Monday, March 21, 2005

More on Duncan's Death of an Ordinary Man

From Andrew O'Hehir's review of Glen Duncan's Death of an Ordinary Man for (

"Duncan is an ambitious but never showy prose stylist, and while critics across the Atlantic have compared him to such Brit-lit leading lights as Martin Amis and Will Self, he is more compassionate, and less terrified of domesticity, than either of them. Part of this book's brilliance is that Nathan essentially finds himself in the same position as the novelist: He sees everything and can change nothing, but is ideally placed to understand and to forgive -- to forgive even Cheryl's coldness and betrayal, Luke's darkest thoughts about his sisters, Frank's dreary self-pity, Gina's overwrought self-mythologizing."

"Most of all, Nathan's got to forgive himself for all the inevitable sins of marriage and fatherhood, and to figure out what he can do, from his side of the veil of tears, to make things easier on his survivors. Is this a story about an unexceptional family in suburban England afflicted by tragedy and haunted by a ghost? Not at all; it's really about how the vast, craggy landscape of family life is as scary and as thrilling as ascending Everest or traveling to the moon, and about the fact that love really can transcend death, even for agnostics. There's nothing ordinary, in the end, about the heroic and majestically sad Nathan Clark -- or about the book that contains him."

While I wouldn't call Nathan heroic nor 'majestically sad' --there's nothing majestic about him-- I would agree that this novel is not about a ghost haunting his survivors. Rather, it's about a man (granted, a dead man) who is trying to come to grips with his life (more than his death) and to recapture the closeness with his family that he had lost long before his death. The afterlife, in Duncan's novel, is a sort of limbo where the dead's consciousness grapples alone with the reconstruction of their life, plagued by amnesia and tempted by the 'signals' emanating from familiar objects in their former lives. While Nathan, and his readers, do ultimately figure out many of the facts of his life, their meaning remains unresolved, just as life is --messy, uncomfortable, disturbing... bearable for some but not others.

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