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2.8 out of 5 stars
2.8 out of 5 stars
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Paul O’Rourke runs a successful New York dental practice, where he makes plenty of money but finds himself alone and without meaning in his life. An atheist, he still yearns for a religious community to be part of. Single and still in love with his ex-girlfriend, he longs to connect with other people but finds himself adrift. Searching for something larger and beyond his day-to-day existence, he soon tires of everything he tries.
Then one day his life is turned upside down when he discovers that he has an online stalker, a mysterious figure who sets up a web site for the practice and opens a Facebook page and a Twitter account in Pauls’ name, and starts to use Paul’s identity to proselytise for an obscure religious sect called the Ulms, the secret descendants of the Amalekites, a lost biblical tribe. Paul is desperate to find out who is doing this to him, and why. What happens next is both unexpected and intriguing.
This original and very funny novel is immensely engaging and thought-provoking. Paul is a wonderful character, and his frustrations with the modern world will strike a chord with many readers. Ferris has an acute ear for the way real people talk, and there are some wonderful passages of dialogue. The descriptions of Paul and his dentistry and the parade of wonderfully sketched in patients who come to consult him are a real joy. And Paul’s own existential quest to find meaning in his life makes him understandable and empathetic. There’s so much that is very good indeed about this quirky and unconventional novel and at first I really loved it.
Unfortunately, it weakens the further on it goes. The biblical part about the Ulms becomes tedious after a while, and some of Paul’s adventures become less believable. There are some sub-plots that don’t integrate well into the novel as a whole, and the inevitable baseball passages (can an American novel get by without referencing baseball?) seem out of place. So by the end I was beginning to skip bits and just wanting to finish. This is a shame, as the book started with so much promise.
However, overall Ferris is a really talented writer and the good just about outweighs the bad in this funny and very different novel of our troubled times. For all my reservations, I heartily recommend it.
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Like everyone around him, Paul O'Rourke is totally dependent on his 'me-machine' - his phone - yet he professes to despise technology, refusing even to have a website for his successful Park Avenue dental practice. When an unknown person launches a site for his business, Paul is deeply disturbed and this is further exacerbated when his alter-ego starts tweeting bizarre religious messages in his name. Identity theft or schizophrenia? And which is the more scary?

Joshua Ferris is a fine writer and I loved his debut about office life: And Then We Came to the End. Here, Ferris seems to be wanting to say something deeply significant about God, religion and atheism but he goes about it in a rather weird way. He invents (I assume invents) a heretofore unknown religious group called the Ulms who believe in doubt. (Perhaps he should have called them the Uhms.)

This is an intriguing proposition but unfortunately Ferris proceeds in a manner that rather reminded me of Howard Jacobson at his most long-winded, particularly the over-rated Booker-winning 'The Finkler Question' and the narrative seems to lose focus and purpose. There is much talk of cantonments and Cantaveticles, Amalekites and sundry lost biblical tribes. Rather a shame as the initial premise had been so promising but Ferris treats the reader to some rather wonderful jokes along the way.
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A quarter through, I'd have given this 5 stars. At the end, I'd have said 3. So I've compromised and it's really a 3.5 star read for me.

So much promise - Dr Paul O'Rourke is a wonderful creation. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the world of the dentist through his self-absorbed eyes. He's a bundle of contradictions - hating technology but can't live without his 'me-machine' (phone), avowed atheist but willing to consider religion for a woman. A complex character, Paul is a successful dentist but not a success with women, who he gets obsessed with and then can't live without when the relationship fails. He observes strict rituals for each Red Sox game he watches.

This techno-hater is affronted one day to discover that someone has created (without permission) a website for his dental practice. And is starting to spout opinions under the name of Dr Paul O'Rourke. These opinions seem to have a religious bent and Paul drives himself mad searching for the culprit. Why is someone doing this to him? And what are these Ulms they talk about?

This is where it started losing its interest for me. I was quite happy to follow Paul in his quirky little world. I wasn't interested in some quasi-religious plot. Paul kept me reading but I didn't enjoy it as much after that.

I just didn't quite understand what Ferris was trying to do with Paul. Religious conspiracies aren't my cup of tea and I didn't like how the author pushed Paul through the story.

There is lots throughout to enjoy. Paul's past entanglements with women are fun. His scenes in the surgery are hilarious. He frequently forgets what he's doing and says unusual things to staff and customers. I love it when he finds himself unsure what he's meant to be doing to one mouth and tries to guess based on the instruments he has out.

The writing is good, I've not read any Joshua Ferris before and would consider trying more, if the stories interested me. But I didn't like the ending, not where I would have wanted to take the character.

Unusual story, setting and characters. Quirky and lots of fun to be had but the direction of the story won't interest everyone.

Review of a Netgalley advance copy.
22 comments| 37 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
Dr Paul C O'Rourke DDS is a New York dentist. He's brash, he's arrogant and he's got a view on pretty much everything. He has a failed relationship with his practice manager Connie and an unhealthy obsession with the Boston Red Sox.

In this comic novel, O'Rourke initially comes across as a 50 something dinosaur, taking pride in his technophobia, eschewing the internet and popular culture. As the narrative goes on, however, it seems that O'Rourke is more likely to be in his 30s and not quite as ruddy ruddy as he makes out. Nevertheless, it is a surprise to him when he finds his dental practice has developed a website that focuses as much on some obscure religious tracts as on the dentistry. What follows is a bizarre and comic take of finding out who is posting the material and why.

This all provides a great backdrop for analysing O'Rourke's own hollow, lonely existence and his failed relationships. Despite his atheism, O'Rourke seems to have flirted with Judaism in an effort to get closer to Connie and her family. Hence, he has a conflicted reaction to the religious content of his hacked website: on the one hand he is appalled, whilst on the other hand he is intrigued. There's quite a lot of philosophy, a lot of metaphysics, most of it spurious but interspersed with dental anecdotes and meetings with one of America's richest men. The dental anecdotes are hilarious and I especially loved the one about the disgruntled customer and the cave dwellers.

It's difficult to categorise Decent Hour. It's not so much about the story as about the voice. Whether you get on with it depends totally on whether or not you get on with O'Rourke's narration. In this sense, it's a bit like James Kelman. Fortunately I loved the voice, even though O'Rourke is a supercilious, snivelling wretch who would not be fit to polish my shoes, let alone polish my teeth.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 14 October 2014
I am struggling to write a review of this book. I am struggling to even summarise the plot. It's about Paul O'Rourke, a misanthropic dentist in his late 30s. His childhood was traumatic and his three serious relationships have all ended in disaster. He has a fascination with religion and a yearning for the sense of belonging that it represents, but he is also a devout atheist.

One day Paul discovers that someone has set up a website for his dentistry practice. Whoever has done it knows things about him that he has never shared with anyone. Gradually, "Paul O'Rourke" builds an online presence, mostly talking about a long ago people called the Amalekites who appeared in Genesis as arch enemies of the Jewish people. He is also contacted by someone who insists that Paul is in fact a descendant of the Amalekites himself.

This is a very uneven book in tone. It starts out being quite light-hearted, even laugh out loud funny. Paul is prone to very long rants about what he sees as being the problems in the world. At times paragraphs can go for five pages in length. I kept skimming through these and then realising that a revelation was buried in the middle and having to go back and re-read sections. I really enjoyed the first third of the book.

However then it gets bogged down with the history of the Amalekites and Paul's thoughts on religion. I read a review online where the reviewer said that they gave up on it around page 175, and there were several moments after that when I thought wistfully how much time they had saved. The parts I liked the most were the impact of everything that was happening on the people that Paul works with, but this was only a small part of the story.

I didn't hate this book, but I am baffled by a world in which this makes the Booker Prize shortlist and The Goldfinch doesn't even get nominated. For me, this book was entirely forgettable.
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on 20 October 2014
Religion and dentistry. I found this book hard going. Not one to give up on a book I forced myself to see it through to the end but to do so I ended up skim reading some of the more heavy religious chunks of text. I definitely don't think it matched the description.
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on 9 December 2014
How this ever got shortlisted for the Mann Booker is beyond me. Poor writing, clunky structure, cardboard characters, preposterous storyline and vacuous philosophising. I often thought of abandoning it but kept thinking that there had to be some redeeming twist or resolution at the end. Imagine my disappointment ...
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on 11 February 2016
Paul O'Rourke is a New York dentist, a chronic insomniac and manic depressive manchild in need of love, acceptance and meaning in life. Needy and tearful in his relationships with women, he seems more in love with their families and seek (almost shamelessly) to shelter in their family hearths (cue unhappy childhood here). Needless to say, Ferris's protagonist is anything but a conventional hero and his likability is highly debatable.

Ferris delves deep into Jewish history, which Paul forms an unhealthy obsession with, not least as a product of his latest failed relationship with his own office manager, Connie Plotz, and her family. After a strange encounter with a heavily anaesthetised patient who claims Paul is a Ulm like him, Paul finds his identity stolen as a website of his clinic surfaces online, followed by bogus Twitter and Facebook accounts, spouting ominous religious sayings that were construed to be anti-Semitic. Something of a mystery thriller surfaces as Paul tries to uncover the anonymous name stealer, while getting drawn deeper into the history of the Ulms, presumably biblical descendants of the Amalekites, whose religion is to doubt the existence of God, fitting nicely with Paul's own atheism.

Occasionally funny and witty, Ferris's third novel was an improvement from the unfortunate "Unnamed", but the stitches that held the story in place gave it a jagged feel. There was something profound that linked the agnostic religion with Paul's own hangups, but I failed as a reader to glean much of that in the end.
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on 6 October 2014
Great beginning to this, the protagonist is hilarious and really well written...I must say the book sags a little in the middle when pages of religious scripture are brought in, these were hard to read and difficult to link to the rest of the book. A few people have said they didn't like the direction the book takes which I can semi agree with..I felt like I was missing something by the end.
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on 14 November 2014
I have to say I was quite disappointed, after reading the blurb I expected a completely different story. The beginning was a bit heavy but it seemed interesting, the plot is set and the character we start to understand. Then his identity is stolen online, I expect humour and that he will change for the better. What I didnt expect was a heavy subject about religion and Ulms. There was no mention in the blurb, even though he did change for the better it was unexpectedly heavy and wasn't as enjoyable as I'd hoped, this was the least favourite out of the 6 short-list for the Man Booker Prize
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