Wednesday, July 10, 2013

And after his divorce, he wrote Paradise Regained...

I dislike Paradise Lost. I've probably mentioned this before. Even with an English to English translation, Uncle Milton's seminal poem about Satan and his rebellion.

Wrong Uncle Miltie.
I understand why it remains popular; among other things, his version of Satan is one of the original templates for an anti-hero. Yes, Satan ruining Eden to get his revenge on God is a bad thing, but because he did that, God can send a saviour a few millenia later. 
Adam said, "Thanks. Thanks a lot."
And Satan, not understanding sarcasm wandered off sort of happy.
Which brings us to  The Demonologist by Andrew Pyper. 

Our narrator, David Ullman is one of the preeminent scholars on Milton and (you guessed it) Paradise Lost. David teaches at Columbia in New York City, when not going to various gatherings of people who want to know more about Milton. The irony here is that David, who also specializes in religious texts, is a big ol' atheist. David is married, although his wife is cuckolding him with a hot young Physics prof who specializes in String Theory. His daughter, Tess, shares his unnaturally dark melancholy. And his friend Elaine, who teaches psychology, is dying of cancer. 

All of which comes out as Spring term is ending and Professor Ullman receives a strange female visitor in his office after he finishes his last class of the term. The Thin Woman (there are more than a few characters in here who don't get names as much as descriptions. The Thin Woman is the first of several.) offers David a bunch of money to fly out to Venice the next day, go to a specific address, and then return to New York. David laughs it off and goes out for drinks with Elaine. Well, after a brief confrontation with the String Theory Studbiscuit. 

When David returns home, his wife announces that she wants a divorce. He can keep Tess, she wants the Physics professor. As such, David and Tess fly to Venice, Italy, the next morning to give wifeypoo the chance to start moving her crap. 

Oh, and what fun we have in Venice. David goes to the address, is given a camera, and lead upstairs to see a man tied to a chair. Said man pulls a full Linda Blair. The man, speaking in several different voices, says proof will be delivered on a certain date. It quotes Milton at him. At the end of his speech, the man in the chair's voice changes to that of David's father, echoing the father's last words to David. "It should have been you."

David, understandably upset by this, races back to his hotel, concerned for Tess, who was left in the hands of an Au Pair. Said babysitter isn't in the room, and Tess is poised to take a dive off the balcony and into the canal below. Tess speaks first in the voice of The Unnamed, and then in her own voice, telling David to find her.

And oh boy, does it get weird from here. The Venice police are convinced Tess was washed out to sea. David returns to the states, and we meet The Pursuer. We don't find out until the end much about this guy, who claims to be a fairly good Altar Boy from Brooklyn. He wants The Document from David. David says he has no idea what the guy is talking about. 

Somehow, David begins a very long journey that starts in North Dakota, winds its way across much of the US and into Canada, and all of which is framed by passages from Milton that give David clues as to where his next stop is. He has six days to save his daughter. He has six days to figure out who The Unnamed is. He has six days to stop the Pursuer from trying to stop him.

While the climax is quite satisfying, the actual ending falls more than a little flat, as at least one part of the conclusion makes absolutely no sense at all. But then, given the nature of the narrative, I suppose this is to be expected.

All of this is narrated in first person present tense. Which takes more than a little adjustment. 

Amusingly, for a book about demons, religion is downplayed. It's about at the level of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, wherein it exists as background noise, present, but not really the focus of the narrative. G-d's part in this narrative is exceptionally quiet, only really showing up in quieter moments. Interestingly, organized religion gets knocked a few times in the process, and not just by The Unnamed.

And the horror aspects really weren't all that horrifying for me. Then again, I don't have children, and most of the horror is centered on the idea of "Demons ate my baby!"

I'll also admit I was a bit disappointed that The Unnamed wasn't Louis Cypher, the rather enigmatic character in Angel Heart, who basically wanted Mickey Rourke to find the devil and prove he exists.

Overall, a good read, even if I did feel like the author (despite having a good grasp on the concepts of Milton) was treating Paradise Lost like a salad bar, grabbing out passages that best suited narrative needs.