A Book Review of To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris
I was actually ecstatic to read To Rise Again at a Decent Hour. Perhaps that exuberance was my first mistake, but as it was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, I feel that I can’t be blamed too much. The summary also sounded promising: a story of a disgruntled dentist whose online life gets hacked by a person who he slowly realizes is a much better person than him. Sounds interesting, right? At any rate, I was expecting to be wowed.
The book got very religious, very quickly. While this wasn’t necessarily a good or a bad thing, it did bring up the question of viewing religion as a principle/lifestyle versus viewing it as an institution. A thought provoking question. Dr. Paul O’Rourke, the disgruntled dentist and protagonist, seems to prefer the institutional view. In fact, it seems that he is quite desperate for it, despite his repeated assertion that he is an atheist at heart. He seems to need the institution of religion only because he desperately needs something to belong to. This desperation is never fully justified for me, although it is seen repeatedly throughout the novel. However, the theme of belonging and how the need to belong to something/how that need can impact your life was the only redeeming quality of this novel.
I think it is pretty safe to say that I hated the only developed character, the great Dr. Paul O’Rourke. Everything from his self-pity, preoccupation with his girlfriends’ families (again, a sign of just how desperately he wanted to belong to literally anything), and his coinage and use of the term “c*nt gripped”. For a middle-aged man, none of this was endearing or even remotely acceptable. While Paul does give us his own self-justification for why he acts the way he does, I was not convinced and instead found myself incredibly irritated with him, instead of feeling pity for him, something I think the author hoped to create.
The other characters are left completely underdeveloped. Connie was confounding. I kept waiting for her to be further fleshed out, but it never happened. Instead, she was the type of woman who dated Paul, although I never understood why, and the type of woman to tell men to “stop objectifying her” if they happened to look at her for too long.
The writing, while not entirely weak, did have its terrible moments. These usually consisted of page long descriptions of what would happen if Paul decided to do something. It was pages of pure conjecture listed out in a fashion from Paul’s point of view: I would do this and then she would do this. Meanwhile, I fumed at having read five pages, none of which had any action. I found it to be a very lazy way for Ferris to give us more insight into his supporting characters; lazy mostly because not only did I feel I could not trust it, as it was only from Paul’s scope of view, but also lazy because it let him avoid actually developing them in the story or having them be vital to the plot.
The plot, too, started promising only to take weird and convoluted turns. The mysterious hacker leads Paul down a road I not only found uninteresting, but just not very realistic. I was full of doubt throughout the entire process.
I don’t say this often, but I can’t think of whom to recommend this novel too. I found it dreadful in almost every way.
Written by Rachel B.
Rachel is a co-creator and writer at Definitely Not for the Birds (DNFB). She recently graduated with a degree in English. Presently, she writes, reads, and then reads and writes some more, with a giant and ever-present mug of green tea in her hand. Follow Rachel @rrbindl and DNFB @not4birds