This novel is a treat! The archangel Gabriel conveys a message to Lucifer: God wants you back in heaven. It comes with a price tag of occupying a human body. Lucifer agrees to a one-month test-run. The heavenly team decides on the body of Declan Gunn, an unsuccessful British writer who has just committed suicide. The soul is gone, but the body is fresh.
Lucifer slides into the body and into humanity. He struggles to adjust as sensory input―sights, sounds, and smells―overwhelm his angelic awareness. He enters Gunn's life midstream, so encounters the romantic flops and failures, the Oedipal distress, the frustration with obscurity, and a badly overdrawn bank account. Lucifer swiftly fixes the bank account, upgrades Gunn's shabby wardrobe and gets a room at the swanky Ritz Hotel. Within a few days he assembles a coterie of decadent and depraved wealthy-aires who enthusiastically support his film script idea. Lucifer-Gunn and film producer Harriet cobble a film script about the Fall of Lucifer from the perspective of the fallen. He wants Johnny Depp to play his part. Work on the script is fueled with drinking, drugs, and lubricious ladies from XXX-Quisite Escorts ('girls with personality and verve for the gentleman who demands excellence').
The idiosyncratic writing emphasizes the traits of the story's narrator. There are a plethora of parentheses, tangential revelations, non-chronological diversions, cultural and historic references, and disorderly bits of back-story. As indicated by the title, Lucifer writes in first person, breaking the fourth wall to address the reader. The narrative slips back and forth from Lucifer's exploits through human history to segments describing Lucifer-Gunn's activities at the Ritz, at Gunn's old apartment, and at various pleasurable spots around London. The spotty scene-bouncing underscores the Lucifer's struggle to adapt to the constricted mortal perceptions of time and space.
Readers unfamiliar with British slang are in for an awakening. The opulent use of expletives simply confirms that Lucifer (predictably) has a potty-mouth. There are, however, canny references that demonstrate the author's research on the lore of the angelic hierarchies, fallen angels, and obscure Biblical references.
“I, Lucifer” is joyfully and unapologetically heretical. Contrarian views of events in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible are scattered throughout the text. It's enough to make a Christian fundamentalist weep and tear at his breast, so it's a literary chocolate nougat for readers who are queasy from watching self-righteous, god-squatting wind-bags monopolize the daily headlines.
Lucifer points out how very little he has to do to make people behave badly. He explains how God cheats and changes the rules, and how much he dislikes Jimminy Christmas aka Jesus Arthur Christ. Throughout his sojourn as the pathetic Declan Gunn he gets visits from various archangels prodding him to think about things while he's bound in flesh. As the story ends, Lucifer discovers the human body deal was a bait-and-switch. God changes the rules again.
Before 1957, this book would have been banned for obscenity. Expletives and sexual hijinx aside, the book demonstrates that the real obscenity is not what people say or write but the horrific acts people perpetrate against other people. Conveniently twisted religious rationalizations increase the degree of moral obscenity. The book's layered textures of incidental and central scenes cast light into the murky territory of alleged-versus-real obscenity. Die-hard cynics will appreciate Lucifer's descriptions of the sins he has cleverly woven into the history and practices of Christian religion.
Readers can ponder the profound issues that float around the periphery of the book's contents or simply go along for a joy ride. This book is the literary equivalent of heavy metal music with its head-banging linguistic twists and sulphurous substrata.
~review by Elizabeth Hazel
Author: Glen Duncan
Grove Press, 2002
262 pg, $15.00
Note: A soundtrack for “I, Lucifer” is available on Dreamy Records (cat REM 666), www.dreamyrecords.com or www.tuesdayweld.com for details