Author- Joshua Ferris
Price- Rs 599
I picked this book up for its fresh content more so, because it had dentistry in it. Also, the fact that it has made to this year’s Booker shortlist was pretty convincing. In 4 days from now, we will know whether it beats Neel Mukherjee’s The Lives of Others among others to win the coveted prize but meanwhile, it can be safely said that it is already a winner. It is apparently the author’s third book and he is only in his late 30’s. Hmm.. successful in his late 30’s- that is exactly what the protagonist of this book, Dr Paul O’Rourke can be described as.
The book talks about a well established practice of one Dr O’Rourke DDS who has a dedicated staff which includes one of his ex-girlfriends too. Having an ex at your workplace can be a real pain for you but real entertainment for the bystanders and that’s what it is for us. The humour arises from all the awkwardness and unease in this setup. The dentist also takes religion pretty seriously and there is a lot of dark humour attached to what he does to get accepted in closed groups like Roman Catholics or Jews. Although I am not very well acquainted with the jewish history and traditions. Growing up in India, I have always had my hands full managing the knowledge of Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Islam, Sikkhism and Christianity so, I never really had the theological space to lend for Judaism but this novel parks the car of Judaism in my closely packed space so snugly that it is amazing.
There is also talk of several cults which form the centerstage of the novel. A cult tries to contact O’Rourke by impersonating him. It was a quirky way to contact someone and it was hard to reconcile for me as a reader that someone claiming to be your wellwisher would do that. The cult complains of being ignored due to Judaism hogging all the limelight with all the holocaust, Hitler and stuff. This is where the novel takes a DaVinci Code-esque turn and things start to get a bit suspense-y.
I personally enjoyed the dental humour more than this part, more so, because it seemed like a commercial for Ulms and other neglected cults. I am not even sure the historicity of the facts stated by the novelist are true or not and am too confused to start any research.
The language of the book is pretty innovative and colourful. The word ‘cuntgripped’ appears quite often in the novel and every time, it makes me smile. Think of it is an extrapolation of ‘henpecked’. The author used the word ‘me-machine’ to describe phones, tablets etc and that too rings a different kind of tone. It was innovative.
The ending seemed rushed but then, after 300+ pages, you do tend to start winding up all the spread out thoughts. The story in itself is purposeless which gives it an artsy feel. There is no conclusion and the ending is quite Bollywood-esque.
As an Indian reader, I’d say that this novel made me smile a lot, it gave me intrigue and also confused me. It failed to get full marks from me because we, as Indians in general and storytellers in particular seek purpose in stories and sometimes we don’t like to be confused.
I give it 4 stars out of 5