And how long will it be before the effect of whatever we have read wears off and we revert to our familiar way of looking at the world?
Well I had my life changed by a novel three weeks ago and this monumental shift shows no sign of abating. What was this life changing book I hear you ask? Well the book in question was Joshua Ferris’ To Rise Again at a Decent Hour.
What changes has it wrought? I hear you ask eagerly. Well I, previously an unbeliever, am now a confirmed devotee of dental floss.
Okay, this may seem modest when compared to the metaphysical insights sometimes offered by reading the right book at the right moment, but in reality the effects of frequent flossing are probably far more enduring.
Anyway enough about my dental Damascus, To Rise Again at a Decent Hour tells the story of neurotic insomniac dentist Paul O’ Rourke and his struggle to find meaning in an absurd universe.
A curmudgeon and instinctive technophobe O’Rourke is at odds with the modern world and haunted by a gnawing sense of emptiness. He seeks something beyond himself but is persistently eluded. He is an atheist with an itch.
Unlike sneering, snarling, triumphalist Dawkins devotees this doubt filled dentist views his inability to believe as something of a tragedy, an amputation of sorts. Worst of all it makes him feel a bit left out.
He tries to fill the hole in his life with hobbies such as golf, walking tours, or learning Spanish but inevitably finds that “Everything was always something, but something – and here was the rub – could never be everything.”
Relationships are impossible for the self-involved O’Rourke and are little more than ballast for the void he feels.
His two significant romances, The first with a Catholic and the second with his Jewish secretary are little more than attempts to buy himself front row tickets into their respective faiths.
There are only two constants in O’Rourke’s life. The first is his devotion to his favourite baseball team the Red Sox. Although even his devotion to the Red Sox is waning. Since they have found success the Quixotic romance of being one of their fans has diminished.
The second is dental floss. Flossing is of the utmost importance to O’Rourke who cannot comprehend the minds of those who neglect this vital regimen.
For O’Rourke flossing is a heroic Beckettian act. One flosses in spite of ones inevitable expiration and the inherent futility of fighting decay, It’s the closest thing he has to faith.
O’Rourke’s world is turned upside down when after a bizarre encounter with a patient of a spiritual persuasion, his online identity is hi-jacked.
Suddenly a twitter account appears in his name spouting esoteric mysticism and claiming to represent the Amalekites, a Biblical tribe long believed to have been wiped out by the Israelites.
What’s worse is the public interest which this persona receives. O’Rourke soon becomes obsessed with the mysterious impostor and begins a quest to track him down and hold him to account.
To Rise Again at a Decent Hour addresses interesting ideas about religion and the ownership of sacred texts. Ferris is well versed in the Abrahamic faiths and puts this knowledge to good use.
The book wears its learning lightly but contains worthwhile observations about the nature of religious faith.
It is also laugh out loud on public transport hilarious, so be prepared to irritate your fellow commuters if you pick it up.
It runs out of steam a little in its final quarter when the mystery of the Amalekites is resolved, but this is forgiveable in light of the fact that it is a genuinely funny novel.
I really enjoyed this To Rise Again at a Decent Hour. and found Paul O’Rourke to be an excellent comic creation.
On top of this my dentist will no doubt be delighted with the unexpected consequences of me having read this novel.