Thursday, 22 May 2014

The Final Testimony of Raphael Ignatius Phoenix


'My name is Raphael Ignatius Phoenix and I am a hundred years old - or will be in ten days' time, in the early hours of January 1st, 2000, when I kill myself.'

Raphael Ignatius Phoenix has had enough. Born at the beginning of the 20th century, he is determined to take his own life as the old millennium ends and the new one begins. But before he ends it all, he wants to get his affairs in order and put the record straight, and that includes making sense of his own long life - a life that spanned the century. He decides to write it all down and, eschewing the more usual method of pen and paper, begins to record his story on the walls of the isolated castle that is his final home. Beginning with a fateful first adventure with Emily, the childhood friend who would become his constant companion, Raphael remembers the multitude of experiences, the myriad encounters and, of course, the ten murders he committed along the way . . .

And so begins one man's wholly unorthodox account of the twentieth century - or certainly his own riotous, often outrageous, somewhat unreliable and undoubtedly singular interpretation of it.


This is going to be the longest suicide note in history.  A titanic epitaph.  A monstrous obituary.  A real rolling spouting blue-whale bloody whopper of a confession.  And since it's going to end with The Pill, I might as well start that way too.
     Small and white and round, like a powdery tear, with no obvious defining features save a slight nick in its otherwise perfect circumference, The Pill was made by Emily's father, a pharmacist in turn-of-the-century London.  It is not, admittedly, on the face of it, an object to particularly capture the imagination.  Certainly not one to start as extraordinary a story as I shall forthwith be recounting.  As with so many things in my long and convoluted life, however, there is more to The Pill as meets the eye.  It is, you see, despite its bland and unassuming exterior, absolutely deadly, its constituent parts - one and a half grains of strychnine, one and half grains of arsenic, half a grain of salt of hydrocyanic acid and half of a grain of crushed ipecacuanha root - guaranteeing a swift, painless and permanent demise to any who might happen to swallow them.  Which is exactly what I shall be doing in ten days' time, washed down with a glass of fine, blood-red claret (a Latour '66 perhaps?  Or maybe a '70).


And so begins what is ironically both Paul Sussman's first and last novel.  He began writing The Final Testimony of Raphael Ignatius Phoenix over 15 years ago, before the publication of his very successful Egyptian police novels, of which there are three.  The completion of the novel was made possible by Alicky Sussman, Paul's wife, who put together the pages of the manuscript for publication following his untimely death from a brain haemorrhage in May 2012.  I have all of Paul's previous novels, and totally adore them, particularly for their ability to capture Egypt in all it's glory and we often chatted on Facebook about this.  I mourned his passing and also the fact that there would be no more books.  When I heard that Doubleday was publishing this book, I jumped at the chance to read and review it.  I'm so glad I did.

The Final Testimony of Raphael Ignatius Phoenix is a masterpiece.  It is exactly what it says it is, a suicide note, the life of a 99 year old man, who is planning on ending his life on his 100th birthday with the help of The Pill.  He writes down the history of his life, including the ten murders that he has committed along the way, and of his childhood friend Emily, who mysteriously appears whenever he needs her most.

I don't recall ever laughing out loud whilst reading a book so much as with this one.  I truly chortled and snorted with laughter in every chapter.  Paul Sussman has written a gem of a novel that is both terribly moving, in that it is both a suicide letter and a final novel, but that is also frighteningly funny.  It is an unbelievable account of an old man's life that deserves to be read and treasured by everyone.

I absolutely loved it, and am so glad that Alicky put it forward to be published.  For that I thank her.

In remembrance of Paul Sussman 1966-2012


Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

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