Molly Guinness

Spectator books of the year: Molly Guinness on the ‘oddly adorable’ New York dentist

Spectator books of the year: Molly Guinness on the 'oddly adorable' New York dentist
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What You Want, or the Pursuit of Happiness by Constantine Phipps (Quercus, £20). This is a deeply eccentric book — a novel entirely in verse set in a theme park that takes in the history of philosophy and the tale of a disintegrating marriage. In a few witty rhyming couplets, my cousin Constantine Phipps can sum up an entire character with all its foibles or a whole system of ethics. And shining through the parade of philosophers, psychiatrists, dead presidents and theme-park attractions is a sense of deep wisdom and reasonableness. Some of the verses, especially towards the end, are truly moving and beautiful.

Joshua Ferris’s To Rise Again at a Decent Hour (Viking, £12.99) is narrated by a misanthropic New York dentist. Paul O’Rourke wishes he didn’t have to dwell on death and the futility of it all, but the endless parade of neglected gums and unflossed teeth makes that difficult. Things start getting weird when someone adopts his name online and starts spreading the word about the Ulm, an ancient people no one’s ever heard of till now. O’Rourke is a brilliantly funny narrator, and he’s also oddly adorable. There’s a constant gulf between his feelings and how he expresses himself — at one point he bursts into tears on meeting an old friend at the gym, but continues the conversation as if nothing’s happening, hoping the friend will assume the tears coursing down his cheeks are sweat.