This is less a novel about death than a novel about thinking, 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.
The New York Times
It has often been said that dead men tell no tales. Nathan Clark, however, can't stop talking. In this latest brimstone-tinged novel by British writer Duncan (I, Lucifer, etc.), Clark, a recently deceased history teacher, appears at his own funeral, hovering over the mourners. Ghost-like, "a radical amputee... [n]o body, but a maddening imposture of sensation," he glides through the action, tuning into the thoughts of his father, Frank; his wife, Cheryl; his college-age son, Luke; and his daughter, 17-year-old Gina. A suffocating sadness surrounds these characters, not only because of Nathan's untimely end but also because of the recent violent death of Lois, Nathan's youngest child. As he attempts to order his memories, Nathan ponders the many facets of his love for prickly, ambitious Cheryl, despite her affair with his best friend; for clever, sensitive Gina; for self-contained Luke, a physics student; and for Lois, lovable swimmer and violinist. Duncan's exhilarating, almost exhausting flood of insight into family patterns of love and habit ("It was a grotesque lie, that you loved all your children equally") is matched by the rich unexpectedness of his writing and the complex construction of the narrative, which mimics the structure of thought. The mystery of Lois's death and the narrator's own death-symbolized by a dark room in the family house that Nathan's ghost is afraid to enter-give the novel a hint of suspense, but it's the steady stream of small revelations that gives it its power to haunt. Agent, Jane Gelfman at Gelfman Schneider. (Jan.) Forecast: Despite its superficial resemblance to The Lovely Bones and other recent novels narrated from beyond the grave, this has more in common with Iris Murdoch's analytical chronicles of love and friendship. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
As this novel opens, Nathan finds himself falling into darkness and emerges to float above his own funeral. But this is no thriller or hokey ghost story. British novelist Duncan (I, Lucifer) has crafted a knife's-edge tale of one man's simple life and gradual undoing through family tragedy, told glancingly in taut, elliptical passages. Along with the reader, Nathan pieces together his life and death mosaiclike as he hovers around his family after the funeral, able to sense their feelings and falling into the memories thus invoked. We see his passion for his edgy, intense wife, who ultimately betrayed him with his best friend; we register his concern for his floundering son and budding, tough-as-nails older daughter. We learn that a younger daughter has died and are eventually rubbed raw by the details of her horrific death. Duncan layers on brilliant prose-sometimes a little heavily, as the narrative seems to slow halfway through. In the end, however, he has produced an arresting story, and he writes convincingly and affectingly of the consequences of a child's death, which is pretty rare indeed. Recommended for most libraries, particularly where readers are venturesome.-Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Man dies, gets to hover around and check out what the family is up to. In the latest example of our recent obsession with a nonsectarian afterlife, Duncan (I, Lucifer, 2003, etc.) takes your ordinary recently dead schmoe, Nathan Clark, and puts him in the ectoplasmic ether, floating through the lives and thoughts of his family and friends. In a well-rendered but confusing start, Nathan requires considerable time to get his bearings and figure out why all those people are staring at his grave. It takes some time for the reader, too, to get acclimated inside Nathan's head, which is, not surprisingly, buzzing with questions but also seems to be meshing with the thoughts of the people he's watching. With a certain guilty voyeurism, he takes an eye to what his daughter Gina is up to, as to whether she's sleeping with that none-too-trustworthy boyfriend of hers (Duncan makes little attempt to play down the more naturally prurient aspects of Nathan's and in fact seems to revel in them). Nathan also delves into his relationship with his wife, Cheryl, a spiky-tempered ball of trouble whom he hasn't really been able to connect with since the tragic death of their younger daughter, Lois. The men in Nathan's life aren't any easier: his father is a remote and sad fellow, his son Luke a basically good but distant and hard-to-figure kid. There's an affair here for Nathan to uncover, as well as a room in his house he can't quite bring himself to go into-and then, too, there's the matter of the reason behind his restless ghostly wanderings in the first place. Duncan's portrayal of the afterlife is refreshingly unsentimental, and he has plenty of talent to spare on the highs, lows, and everydayfrustrations of family life, but it's hard even so for the attention not to wander. The life and times of an ordinary man, with longueurs and lack of drama intact. Agent: Jane Gelfman/Gelfman Schneider