Death of an Ordinary Man by Glen Duncan (Scribner: 2004). A novel following Nathan Clark as he navigates the disorienting experience of being recently deceased. He follows his family and friends during his funeral and wake as he pieces together the facts of his life, his fate being revealed to the reader as his memory is spurred on by the thoughts and actions of his nearest and dearest.
This is the third Glen Duncan book I’ve read this year, and the second I’ve reviewed. He’s the only guy that I’ve read that many times since starting this blog. And, to be honest, I’d have read more if I didn’t think you’d get sick of reading reviews of Glen Duncan every week.
I saved this one up. It’s been sitting on my shelf for quite a while, but I saved it until I had a bit of time off work. I saw it as a treat that I wanted to enjoy when I had a few long days that I could spend with it.
And there’s good reason why I see Glen Duncan books as treats. I have my issues with them (which I’ll go into), but I’m always inspired by them. I always come away feeling that I’ve just read a book that justifies the art form. He creates stories that grow and grow from the very first page, and by the time you’ve turned the last one your head is just so full of ideas and people and emotions that it’s enough to make you want to pick up a pen and join the club yourself.
It’s not always been unconditional, my love of Glen Duncan Books. I’ve had my problems with them. And they are problems that this book wasn’t immune to. He has a tendency to be too clever sometimes. Every now and then, he shows off just a little bit too much. He writes confidently and with style, but there’s the odd point at which, between the lines, you can see him typing away with a smug look on his face. “God I’m swell at this writing stuff, everyone’s going to think I’m just about the greatest person in the world” he’s muttering as he’s thrashing his keyboard. “I think I deserve a cake.”
It keeps his writing from becoming relatable at times. You’re made to feel, (only very occasionally to be fair), that you’re trespassing on his story.
But, between you and me, I’ve decided not to care. When I first read him, it really troubled me. I loved the book, but I struggled to get past Duncan’s over-confidence. When I read him the second time, it seemed to matter less. And in this book, well I’ve decided to get over myself a little and just enjoy it. Because there’s a huge amount here to be enjoyed.
Death of an Ordinary Man starts with a great premise. A man haunting his own funeral. But (as I’ve said before) great premises are two a penny. Most of us can come up with great premises. It takes an artist to turn it into something more than that. And Duncan, love or hate him, really is a great artist.
He turns this premise into something beautiful.
He gives us so much time with each of the characters. They each become huge. They don’t quite become real – they’re too introspective and self analytical to relate to in any sort of a real world way – but they are compelling and they are, all of them, a massive presence.
There’s mystery in this book. And there’s sadness. There’s a little bit of Duncan smugness, but it’s overshadowed once and for all by his talent.
All things, considered, it’s bloody good.
Short of the 10 GBR mainly because of those chinks of smugness. I’m over them, but they’re still there and I still recognise them, and they irk me just enough to stop short of a ten.
That’s it, I’m cutting myself off of Duncan for the rest of the year. Three of his and two reviews is quite enough attention.
Next week, something very different. A first for me. A graphic novel.