Sunday 10 April 2011

I, Lucifer - move over Matt Smith

I, Lucifer by Glen Duncan (Scribner: 2002). A novel in the first person. With the final "good vs evil" battle looming, Lucifer is given a chance to redeem himself by living a sinless life as an every-day human. Lucifer, though, takes the opportunity to indulge in worldly pleasures to an unhealthy extent.
I, Lucifer is brilliant. Go buy it and read it.
Sometimes, that’s all the review that’s needed. But I guess if you want to find out a little bit more about why it’s brilliant (and a fairly significant possible downside), feel free to read on.
I picked this up after reading one or two books that really didn’t grab me. It had been a while since I had that real thirst for reading something. That feeling you get when you’re fully engrossed and racing through the pages. This was one of those books for me.
It’s well written. It’s entirely in the first person, and the characterisation is (as far as I can tell) pretty flawless. The premise is wonderful, and the voice that Duncan gives to Lucifer is arresting. But it’s more than a good plot and a good protagonist. Duncan weaves in some massive themes, some incredibly intelligent reflections, and some thundering insights. And he does it all whilst ensuring your eyes don’t roll. When most people write something smart, it can come off as show offy (possibly because it often is). When Duncan writes, he achieves something very genuine.
He’s clever. And he does it in a way that is not ostentatious. It’s simply honest and engaging. It doesn’t sound like he’s trying to be intelligent. It just sounds like the way he speaks, or rather, the way Lucifer speaks.
The only problem with the book is I don’t think it lives very long after you put it down. I finished this a couple of weeks ago now. At the time, Glen Duncan was my new hero (temporarily replacing Matt Smith). It wouldn’t be too strong to say that, if I was, I would.

Photo Credit: Richard Whitehead

But give it a week, and cracks start to appear. Give it a bit of distance, and (quite gradually) I started to think of the book as a little bit up its own you-know-what. What’s more, I made the fatal error of looking at the headshot of the author (see pic on the right) and reading his I’d like to thank page (complete with a dedication to the friend that conceived the sound track to the book). I found it difficult to shake from my head the image of this guy sitting mired in his own sense of self brilliance.
The problem is, I think Glen Duncan is brilliant. Can I blame him for agreeing with me?
This novel is outstanding when you're smack bang in the rough and tumble of it. But as soon as you let it go, as soon as you break the spell that Duncan casts and think about it using only on your own imperfect recollection, it suddenly becomes (a little) pretentious. Distanced from Duncan’s talent, it’s difficult to fully recreate the tone he achieves. You can’t remember how Duncan had you gripped the way that he did. You can’t remember how natural he made the Big Questions sound. All the wit of the book starts to fade and begins to look instead like something approaching smugness.
So, what to believe? Is I, Lucifer a giant of a book, or was I temporarily blinded by something new and shiny, mistaking a smug know-it-all for a witty intellectual?
Either way, I loved it when I read it, and that has to trump everything else, surely.
For the way this book made me feel, for the way Duncan’s writing set my own brain firing, for the way in which it achieved something I can barely believe once the immediate memory of it fades, I give I, Lucifer...
Oooooh! That’s close. Not ten? Well, was it perfect? No. Just very, very, very, very good.

p.s. Glen Duncan has a new one out at the moment as well, The Last Werewolf.

1 comment:

Katie H said...

Brilliant review, I chuckled throughout!