(Photo: Michael Lionstar)
It’s odd to begin this Wordsmith Wednesday post on a blog about stories, particularly when the writer in question admits to not being too interested in story at all.
“I’m not very good at story. In fact, compared to character and language, I barely care about story at all. Writers beguile me with style and ideas more than narrative events. It’s not very fashionable, but for me, if the voice is seductive, I’ll let myself be led contentedly through hundreds of pages in which nothing very much (in the strict sense) “happens”.”
–Huffington Post interview, Glen Duncan
While I’m not convinced that he’s not very good at story, I can appreciate what he says. Duncan’s writing does not draw you into a new world where things happen and conclude neatly; descriptive events of outside occurrences seem a strictly secondary priority. Instead, inner monologue steals the show, and Duncan uses both first person and third person perspectives to do this. What he achieves in doing so is to show us the true nature of ourselves.
That sounds like generic literary mumbo jumbo, so let me elaborate. Duncan chooses not to ignore those niggling thoughts that we try to stamp out when they surface. Bigoted assumptions, sexual perversions, blasphemous doubts; nothing is off limits. What follows is an experience that is disturbing and uncomfortable, but so staunchly honest that you can’t help but feel admiration and gratitude. Admiration because here is a writer who will share the disturbing thoughts that many of us seek to quell, and gratitude for showing us that we are not as alone and broken as we might think (relatively speaking, at least).
In some cases, it’s less about highlighting the fleeting, nightmarish thoughts than it is about challenging the uncontroversial views people seem to hold:
“Look closely the next time a paedophile comes via the media to the attention of his peers, look closely at the faces of the outraged mob. That’s where you’ll find me. Those pixelated tabloid stills of good mums and dads transformed by righteousness into grimacing beasts, bellowing for blood, teaching their children to hate first and ask questions later (or better still never), buoyed and inflated by the gobbled-up lie that they’re doing God’s work. This is paedophilia’s quality yield: the indignant mob bloodthirsty with decency. obscenely relieved of the burden of thought and the yoke of argument.”
– I, Lucifer, Glen Duncan
I, Lucifer benefits from its biased and eponymous narrator, and the excerpt above shows a clear view of what Lucifer considers the benefits of paedophilia in relation to its effects on sin and domination over man’s goodness. Like challenging the idea of righteous retribution at the hands of the mob, some of Duncan’s other novels challenge our ideas of unwavering loyalty to a partner, survival in the face of total despair, and the responsibilities that accompany parenthood. These thought-provoking monologues are weaved into stories of character development that feel like asides to the reader, written in a really effective way. His characters feel like friends imparting their advice during their challenging experiences. For me, it’s an interesting way of telling a story, and a creative way of halting our autonomous judgement of characters before it can take shape.
So many things I once thought of as uncontroversial have been given a new perspective by Duncan, and it’s always difficult to read and try and assimilate them alongside my own beliefs. But it’s always a thrill to do so. After all, is that not why we read? To discover new perspectives? Just because they might be difficult to stomach, does not make them any less valuable (quite the opposite in fact). Through Duncan’s writing, I have understood others better and, through them, myself too.