What was the Booker panel thinking this year?
To Rise Again at a Decent Hour was one of the Booker shortlist, and quite why is a sheer mystery to me.
It tells the story of a misanthropic New York dentist, obsessed with decay and the Boston Red Sox, who seeks tribal identity in the families of his intermittent girlfriends – whether Jewish or Catholic. He looks into the mouths of his patients and sees death and decay; he becomes obsessed with a series of women, finding them overwhelmingly perfect until he starts to see flaws which fast become the only thing he sees. The story tells the tale of his approach by the Ulms, a mysterious race/sect persecuted since biblical times who believe in the importance of doubting God. His identity is taken over online in an effort to gain his attention – websites, twitter feeds and forum posts in his name appearing with Ulm-ish quotes.
Perhaps blame my lack of sleep, but I simply did not get it. For starters, I couldn’t get on with the narratorial voice. He is the talkative type, which he acknowledges – gabbles on and on and on – without charm or interest. The whole thing is meant to be comedic, but although I could see how one might find some of his pronouncements amusing, I just did not. Long sections discoursing on the history of the Ulms including sections from their supposed holy texts, are lumpen and irritating. The Telegraph review calls it a “comic theological thriller” – really? That’s both a contradiction in terms and news to me, particularly “thriller”. The same review says “There’s a lot of manic ranting interspersed with musings on the relatedness of genetics, religion and culture, and what they mean for identity.” – true. How the reviewer finds that enjoyable is anyone’s guess.
Yet another Booker shortlist disappointment for this year (I haven’t even managed to get past page 30 of Ali Smith’s How To Be Both.) Let me save you time and slim down your to-read list for the New Year: read The Narrow Road to the Deep North, and skip the rest.
(You may have noticed a flurry of posts, but I am not suddenly reading at a breakneck pace. Spending time at my parents’ house has given me the chance to write up two months’ worth of reading. Happy New Year!)