Thanks to my commute via Rail, I have been reading a lot of books lately. While mostly I have stuck to safe havens like motivating self-help books, P.G.Wodehouse, Salman Rushdie (believe it or not, he has written a couple of smashing uncontroversial children’s books), Amy Tan, Anita Desai etc, I have tried to heed to the little voice inside of me (and from a self-help book too I have to confess) that tells me that I need to get out of my comfort zone and experiment reading stuff I am not used to. Subject I am not comfortable with. So I have been trying to do just that.
It took me a while to get to determine what it is exactly that I don’t like to read. There is a lot of that actually a I have reached conclusion by reading and abhorring genres like spy thrillers, violence, romance(!) and of course the unmentionables. I am a big fan of memoirs, classics, mysteries – everything that mostly has to do with realism. (I just picked up Salman Rushdie’s The Golden House where he touches on modern realism…I can’t wait to finish and write a review of that one!). I somehow don’t seem to have a penchant for sci-fi and all those imaginary tales. At the risk of invoking Rushdie’s name a third time, I have to give him credit for me actually opening up to tales involving imaginary lands and imaginary characters. His ‘Haroon and the Sea of Stories’ was an absolute delight to read (hopefully my next review) with a lovable Haroon travelling to the land of Kahaani and Chup with a water genie! How is that for imagination? I remember groaning as I took up that book but could not stop myself from relishing each and every paragraph from that lovely book. I assure you this is not a review of that feel good book, though I would love to continue with that.
This is a review of the book I took up reading after finishing ‘Haroon and the Sea of Stories.’ This book I am talking about belonged to someone who was very close to my heart. This was one of his favorite books and that in itself is special to me. However, I could not bring myself to read it. I knew this book was about fantasy and imagination but more than that it was about the protagonist. A book I would never have picked out for myself. A book outside of my comfort zone. Just the kind of book the nagging voice in my head was pushing me towards. What more signs did I need? I picked it up and started reading it.
The book is by Glen Duncan (an author I have never heard of) and it is titled – “I, Lucifer!”
It claims – “Finally, the other side of the story!”
Definitely not my kind of book. But the tag line piqued my interest. I am all for there is always another side to the story and I thought it would be pretty interesting to read the devil’s point of view as the tag line proclaimed. So, I picked up the book mainly because it was the favorite book of one of my most favorite persons and I started reading this as my way of paying honor to his life.
The first few paragraphs brought a chuckle but I sighed thinking what it must have in store. The introduction goes like this:
“I, Lucifer, Fallen Angel, Prince of Darkness, Bringer of Light, Ruler of Hell, Lord of the Flies, Father of Lies, Apostate Supreme, Tempter of Mankind, Old Serpent, Prince of this World, Seducer, Accuser, Tormentor, Blasphemer and without doubt the best **** in the Seen and Unseen Universe have decided – oo-la-la – to tell all.”
I could imagine my ‘most favorite person’ saying this to me. I was already liking this book. While poignant and serious writing has its own strength, reading a book, however heavy and uncomfortable its content may be, becomes a source of delightful and easy reading if humor is interspersed in it. I am a very big fan of subtle humor incorporated seamlessly into the narrative and Lucifer’s introduction was exactly that. Ambitious adjectives I must say. I had that in mind as I continued to read forward and almost fell out of my chair laughing when I chanced upon these lines in the novel (trudging a bit too forward I must say, but staying true to the context).
“One small bedroom, one small living room, a small kitchen and a small bathroom. (I looked for other adjectives).”
Just in character for Lucifer to be able to come up with a plethora of adjectives while describing himself but falling short when it comes to saying the same about something else.
So coming back to the beginning of the book. Our hero (or should I be saying villain) is offered a deal by his arch enemy, God himself. It is a homecoming deal that Angel Gabriel relays to Lucifer. One earth month on earth without any mortal sin and the fallen angel would be able to reclaim his position in Heaven. I would’ve imagined that the Devil might not be forthcoming to such an idea, but interestingly Lucifer takes the deal. He is tired of all the mischief he is doing for thousands of years and it is painful to him. The pain is described as under –
“I wasn’t kidding about the pain. Imagine death by cancer (of everything) compressed into minutes – a fractally expanding agony seeking out your every crevice.”
I find myself when reading stuff like this to want to hear how the words sound like. There are so many wonderful tones and tenors associated with these words that I find myself reading out aloud the lines. Go ahead, try it. It is like you are giving every sound that you can possibly make a go. The words have a tune like quality, mere words but oh! So resonant!
But that’s not where the wonder ends. One line has so much meaning written into it that the mind boggles at what all it is trying to say. I find myself pausing sometimes from the reading, taking it in, re-reading the lines, taking more in, coming back to them and still taking more from it. The hallmark of a great writer and this Glen Duncan is all about that.
“fractally expanding agony seeking out your every crevice!”
There’s Mathematics there in the fractal, there is science there and of course raw untamed emotions! The graph of a fractal in geometry expands to take everything its grasp. I can almost feel the agony that is seeking every crevice. Imagine pain like that overtaking your body. Originating at a point and encompassing your every nook and corner. How much has been conveyed in a phrase that is made up of 8 delicious sounding words. That my friends is what I an looking for when I read fiction. Aren’t we fortunate that we can just sit there and devour words with such meaning, arranged in such cacophony? I for one feel very fortunate that we have the means to write, publish and read books. How boring life would have been otherwise!
Taking the story forward, Lucifer is given possession of a human body – a human by the name of Declan Gunn (sounds a lot like Glen Duncan, doesn’t it?) who has decided to commit suicide because his life is going nowhere. That is until of course God decided to cut him short doing the ultimate act and making a deal with the Devil, literally, to take over Gunn’s body. Thus, Lucifer takes possession of the body to prove that he can ignore the sins of the flesh and reclaim his rightful place in heaven. As soon as he enters the world however, he decides that the entire world should know his story. He thinks it very unfair that God was able to tell the story from God’s own perspective by sending his messengers into the world. Messages that vilified Lucifer and glorified God of course. So, Lucifer takes the first opportunity at hand to send his message across. Luckily for him, Declan Gunn happens to be a writer (a failed one at that), and Lucifer decides to completely change his novel and put his point of view across.
The transition to earthly life is not so smooth however. The descriptions of some mundane things from the point of view of an unearthly being are sensational. One goes like this:
“I’m not sure what I expected. Whatever it was, it was surpassed by what I got. I remember thinking, That’s air. That’s air moving, slightly, against the exposed bits of me, wrists, hand, throat, face…The breath of the world, the spirit that wanders gathering germs and flavors from Guadaljara to Guangzhou, from Pawnee to Pizzara, from Zuni to Zanzibar.”
I marvel when a writer takes a seemingly innocuous everyday situation and turns it into a insightful statement, one that is there for all of us to take but none of us partake. I read for these moments, wherein I can revel in another person’s take on a situation I have been in. It is refreshing and humbling to see how one person can take away so much from a breath of air, whereas I just breathe it and go on. Glenn Duncan however captures the breath, the air and the entire universe in his words!
He says as much in the next page wherein he writes –
“I suppose it doesn’t strikes you, particularly, that sunlight traces ninety-three million miles to smash itself to smithereens on Clerkenwell’s concrete, transforming tarmac into a rollered trail of gem-shards? Or that a slate wall will cool your blood’s throb when you hold your cheek against it. Or that summer-heated brick porous and glittering, has a taste unlike anything else on the earth?”
Nope! Didn’t strike me for sure.
So, Lucifer starts to learn to live but is faced now with yet another mortal problem. That of time. He goes –
“That’s the thing with New Time: before you know it, you’ve spent it. Before you know it, it’s gone. It kills us in Hell, you know, the number of your deathbedders who, despite all the wrist-watched and desk calendars, despite their life’s tally of ticks and torn-off pages, look around their last moments with an expression of sheer disbelief. Surely I’ve only just got here, they want to say. Surely I’ve only just begun? To which, smiling and warming our palms around the arrivals hall blaze, we reply: Nope.”
Another hallmark of a great writer is to convey much more deeper thoughts than that of the ocean in a few smart sentences. That’s exactly what Glen Duncan does here. He basically surmises most of our whole lives in a couple of sentences and ends it with a flourish! Amazing writing indeed.
From here on Lucifer tells us the story of Adam and Eve (His take on Eve deserves another blog in itself, so I am not going to go over those here.) He makes it seem like Adam was content with Eden and in saying so writes –
“…content with an Everything so undeserved it amounted to Nothing…”
Felt like a reflection of our current state of affairs where it seems like everyone has everything so undeserved that it amounts to nothing to them. Reminds me of the President of the United States!
Lucifer’s description of his host body are pretty hilarious. He loathes the body he’s been given in no uncertain terms.
“Some humans survive concentration camps, other are driven over the edge by a broken fingernail, a forgotten birthday, an unpayable phone bill. Gunn’s somewhere in-between.”
Once again, the depth of the meaning conveyed here encompassing the whole human race is just brilliant!
The city where Lucifer is housed in is London and this is what he says about it.
“You turn up on a rainy Monday afternoon proud of all your woeful particulars – and London humbles you with its wealth of generals. You’ve seen your life. London, it turns out, has seen Life.”
Show me a more apt description of the city of London said in fewer words and I will show you a better writer than Duncan!
But Lucifer likes being human. Though its driving him nuts, he is enjoying it nonetheless.
“Every car horn, hot-dog stand, burp, breeze, sunbeam and shitswipe – you get the picture. I’m in love, truly, madly, deeply in love with perception.
And , manifestly, digression.”
When I started to read books, I used to feel that if a book was unputdownable (like an Whodunit Mystery is), then, that was the hallmark of a good book. Now I feel differently. I think that a good book calls out to be put down. That you need to put it down, take a deep breath, savor all the things you’ve read, take a break and get back to reading it again. Good books make you want to get to the end of the story. Brilliantly Good Books make you wish that the book never ends and the story keeps going on and on. Because you see when you are reading Brilliant Books, you never quite care for the story. It is the writing style that you are more in love with and that is where I am with this book.
I finished reading it last week but am enjoying going over the parts I have marked with this review again. I will have to warn you however, that I have just about finished reviewing 1/4th of it and I did not include the smack your lips kind of intelligence Glen Duncan uses when writing about Eve. I will end this part here and continue with the rest of the story and Glen Duncan’s mastery very soon.
(review to be continued…)