I, Luciferby Glen Duncan
“Duncan’s witty and perverse, yet somehow life-affirming. Readers . . . won’t want to put [I, Lucifer] down.” –Brendan Driscoll, Booklist
Shortlisted for the Geoffrey Faber Award, I, Lucifer is a satirical tour de force fueled by a scorching, hyper-intelligent wit that burns up the pages.
The End is nigh, and the Prince of Darkness has been given one last shot at redemption, if he can manage to live out a reasonably blameless life on earth. As a trial run, he negotiates a month of “trying without buying” in the body of struggling writer Declan Gunn. Lucifer seizes the opportunity to binge on earthly delights, to straighten the biblical record, to celebrate his favorite achievements, and to try to get his screenplay sold, but the experience of walking among us isn’t what His Majesty expected: instead of teaching us what it’s like to be him, Lucifer finds himself understanding what it’s like to be human. The result is “a masterpiece . . . startlingly witty, original, and beautifully written. Glen Duncan is a very real talent” (Good Book Guide).
“A novel touched by grace. . . . I loved this: How many of our grim cabal of literary writers nowadays opt to underline the beautific awe that was once every writer’s calling card? . . . When Duncan is burning words like this, he is up there in the literary stratosphere with their Martin Amis or our T. C. Boyle.” –Tom Paine, The Washington Post
“[A] bitingly funny pseudo-memoir.” –USA Today
“A fiendishly sharp, intelligent examination of modern human life that is as funny as hell” –The Times (London)
“This captivating and truly clever novel is a real original, so successful in its attempt to humanize Lucifer that the reader actually likes this charming devil… If you like witty, raunchy British humor, you’ll love this.” –Rachel Collins, Library Journal
“Duncan’s witty and perverse, yet somehow life-affirming. Readers . . . won’t want to put [I, Lucifer] down.” –Brendan Driscoll, Booklist
“Clever, stylish . . . A fiendishly funny, wickedly eloquent account . . . Duncan conveys Lucifer’s musings on the nature of evil and his sensory adventures, in hilarious pyrotechnic prose.” –Big Issue
“A film version of the novel might be exciting but it would not be a patch on Glen Duncan’s wonderful act of ventriloquism.” –Times Literary Supplement
“A wicked, impish conceit, all ably orchestrated with Duncan’s playful intelligence and sizzling wit.” –Arena
“The devil is on vacation in London, and loving it! God gives Lucifer a month in a suicidal writer’s body, with an option to own, if he gives up his evil ways. Lucifer’s not about to purchase, but he will take full advantage of the free rental. A wonderful, witty read.” –Mitch Gaslin, Food For Thought Books, Amherst, MA, Book Sense quote
“Duncan packs more wit and energy into one page of I, Lucifer than most writers fit into an entire novel. The book is a leap forward in prose.” –Neal Pollack
A Book Sense 76 Selection
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 Best Fuck in the Seen and Unseen Universe (ask Eve, that minx) have decided – oo-lala! – to tell all.
All? Some. I’m toying with that for a title: Some. Got a post-millennial modesty to it, don’t you think? Some. My side of the story. The funk. The jive. The boogie. The rock and roll. (I invented rock and roll. You wouldn’t believe the things I’ve invented. Anal sex, obviously. Smoking. Astrology. Money . . . Let’s save time: Everything in the world that distracts you from thinking about God. Which . . . pretty much . . . is everything in the world, isn’t it? Gosh.)
Now. Your million questions. All, in the end, the same question: What’s it like being me? What, for heaven’s sake, is it like being me?
In a nutshell, which, thanks to me, is the way you like it in these hurrying and fragmented times, it’s hard.
For a start, I’m in pain the whole time. Something considerably more diverting than lumbago or irritable bowel: there’s a constant burning agony, all over, so to speak (that’s quite bad) punctuated by irregular bursts of incandescent or meta-agony, as if my entire being is hosting its own private Armageddon (that’s really very bad). These nukes, these . . . supernovae catch me unawares. The work I’ve botched, the ones that’ve got away – honestly: it really would be shameful, had I not done the sensible thing (you know it makes sense) and become utterly inured to shame about a thousand billion years ago.
Then there’s the rage. You probably think you know rage: the trodden-on chilblains, the hammered thumb, the facetious boss, the wife and best mate soixante-neuf’d on the conjugal divan, the queue. You probably think you’ve seen red. Take it from me, you haven’t. You haven’t seen pink. I, on the other hand . . . Well. Pure scarlet. Carmine. Burgundy. Vermillion. Magenta. Oxblood, on particularly bad days.
And who, you may ask, is to blame for that? Didn’t I choose my fate? Wasn’t everything hunky-dory in Heaven before I . . . upset the Old Man with that rebellion stunt? (Here’s something for you. It might come as a shock. God looks like an old man with a long white beard. You think I’m kidding. You’ll wish I was kidding. He looks like a foultempered Father Christmas.) Yes, I chose. And oh how we’ve never heard the end of it.
Until now. Now there’s a new deal on the table.
Certainly you may snort. I did. As if it was ever, ever going to be as simple as that. He knocks me out, He does, with His little whims. With His little whims and His . . . well, one hesitates, naturally, to use the word . . . His naivety. (You’ll have noticed I’m capitalizing the aitch on He and His and Him. Can’t help it. It’s hard-wired. Believe me, if I could get past it I would. Rebellion was a liberating experience – rage and pain notwithstanding – but acres of the old circuitry remain. Witness the – excuse me while I yawn – Rituale Romanum. I’m tempted to prompt the ditherers. Gets me out, though, eventually. Every time I think it’s going to be different. Every time it isn’t. The blood of the Martyrs commands you . . . Yes yes yes, I know. I’ve heard. I’m going, already.)
Naivety’s conspicuously absent from my own cv. As a matter of fact I can hear and see pretty much everything in the human realm pretty much all the time. In the human realm (trumpets and cymbal-crash of celebration, please . . .) I’m omniscient. More or less. Which is just as well, since there’s so much you curious little monkeys want to know. What is an angel? Is Hell really hot? Was Eden really lush? Is Heaven as dull as it sounds? Do homosexuals suffer eternal damnation? And what about being consensually buggered by your lawful wedded hubby on his birthday? Are Buddhists okay?
In time. What I must tell you about is the new deal. I’m trying, but it’s tricky. Humans, as that pug-faced kraut and chronic masturbator Kant pointed out, are stuck within the limits of space and time. Modes of apprehension, the grammar of understanding and all that. Whereas the reality is – now do pay attention, because this is, when all’s said and done, me Lucifer, telling you what the reality is – the reality is that there are an infinite number of modes of apprehension. Time and space are just two of them. Half of them don’t even have names, and if I listed the half that did you’d be none the wiser, since they’re named in a language you wouldn’t understand. There’s a language for angels and none of it translates. There’s no Dictionary of Angelspeak. You just have to be an angel. After the Fall (the first one I mean, my fall, the one with all the special effects) we – myself and my fellow renegades – found our language changed and our mouths friendly to a variant of it; more guttural, riddled with fricatives and sibilants, but less poncy, less Goddish. As well as a century or two of laryngitis the new dialect gave us irony. You can imagine what a relief that was. Himself, whatever else He might have going for Him, has absolutely no sense of humour. Perfection precludes it. (Gags work the gap between what’s imaginable and what actually is, necessarily off the menu for a Being who actually is all He can imagine – doubly so when all He can imagine is all that can be imagined.) Heaven’s heard us down here, cackling at our piss-takes and chortling at our quips; I’ve seen the looks, the suspicion that they’re missing out on it, this laughing malarkey. But they always turn away, Gabriel to horn practice, Michael to the weights. Truth is they’re timid. If there was a safe way down – a fire escape (boom-boom) – there’d be more than a handful of deserters tiptoeing down to my door. Abandon hope all ye who enter here, yes – but get ready for a rart ol” giggle, dearie.
So this is going to be a difficulty – my existence has always been latticed and curlicued with difficulties (bent wrist to perspiring forehead) – this translation of angelic experience into human language. Angelic experience is a phenomenal renaissance, English a tart’s clutch-bag. How cram the former into the latter? Take darkness, for example. You’ve no idea what stepping into darkness is like for me. I could say it was sliding into a mink coat still redolent with both the spirits of its slaughtered donors and the atomized whiff of top-dollar cunt. I could say it was an immersion in unholy chrism. I could say it was the first drink after five pinched years on the wagon. I could say it was a homecoming. And so on. It wouldn’t suffice. I’m confined to the blank and defeated insistence that one thing is another. (And how, pray, does that bring us any closer to the thing itself?) All the metaphors in this world wouldn’t scratch the surface of what stepping into darkness is like for me. And that’s just darkness. Don’t get me started on light. Really, don’t get me started on light.
It’s yielding sympathy for poets, this new deal, which is fitting reciprocity, since poets have always had such sympathy for me. (Not that I can claim any credit for ‘sympathy For The Devil”, by the way. You’d think, wouldn’t you? But no, that was Mick and Keith all on their own.) Poets suffer occasional delusions of angelhood and find themselves condemned to express it in the bric-a-brac tongues of the human world. Lots of them go mad. It doesn’t surprise me. Time held me green and dying/Though I sang in my chains like the sea. You get close now and then – but whose inspiration do you think that was? St Bernadette’s?
In the early days of the Novel, it mattered to have a structural device through which fictional content could make its way into the non-fictional world. Made-up narrative nominally disguised as letters, journals, legal testimonies, logs, diaries. (Not that this is a novel, obviously – but I know my readership will spill well beyond the anoraks of Biography and the vultures of True Crime.) These days no one bothers, but despite the liberties modernity allows (it’d be fine with you if there was no explanation of how His Satanic Majesty might come to be penning, or rather keying in, a discourse on matters angelic) it so happens that I needn’t avail myself of any of them. It so happens, in fact, that I am currently alive, well, and in possession of the recently vacated body of one Declan Gunn, a dismally unsuccessful writer fallen of late (oh how that scribe fell) on such hard times that his last significant actions before exiting the mortal stage were the purchase of a packet of razor blades and the running of – followed by the immersion of his body into – a deep bath.
Which brings the buzz of further questions. I know. But let me do it my way, yes?
Not long ago, Gabriel (once a carrier pigeon always a carrier pigeon) sought and found me in the Church of The Blessed Sacrament, 218 East Thirteenth Street, New York City. I was taking my ease after a standard job well done: Father Sanchez, alone, with nine-year-old Emilio. You fill in the blanks.
It’s no challenge for me any more, this adult-meets-child routine.
Hey, Padre, how’s about you and –
I thought you’d never ask.
I exaggerate. But you can barely call it temptation. Umnphing Father Sanchez of the gripping hands and beaded brow needed barely a nudge into the mud, and a drearily unimaginative job of wallowing he made once he got there. I snuffled up the scent of ankle-grabbing Emilio (it’s laid some useful foundations in him, this episode – that’s the beauty of my work: it’s like pyramid selling) then retired to the nave for the non-material equivalent of a post-coital cigarette. Nothing happens when I enter a church, by the way. The flowers don’t wilt, the statues don’t weep, the aisles don’t shudder and crack. I’m not overly keen on the tabernacle’s frigid nimbus, and you won’t find me anywhere near post-consecration pain et vin, but these antipathies excepted, I’m probably just as at ease in God’s House as most humans.
Father Sanchez, roseate and piping hot with shame, walked wide-eyed and sore-bummed Emilio, musky with fear and tart with revulsion, to the vestibule, from where the two of them disappeared. Sunlight blazed in the stained glass. A cleaning lady’s mop and bucket clanked somewhere. A patrol car’s siren whooped, twice, as if experimentally, then fell silent. There’s no telling how long I might have stayed there, bodilessly recumbent, if the ether hadn’t suddenly quivered in announcement of another angelic presence.
“It’s been a long time, Lucifer.”
Gabriel. They don’t send Raphael for fear of his defection. They don’t send Michael for fear of his surrender to wrath, which, at Number Three in the Seven Deadlies Chart, would be a victory for Yours Truly. (As it was, incidentally, when Jimmeny Christmas lost His rag with the loan sharks in the temple, a fact theologians invariably overlook.)
“Gabriel. Errand-boy. Pimp. Procurer. You rather stink of Himself, old sport, if you don’t mind my saying.” Actually, Gabriel smells, metaphorically, of oregano and stone and arctic light, and his voice goes through me like a gleaming broadsword. Conversation struggles under such conditions.
“You’re in pain, Lucifer.”
“And the Nurofen’s holding it marvellously. Mary still saving that cherry for me?”
“I know your pain is great.”
“And it’s getting greater by the second. What is it that you want, dear?”
“To give you a message.”
“Quelle surprise! The answer’s no. Or get fucked. Think brevity, that’s the main thing.”
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 felt a nosebleed coming on. Extravagant vomiting. I had trouble keeping my shaking in check.
“Gabriel, old thing, you’ve heard of those chronic peanut allergies, haven’t you?”
He withdrew a little and turned himself down. Reflexively, I’d expanded my presence to the very edge of the material world; already there was a crack in the apse. If you’d been there you might have thought a cloud had passed over the sun, or that Manhattan was brewing one of its blood-and-thunder storms.
“You must listen to what I have to say.”
“It’s His Will.”
“Oh well if it’s His will –”
“He wants you to come home.”