I, Lucifer by Glen Duncan

History needs a re-write when Satan sells his script

Michael Arditti
Saturday 20 July 2002 00:00
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St Peter's admonition that "your adversary the Devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about seeking whom he may devour" has been interpreted by some writers with a startling literalness. Bulgakov placed Satan in Twenties Moscow, in The Master and Margarita, and John Updike in Eighties New England, in The Witches of Eastwick.

It is, however, Ben Jonson's comedy, The Devil is an Ass, that bears the closest resemblance to Glen Duncan's new novel. In that play, Satan permits Pug, a minor devil, to spend a day on earth provided that he assume the body of a recently hung cutpurse. In Duncan's novel, the time limit is extended to a month but the other conditions are very similar: Lucifer making a pact with God to live in contemporary London in the rumpled skin of Declan Gunn, a writer who has just committed suicide.

The purpose of the pact is to determine Lucifer's (and Gunn's) eternal fate, although this is swiftly sidelined in favour of Lucifer's complaints about Gunn's sexual equipment. Declan Gunn is an anagram of Glen Duncan. The account of Gunn's novel, Bodies in Motion, Bodies in Rest, reveals a concern with sexual violence similar to that in Duncan's previous novels. The association of author and character is, however, little more than a neat conceit.

Lucifer's activities turn out to be surprisingly tame. When not indulging a taste for exotic sex, he concentrates on selling a script about his life to a Texan movie producer. The idiocies of the film world are perfect targets both for Lucifer's malevolence and Duncan's satire. Lucifer quickly becomes a "Name", "the clairvoyant who pretends to be the Devil", and the script is touted as a vehicle for Julia Roberts and Johnny Depp.

Lucifer offers an alternative version of history. Much of this is both clever and challenging, such as his concept of Old and New Time (pre- and post-Creation), his relationship with Christ, whom he calls Arthur (shades of TH White?), and his insistence that it was boredom rather than pride that prompted his rebellion. He also offers a welcome attack on the sexual hypocrisy and repression of the Church.

The prevailing tone is, however, unduly flippant. From the opening sentence "I Lucifer, Fallen Angel, Prince of Darkness, Bringer of Light ... and without doubt Best Fuck in the Seen and Unseen Universe", it is clear that we are a long way from Milton and even Aleister Crowley. Whatever one may think of Elton John, to include him on a list of holocausts, tyrannies and massacres is fourth-form humour. Facetiousness and bathos define the book which, while sizzling with mephitic energy, comes as a disappointment after the powerful examination of rape in Duncan's recent Love Remains. By the end of the novel, one wishes for a little less of Lucifer and a little more of Declan Gunn.

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