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Mortals Hardcover – May 27, 2003

32 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews Review

Surely someone has already pointed out the irony of the surname Rush for a writer who can devote a long paragraph to uneven paving tiles. Mortals--the follow-up to Norman Rush's National Book Award-winning Mating--is a complex, unhurried tour de force; the beautifully rendered story of the end of a marriage. Ray and Iris Finch are white American expatriates in Botswana. A school principal and Milton scholar, Ray is also a contract agent for the CIA. But Ray's new boss doesn't want to see the gorgeous reports into which Finch has channeled all the talent and ambition that might otherwise have gone into poetry. He is asked to submit only his notes. This is clearly a demotion, and it occurs at the same moment that Ray's adored wife begins to develop feelings for her doctor, a charismatic black American with dangerous political ideas. Like many brilliant novels, Mortals has an Achilles heel. The book is too long by as much as 200 pages. Those pages aren't without interest, and if--like the author--you find the narrative voice of this novel compelling in itself, you will not mind the lengthy anecdotes, hair-splitting, and digressions that Rush indulges in. Other readers may do a little judicious skimming in the second half of the book and still experience the pleasures of this masterful and psychologically acute novel. --Regina Marler

From Publishers Weekly

From the beginning, the tone of Rush's eagerly awaited new novel is edgy and febrile-a harbinger of the unsettling events that will ensue. Ray Finch, a Milton scholar who teaches in a small secondary school in Botswana during the 1990s, is having an identity crisis. After many years as an undercover CIA agent, he has lost his emotional equilibrium, and he's strung out with suspicion and fear. Is his adored wife, Iris, on the verge of an affair? What's with Iris's warm relationship with the brother Ray despises-gay, witty Rex? How long can Ray suppress his growing disillusionment with the agency's arrogant and ruthless methods? When Ray's chief sends him into the interior to hunt down the idealistic leader of a fledgling rebellion, Ray's fears transmogrify into living nightmares, and the novel, already a textured, erotic portrait of a disintegrating marriage and a society in flux, becomes a political thriller infused with violence. Ray is acutely aware of the cultural dissonance introduced by Western society. According to Iris's lover, a black American doctor, Christianity has wrecked Africa; the AIDS epidemic threatens another kind of destruction; and idealistic attempts at reform are doomed to failure (the Denoons, from Rush's prize-winning novel, Mating, show up here, their crusading ardor much diminished). The decadent excesses of rich Americans compared with the disciplined simplicity of life in Botswana add an element of satire. Rush's attempts to meld political reality with domestic tragicomedy occasionally make the narrative unwieldy, and suspense is sometimes fractured during the action sequences in the desert as Ray's inner turmoil spins into tortured mental riffs. Still, the richness of Rush's vision, and its stringent moral clarity, sweep the reader into his brilliantly observed world.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 736 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1st edition (May 27, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679406220
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679406228
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,158,885 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 33 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 16, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Mortals is a novel about a lonely man whose only friend is his wife, and what happens to him both psychologically and in his real and adventurous life when he begins to suspect that the wife he adores, and depends on for his feeling of connection with the world, is in love with her doctor, a black American physician living in Africa (as do the man, Ray, and his wife, Iris. The novel takes place in the country of Botswana.) Ray's loneliness becomes understandable to the reader, he is a spy for the CIA. He has no close friends, mostly for this reason. There are other factors that isolate him. His only sibling, his gay brother, Rex, and he hate each other. All this is in the background of the obsessive love he feels for his beautiful, and intelligent, wife. She loves him, also. But... her feelings are more complicated than his--and her doctor fascinates her.
This novel is a story about obsessive love and jealousy, but it is also an adventure story and a political thriller. Rush seems to be interested in many philosophical and political matters, not to mention in literature and its effect on life. In the sections that interest you, you'll want more of this. In the sections that don't, you'll skim. Personally, I skimmed most of the parts about religion. Seemed interesting, but not necessary, in my opinion.
Mortals is worth reading for the prose style alone. It is amazing writing. The perceptions make you want to write things down so you won't forget them. But to me, the exploration of the relationship between a man and a woman was the most fascinating and memorable aspect of Mortals.
One other little thing that I enjoyed was the chapter devoted to "The Denoons" from Rush's previous novel, Mating.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Jackson Dallas on August 10, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Several excellent reviews on this site cover the plot and the characterizations. What fascinated me was the writing style. The dialog between Ray and Iris is 5 stars on target: witty, true, anguished, and showing that for seventeen years each has paid total attention to the other's reactions and thought processes. Frequently Ray anticipates exactly what Iris is thinking or is going to say, and in her next utterance turns out to be completely on target or (less frequently) stunningly and unbalancingly wrong.
The word plays and turns of phrase that flood every page convinced me that the author has kept notebooks of arresting phrases he has heard or produced from his own imagination over the last forty years, and has poured two thirds of the contents of these notebooks into this novel, providing a language lover's feast.
The most subtle delight of the book is the author's sense of conversational idiom. Not only the dialog, but the narrative stretches are written the way people really talk. As a result, every few pages you encounter a narrative sentence you have to re-read once or twice to understand, because it's written exactly the way someone would say it (without the benefit of intonation that would make the sentence immediately transparent to a listener rather than a reader). As a result, you sit there and marvel at the complexity of how we talk.
All this makes the book a slow read for anyone who wants to zip through the story and a delightful experience for anyone who just plain loves language. Yes, it's a little too long...and I found myself wishing it were longer.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 5, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Mortals is the product of ten years' work by one of the most erudite novelists of our time. It's no beach book, no weekend read. It's literature for people who enjoy thinking about history, politics, and gender relations.
Yes, it helps to have a bachelor's degree (and thus some exposure to that old chestnut of Lit.One: Paradise Lost)and the willingness to slow down and give passages like the following some time to settle:
"Kerekang was unified with the suffering that had brought these men to his cause. It was more than a matter of pity, which was the limit of the usual feeling evoked by poverty and injustice. It was sympathy, but a different order of sympathy, it was embodied."
I won't give a synopsis of the plot or characters because other reviewers have done it well, though I want to add that I found this book laugh-out-loud and read-to-your-spouse funny, a good balance for the harrowing exploits and serious subject matter in some chapters.
Readers who are looking for a novel that gives great reward for close reading will be very pleased with Mortals.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 2, 2003
Format: Hardcover
The reason I read Mortals is because the reviews in Elle and Vogue and the Village Voice were really good and I loved Mating. I like Mortals even more. It has more emotional suspense and made me laugh alot, even when what was happening in the plot was awful. It's sexier than Mating. Here's a quote I liked from the Village Voice review.
"Morel has said that he longs for "a place where the rude fact that we are all dying animals transfigures every part of life," and Ray has reached that place. He has no time to waste. He's accepted the basic logic that if you're going to put marriage first in your life, you'd better have more in your life than marriage. And maybe, just maybe, he can make that logic work."
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