Challenge 1, Book 7: To Rise Again at a Decent Hour

Over halfway through! Yay! While not completely on schedule, I’m hoping to get through the remainder of the shortlist, at least, by the time the winner is announced. Thankfully, there’s no equivalent to ‘The Luminaries’ this year!


Where does this idea of greater connection come from? I’ve never in my life felt more disconnected. It’s like how the rich get richer. The connected get more connected while the disconnected get more disconnected. No thanks, man, I can’t do it. The world was a sufficient trial, Betsy, before Facebook.

Book 7 is To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris.

One of the six titles shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, this book is about a New York dentist, Paul O’Rourke, who discovers that somebody is impersonating him online and using his name to spread a message about the Ulms – the descendants of a people called the Amalekites and whose only rule is that they must doubt the existence of God.

But… it’s also about much more than that. It’s about alienation and Paul’s search for belonging. It’s also about the meaning of faith and belief and traditions.

The character of Paul took me some time to warm up to. He’s unnecessarily abrasive at times and while amusing, he’s also deeply emotionally disturbed. He talks about the times he broke into an ex-girlfriend’s apartment to lie on her bed and cry into her pillows and while his description of it made me laugh, it’s not something that endeared him to me.

But as the novel goes on, we can see some of what made him who he is and we learn that while he has his faults, he also means well and just wants to belong somewhere. He never becomes likeable but we do start to begin to understand him. He’s alienated by the rituals that other people have, completely unable to understand the point of them – like rubbing hand lotion in when your hands are just going to get old and stiff anyway, or getting a dog when it’s just going to die and make you sad. At times he reminded me of an older Holden Caulfield – standing on the outside of society, not able to fit in. The difference though, is that Paul really wants to.

The closest thing he has to a belief system is in his support of the Red Sox. He has rules and rituals surrounding each game – he must watch each game from the start, he must tape each game (on video), he must have chicken and rice beforehand, he must never watch the sixth inning. He takes part in online forums about the Red Sox, which is the closest thing he has to community. But even baseball has let him down. When the Red Sox beat the ‘curse’ in 2004 and won, he felt like he didn’t know them any more. He also realised that them finally winning didn’t fundamentally change anything for him.

There’s interesting parallels between the different religious belief systems and the rituals people take part in in their everyday lives. As a dentist, Paul’s patients have faith in him but this expresses itself in different ways. The most interesting being the patient who visits him every six months because that’s what you’re supposed to do, waits when he’s told to because Paul is the dentist and he obeys his dentist, but then refuses to have his cavities filled because he feels fine.

On the whole, this book fascinated me (and made me want to visit a dentist). On a personal level, I’m from somewhere where Catholicism is beginning to lose its hold so the question of what replaces religion is one that interests me. Despite a couple of moments that jarred, I also enjoyed the character of Paul and his musings on the utter pointlessness of everything. It’s a book that’s very much of its time and while it seems to be getting mixed reviews on sites like Amazon/Goodreads etc, I think it’s a worthy nominee for the shortlist. I definitely see it as a book that could be studied in an English literature course in the future.

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