Glen Duncan – I, Lucifer (Book Review)

I, Lucifer cover

Glen Duncan – I, Lucifer

Glen Duncan’s I, Lucifer is the story of Satan, after God offers him the chance to possess a mortal body for a month. Rather than take the chance at redemption, he splits his time between the pleasures of the modern world and writing his side of the story for us all to read. Naturally, Lucifer’s version of things differs slightly from God’s.

In general, there are two ways to write stories about the devil. Either his rebelliousness can be cool, setting him off against an out-of-touch God, or he can be the scapegoat for all pain and suffering. This book tries to have it both ways, and fails. Lucifer’s writing is confident and collected, and he expects us to identify with his freedom-loving worldview. But then he keeps interrupting that narrative to brag about persuading people to rape and murder. These aren’t kept abstract, either. He’s especially proud of the damage these crimes do to innocents. If you can’t handle scenes of child rape and very detailed descriptions of Medieval torture, this book is not for you.

Of course, even if you can handle those scenes, there’s no reason why this book should be for you. I can enjoy stories about anti-heroes, and even about villains. But I don’t automatically like them just because they’re about bad people. And I, Lucifer doesn’t offer any reason to read it. Possibly worst of all (if you’re not one to get disturbed by the scenes in this book) is how boring he actually is most of the time. When he’s not being the original rebel or the reason for torture, he’s just in over his head in the human world, sounding a lot more like a hedonistic mortal than a deity who has seen ages pass.

Duncan is a great writer. Allusions and economical turns of phrase flow through the prose, and he can set scenes and describe people very insightfully. This book is not well-written, though. Lucifer’s tendency is to wander off on tangents constantly, jumping between philosophy, the “real” versions of Biblical stories, and the modern-day events. Almost no time is dedicated to the plot, and all these aspects end up feeling disjointed. Many individual scenes are good. There’s one digression near the end that justifies the contradiction between Lucifer’s roles as freedom-lover and a perpetrator of suffering. If that had come earlier, and been supported throughout the book, it would have been a very different, much more interesting, story.

I, Lucifer has very good moments, but they’re all temporary. For all Duncan’s skill, the book he wanted to write just wasn’t very good. The main character merges the worst parts of unlikeable and uninteresting, the other characters barely exist, and there’s almost no plot to speak of. I do find myself vaguely curious about what Duncan’s other novels are like, but unless someone promises me that they are very different than this, I won’t be giving them a chance.

Grade: D+

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