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.
As soon as I saw the title of this book – The Final Testimony of Raphael Ignatius Phoenix – I knew I wanted to read it, it’s as simple as that really. I can’t tell you why, I just did. Maybe the title reminded me of one of my favourite films – The Princess Bride – and its main character Inigo Montoya who proclaimed that you killed his father, prepare to die. Maybe Raphael reminded me of Johnny Depp’s character in Don Juan de Marco – I have no idea. Whatever the reason, and granted neither of the two aforementioned characters have anything to do with the book, I can’t tell you how delighted I am to have experienced such a magical and distinct voice in Raphael Ignatius Phoenix.
Quite clearly – if you haven’t guessed by now – this is one of my favourite books and main protagonists I’ve had the pleasure in reading for a number of years, this book – and Raphael – will stay with me for some time to come. What made the experience all the more poignant is that I discovered the author, Paul Sussman, died in 2012 aged just 45 of a ruptured aneurysm, a great loss to publishing. I’ve not had the opportunity to read his other books but given that this, his first novel, shows so much strength and character I have no option other than to experience his later work. One thing is certain that with this debut title he leaves an indelible mark on the literary world.
Raphael has decided to kill himself on his 100th birthday. Determined to leave a suicide note he begins to tell his story and slowly works his way back through the decades to his very first murder. It’s a slow but imaginative process, there’s a lot to tell. It’s never rushed, the narrative is both poignant and breath-taking. Sussman clearly knew how to write and what makes this title more fascinating is that it was never published during his lifetime.
Along the way we meet numerous colourful characters and personalities but no one comes close to the power and hold Raphael has over the reader. This is one guy who clearly has his head screwed on – or does he – and from a very early age he is on the move, covering his tracks as best he can. One scrape determines his journey, each murder morphing seamlessly into the next adventure.
I really enjoyed how he told the story, not from beginning to end as I expected, but from Raphael’s final days to his very first breath. Imaginative and well told, this is one story that deserves to be read again and again.
- Hardcover: 352 pages
- Publisher: Doubleday (22 May 2014)
- Language: Unknown
- ISBN-10: 0857522183
- ISBN-13: 978-0857522184
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