Like a grandnephew of Bertie Wooster, Charles Hythloday is a drunken, snobbish, twentysomething college dropout who's alarmed to discover the letters from the bank that he's been ignoring portend an imminent seizure of his family's beloved Irish mansion. His reluctant plunge into the working world is, naturally, fraught. ''So in short,'' a corporate recruiter tells him, ''it's fair to say you've never worked for a living, is that right?'' For a while, the deliberately absurd plotting and Charles' droll narration wring smiles. (The book's title An Evening Of Long Goodbyes comes from an oddly named dog-track competitor.) But this shaggy-greyhound story by Paul Murray, can't quite sustain 424 pages -- let alone a stab at earnestness toward the end.