Duncan, Glen 1965–
Duncan, Glen 1965–
PERSONAL: Born 1965, in Bolton, England. Education: Attended Lancaster University.
ADDRESSES: Home—London, England. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Simon & Schuster, Africa House, 64-78 Kingsway, London WC2B 6AH, England.
CAREER: Dillons, London, England, bookseller, 1990–94; writer, 1994–.
AWARDS, HONORS: Named among Britain's twenty best young novelists by the Times Literary Supplement.
Hope, Viking (London, England), 1997, Riverhead Books (New York, NY), 1998.
Love Remains, Granta (London, England), 2000.
I, Lucifer, Grove Press (New York, NY) 2002.
Weathercock, Scribner (London, England), 2003.
Death of an Ordinary Man, Black Cat (New York, NY), 2004.
SIDELIGHTS: British author Glen Duncan worked as a bookseller in London before embarking on a trip to India with his father in 1994. He continued on to the United States, where he toured the country by traveling on Amtrak trains. Since that time, the author has lived in both London and New York.
Duncan's first novel, Hope, was described by London Observer reviewer Christina Patterson as "an intelligent and perceptive exploration of male attitudes to sexuality and the more general experience of 'passion with nowhere to go.'" Twenty-nine-year-old student Gabriel Jones has lost his perfect woman, Alicia, over his obsession with pornography, and now he saves money so that he can visit Hope, a high-class London prostitute who grants his every wish. Gabriel's life is one of self-loathing, and other than the time spent with Hope and the occasional job, he hangs out with best friend Daniel, an aspiring novelist. Gabriel's behavior has been influenced by his Catholic childhood and by the witnessing of the sexual abuse of a childhood friend, so that in the context of his past and development of the story, the degradation "does not seem gratuitous," noted Patterson. Boston Globe critic Jonathan Wilson called it "a brave and astonishing first novel, rare in that it delivers on the narrator's promise that he has a story to tell that will rock your world."
New Statesman reviewer Julie Wheelwright wrote that in comparison to Duncan's first novel, his second, Love Remains, "deals with even darker themes." Nicholas and Chloe are husband and wife, but their marriage is doomed by Nicholas's infidelities and feelings that Chloe is not attractive enough, and by her insistence on having a child. Nicholas suspects that he is infertile, but their lovemaking is fueled by Chloe, who is attempting to become pregnant. One night Nicholas returns from a one-night stand to find Chloe lying in a pool of blood, the result of a violent rape. Unable to cope any longer, he flees to New York, where he begins a relationship with an older sadistic woman, hoping that the pain she inflicts will bring him absolution. The story begins with Nicholas in New York and is told in flashback.
In I, Lucifer, Satan is given a chance at redemption when God puts him in the body of suicidal, failed writer Declan Gunn. After a month, Satan can choose to return to hell or live out the writer's life, and possibly gain entry to heaven. Satan takes full advantage of human frailties, including sex and drugs, and options his life story, offering Declan's lover, Penelope, a role. He also resurrects Declan's literary career and takes great pleasure in the senses enjoyed by man, including smell, touch, and taste, wondering how humans can get anything done when faced with such beauty as the sky and the sunset. As Tom Paine wrote in the Washington Post Book World, "what really makes this novel sensational is not the bacchanalian word revelry or its hilarious biblical revisionism. Rather, it's the seemingly implausible story of the devil's awakening to his latent humanity." Booklist critic Brendan Driscoll found that "Duncan's witty and perverse, yet somehow life-affirming, Lucifer is powerful indeed."
Weathercock is set in New York City, where protagonist and lapsed Catholic Dominic Hood searches for morality and an apology from God for saving his enemy and killing his friend. Manchester Guardian critics Alfred Hickling and Sarah Adams wrote that, like the rusty implement that inspired the title, this novel "has you lurching, revolted, all spun out," but added that the author then "hauls you back in every time: his is a monstrously talented voice."
The protagonist of Death of an Ordinary Man, called "dark and lovely" by Karen Valby in Entertainment Weekly, is Nathan Clark, a history teacher who died at age forty-seven, and who now hovers over his own funeral, not quite remembering how he died. As the story evolves, Nathan eavesdrops on his family and friends, finally able to focus and understand what he did wront durin his lifetime. His family includes wife Cheryl, whom Nathan loved in spite of the fact that she cheated on him with his best friend; college-aged son Luke; and seventeen-year-old daughter Gina, who is embarking on a sexual relationship. A dark room Nathan's spirit cannot enter symbolizes his death and that of a younger daughter, Lois.
Death of an Ordinary Man, has been compared to Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones, about the ghost of a girl who was raped and murdered, but as Joanne Wilkinson pointed out in Booklist, Duncan "uses the device in a new way: to explore the extremes of human behavior and emotion." Duncan also goes it alone in this novel. No guardian angel, old friends, or family dog provide comfort in his afterlife. Duncan "likes his rides bumpy," noted Terrence Rafferty in the New York Times Book Review. "Duncan doesn't go in for linear storytelling, for the momentum of 'What happens next?' In his novels, the crucial question, the long thread that keeps pulling us through the apparent chaos of language, is 'When will the narrator tell us what's really on his mind?'" "This is less a novel about death than a novel about thinking," concluded Rafferty, "written by someone who's done enough of it to know that it's a distinctly mixed blessing, necessary but not always sufficient; that a fair amount of courage is required to do it properly; and that sometimes—sometimes for entire lives—we're just not quite in the mood. In this superb, uncoercively moving novel, the afterlife is the place where thinking is all that's left to us, which makes it both heaven and hell."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, June 1, 1998, Bill Ott, review of Hope, p. 1722; May 1, 2003, Brendan Driscoll, review of I, Lucifer, p. 1579; November 1, 2004, Joanne Wilkinson, review of Death of an Ordinary Man, p. 462.
Boston Globe, June 28, 1998, Jonathan Wilson, review of Hope, p. C5.
Entertainment Weekly, January 21, 2005, Karen Valby, review of Death of an Ordinary Man, p. 95.
Guardian (Manchester, England), August 8, 1998, Carrie O'Grady, review of Hope, p. 11; February 26, 2000, Alex Clark, review of Love Remains, p. 10; January 11, 2003, Alfred Hickling, review of I, Lucifer, p. 30; December 13, 2003, Alfred Hickling and Sarah Adams, review of Weathercock, p. 30.
Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2003, review of I, Lucifer, p. 331; October 1, 2004, review of Death of an Ordinary Man, p. 929.
Library Journal, April 1, 1998, Marc A. Kloszewski, review of Hope, p. 121; April 15, 2003, Rachel Collins, review of I, Lucifer, p. 121.
New Statesman, February 14, 2000, Julie Wheelwright, review of Love Remains, p. 56.
New York Times Book Review, September 13, 1998, Peter Bricklebank, review of Hope, p. 27; February 6, 2005, Terrence Rafferty, review of Death of an Ordinary Man, p. 1.
Observer (London, England), July 20, 1997, Christina Patterson, review of Hope, p. 17.
Publishers Weekly, May 4, 1998, review of Hope, p. 205; May 19, 2003, review of I, Lucifer, p. 53; December 13, 2004, review of Death of an Ordinary Man, p. 44.
Review of Contemporary Fiction, spring, 2004, Alan Tinkler, review of I, Lucifer, p. 155.
Times Literary Supplement, July 4, 1997, Liam McIlvanney, review of Hope, p. 24.
Washington Post Book World, June 8, 2003, Tom Paine, review of I, Lucifer, p. T7.
Fantastic Fiction Web site, http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/ (February 16, 2005), "Glen Duncan."