To Rise Again At A Decent Hour

To Rise Again

Joshua Ferris

First Sentence:     The mouth is a weird place.

Back of the book:

There’s nothing like a dental chair to remind a man that he’s alone in the world . . .

Paul O’Rourke – dentist extraordinaire, reluctant New Yorker, avowed atheist, disaffected Red Sox fan, and a connoisseur of the afternoon mochaccino – is a man out of touch with modern life. While his dental practice occupies his days, his nights are filled with darker thoughts, as he alternately marvels at and rails against the optimism of the rest of humanity.

So it goes, until someone begins to impersonate Paul online. What began as an outrageous violation of privacy soon becomes something far more soul-frightening: the possibility that the virtual ‘Paul’ might be a better version of the man in the flesh . . .

Quotes from the book:

‘I guess it was like any other funeral ceremony that way, a periphery of noise surrounding a nucleus of grief.’

“To you, young couple overlooking the river,” I said, “here’s to your frittatas and sex tapes. To you, picture taker with the endless flash,” I said, “here’s to your personal-brand maintenance with every uploaded image. To you, beautiful youth, wasting your life behind your me-machine,” I said, “here’s to your echo chamber and reflecting pool.”

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The Testament of Mary

Colm Tóibín

First Sentence:    They appear more often now, both of them, and on every visit they seem more impatient with me and with the world.

Back of the book:

In a voice that is both deeply tender and filled with bitter rage, The Testament of Mary tells the story of a cataclysmic event which led to an overpowering grief. For Mary, her son has been lost to the world, and now, living in exile and in fear, she tries to piece together the memories of the events that led to her son’s brutal death. To her he was a vulnerable figure, surrounded by men who could not be trusted, living in a time of turmoil and change.

As her life and her suffering begin to acquire the resonance of myth, Mary struggles to break the silence surrounding what she knows to have happened. In her effort to tell the truth in all its gnarled complexity, she slowly emerges as a figure of immense moral stature as well as a woman from history rendered now as fully human.

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When the Emperor Was Divine

Julie Otsuka

First Sentence:    The sign had appeared overnight.

I recently read The Buddha in the Attic and something about it bugged me. I felt like it could have been a lot better than it was, but I found plenty to admire at the same time. For that reason I thought I’d give Otsuka another go and read this, her first novel. Seems to me though, if you’ve read one, you’ve read the other. They are very similar in almost every way, the main difference being this book concentrates on the plight of one family, as opposed to The Buddha in the Attic  which tried to encapsulate the thoughts of an entire country. Here we are presented with the story of mother, father, son and daughter and it makes for an altogether more enjoyable book. So yeah, if you’re going to read one of Otsuka’s books, make it this one, but really, there are better books you could be reading…

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Anatomy of a Disappearance

Hisham Matar

First Sentence: There are times when my father’s absence is as heavy as a child sitting on my chest.

The title and the opening sentence alone are enough to give us a sense of what is going on in this novel. Nuri is the narrator and his father has disappeared, taken from his bed in the middle of the night. Even before this act however life has not been going perfectly for Nuri. After his mother dies, Nuri finds it hard to feel a connection with his father. This sense is only heightened when they meet Mona on holidays in the Magda Marina resort and Nuri is instantly infatuated. Nuri lays claim to her and insists he saw her first (even though he is only fourteen at the time and she is twenty-eight). Somewhat inevitably Mona ends up marrying Nuri’s father and this only increases Nuri’s animosity. He longs for his father to be out of the picture but before too long he is regretting this wish when things go drastically wrong. As Mona and Nuri’s world lies in tatters they begin to realise that they actually knew very little about the man who was closest to them. This is a brief, moving and sparse account of one man growing up in his father’s shadow. Based loosely on Matar’s own experience (his own father was a prominent figure in Libya, was anti-Gaddafi, and disappeared a number of years ago. His whereabouts are still unknown…), this is a very moving novel which really gets under your skin. Short, poetic and powerful, with a pinch of drama, it really draws you in and keeps you reading until the end.

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