When a book is shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, you know for sure that it will get a lot of international attention. Dutch bookshops in big cities like Amsterdam, The Hague or Utrecht usually have a pretty decent amount of English novels in stock (some even have a small selection of French and German literature), so I was bound to come across this one at some point. The cover was a real eye-catcher, but it wasn’t till I read the text on the back flap that I decided to read this novel.
The mouth is a weird place.
I bought this and The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry at the same time, although they’re completely different novels. The Storied Life was funny, charming and a real treat for book lovers. It’s a book I would easily recommend to any friend of mine. The more pretentious To Rise Again was, however, another story. It was … yeah, what was it, exactly? The truth is, I’m not quite sure what I think of it. When I bought the book, I’d never heard of Ferris before, but he had been shortlisted, the reviews had been good for the most part and the story on the back flap appealed to me – all very promising facts. And here I am, not knowing what to say.
Let’s see what the back flap says:
Ha, ha. – Job 39:25
The thing is, I was swept back and forth whilst reading this book. I did not like the first 50 or 60 pages or so, because it took a while to get the story going. Then, around page 100, the story took a Dan Brownish kind of turn (which I liked). It becomes clear who stole Paul’s identity and introduces the mysterious history of the Ulms. Obviously, Paul’s life is a big hot mess, not having anybody to care about, least of it all himself. Of course he doesn’t realise this straight away, or at least not that clearly. It takes an obscure old religion/sect to make him realise that.
Everything was always something, but something – and here was the rub – could never be everything.
At first, he laughs it off, then he rises against the person that stole his identity, sending furious e-mails to the person in question, until he starts to wonder: what if it were all true? What if his life was indeed a big mess? What if he had lived in fear and restlessness up untill now?
… I wanted everything to go back to the way it was, so that I would know who I was, what made me, and what it was I’d always wanted.
I think the moral of the story is that Paul’s life is set in habits which make him unable to surrender to the liberating feeling of not knowing, doubting and risking and by that creating his own daily happiness. Every relationship he’s had, ended badly, his father committed suicided when he was a kid, his mother’s suffering from dementia and his friendships disintegrate slowly. He’s lonely and desperately looking for anything to fill the void.
These people believe in nothing but their obligation to doubt God.
The mysterious old religion that centers doubt eventually sets him free. He starts to feel connected to the world around him, whilst also feeling free to choose his own next step.
That was how other people thought, I thought. I was having a thought that was identical to other people’s. I was on the inside with this thought. No longer alien tot he in, but in the in.
So, now you’ve got an idea, I can tell you why I wasn’t sure about liking the book. First of all, I had my doubts about the writing. Although I like a bit of nonsense, I did not like the endless ‘I told her and she said …’ dialogues. They weren’t much of a dialogue after all. I want to read what characters are saying, not reading some abstract.
Second, I liked the idea behind the story (as mentioned above), but it was not brought out very well. I liked the parts about the ‘history’ of Ulm(ism), the e-mail traffic between Paul and the identity stealer and the dialogues between the main character and his colleagues (when written down in full), but there were too many (too long) flashbacks to my taste.
There had to be hope, no matter how hopeless. There had to be effort that might not be doomed. I had nothing left (…) I had … my will, that was all. My will not to follow Mercer and my father down the hole. My will to be something more than a fox.
This is turning into a very big review, so I must stop now. I’ll end by saying that I still want to read Ferris’ other two novels. They did sound interesting, and they might have less weird dialogues in them. I hope, at least. Oh, and by the way: the book was not bad. It was just not really for me. That’s all! Wow, could have said that in just one sentence …
Have you read any of Ferris’ novels?