigious output, whose fiction is as much social comment as are his essays and his criticism, and that he has been producing work for more than a half century (his first novel, Adam in Moonshine, was published in 1927). As it happens, this latest short novel is much like his first; it is a charming, light, romantic, escapist bit of fiction; one has to dig for the symbolism, and might not bother to do so were it not that the work is by Priestley.
The title appears to tell it all: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl. On further consideration, however, the story does have another level when one remembers Priestley’s penchant for symbolism and social criticism in his work; it then becomes a mischievous look at the civil services, psychiatry, women’s liberation, the theater, and other manifestations of the embattled Englishman in the last part of the twentieth century.
The action centers around the acceptance of a challenge from his girl by a moderately alcoholic civil servant; the challenge is to prove he can generate enough initiative and self-discipline to find her, if he wants her.
The protagonist, Tom Dekker, exemplifies the plight of the middle-level civil servant in England—victim of boredom, frustration, and irritation at bureaucratic dullness, inclined to hide behind a polite facade while inwardly carping at the façades erected by others. Priestley has taken each character and exaggerated it to create a kindly caricature so that one laughs with, rather than at, the broadly sketched foibles of modern-day Englishmen.
Dekker is handled most sympathetically of all the characters. Through him, we see the condition of man as it is today, a condition of diminishing sense of purpose in the face of increasing anonymity and expanding government regulation—enough to drive anyone to drink. Dekker retains his sanity by floating through each day on a cloud of gin, one of the simplest and most accessible solutions to any problem. He is characterized as having a quick wit and ready humor; Priestley uses him as the vehicle for some clever one-liners and bits of comedy, though some of the comedy is contrived, forced, and too hearty; one gets the impression that the author padded the action to provide a substrata to support the witty passages.
Psychiatry comes in for its share of risible but irascible comment in the person of Dr. Belham, who is supposed to help Dekker, but who is patently in need of help himself. Quick-tempered and arbitrary, he admits that he went into psychiatry to try to correct his own weaknesses. This gives Priestley a chance to use one of the less subtly placed...
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