book reviews

The Witty Irreligiosity of I, Lucifer by Glen Duncan

Book Review of I, Lucifer by Glen Duncan

Grove Press, 2003

ISBN: 978-0802140142

Paperback, 272 pp., $15

When I read this: August 27-September 18, 2013

My rating: 4/5 stars

My (spoiler-free) review:

This is a book about Lucifer experiencing a month on Earth. It sounds like an ambitious idea, and it is. Duncan also totally pulls it off.

Before I start, I should point out: you don’t have to know ANYTHING about Christianity to read this. I don’t (I’m an atheist) and I still understood it 100% because Duncan is so thorough.

Now. Whatever your religious beliefs are, here are some (of the many) reasons you’ll love I, Lucifer if you read it:

First: the voice. Hilarious, terrifying, and so very devilish. The number of witty remarks per page is amazing; I laughed out loud so many times that I lost count. Duncan also manages to make Lucifer come across as both scornful and grudgingly respectful of mankind.

Second: the imagery. Lucifer has literally experienced everything but life on Earth, and it blows him away how much we take for granted. Duncan’s descriptive language will blow you away too. Lucifer could reveal all the grit in the world and it wouldn’t change the beauty of the five senses. It’s a unique perspective, like what a newborn would say if it had the words.

Third: the facts. A large part of the book is in parentheses, and it absolutely works. There are no digressions. (After all, Lucifer knows a hell of a lot, and “The trouble with knowing peopleā€¦is that everything’s relevant. Nothing is a digression.”) The parenthesized sections provide more insight and give the book more validity; he references so many biblical, historical, and personal facts that it truly feels like Lucifer is talking to you.

Fourth: Gunn’s story. The writer whose body Lucifer is inhabiting was about to kill himself at the beginning of the book, and as much as Lucifer tries to focus on his screenplay and making the most of his time on Earth, he always ends up back at Gunn, and through Gunn, humanity. And he goes into such detail, through all the minor (and not-so-minor) events that eventually pushed Gunn to (almost) attempt suicide, that you feel like you know him almost as well as you know Lucifer. Hell, Gunn isn’t even alive anymore and he teaches Lucifer what it means to live. He’s interesting in all his flaws.

Fifth: believability. This is sort of connected to the others, but I think it deserves a section of its own. The true triumph of I, Lucifer is how real and honest it feels. Because Lucifer is telling the truth; he just expects it to be ugly enough to frighten you. But even with the Devil showing the world in the ugliest of lights there are good parts. The juxtaposition between delicious irony and incredible beauty is amazing. There are also a ton of subtle changes in the narration, subtle to such an extent that you don’t even notice when Lucifer starts to waver and question himself. It’s no small feat to make the Devil have an identity crisis, however much he tries to deny it. Like I said, Duncan pulls it off. He even ends up explaining why Lucifer decided to write the book in the first place (that is, aside from the fact that he types at 400 words a minute). And I’m not going to give away anything, but the end will blow your mind, partly because it’s so easy to believe.

Why I gave four, and not five, stars: this is an amazing book, but I only give five stars to my absolute favorites. There were some sections and anecdotes that, while connected to story and character development, were hard to follow, and/or felt longer than they had to be. There were also parts that were pretty disturbing, which I can’t say was unnecessary, but it detracted a little from my enjoyment of the book.

A final note: just to say, this is a very unreligious book on the whole. To say the least. It’s Lucifer, for god’s sake. He talks about sex and drugs and Nazis and making people murder and rape. Don’t read this if you’re squeamish about that stuff. Or do. It’s definitely worth a few winces. It will make you think, and that’s the best kind of book there is.

I’m new to reviewing, but I hope this gave you a feel for Duncan’s third novel. Feel free to share any thoughts on the book, the genre, or the alien invasion last week!

To see this review on Goodreads, clickity.

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