Written by: James Keen
“Satan is an early advocate for the dissolution of Patriarchy…The Devil has father issues.” – Andrew Pyper. The Demonologist.
There’s a line in Andrew Pyper’s extraordinary novel, ‘The Demonologist’ that runs as follows, ‘anything can be endured, if you’re not alone’. It underlines one of many significant motifs threaded throughout the length of this book, but in fact it is more than that; it is perhaps this novel’s thematic ‘spine’. Pyper has invented a meditative narrative that seeks to disseminate the nature of loss, the infuriating societal disconnect that can occur between people – how an evil entity might exploit that – and the awful, immobilizing taint loneliness casts upon everything for some who find themselves excluded from society whether that be through, in this case, the disintegration of a long-term relationship and the horrible distance that is inevitable for anyone whose mundane everyday experiences are impacted upon by dire life-altering, inexplicable events.
David Ullman, “an atheist biblical scholar” going through the unpleasant rigmarole of a marriage that is in its final stages of necrosis- is invited by a curiously emaciated character to observe and later document a remarkable circumstance in Venice, Europe – a city referred to in the text as “an affront to God”. Initially reluctant, Ullman acquiesces, seizing the opportunity to spend more time with his eleven year old daughter, Tess, who he decides to take along with him. The terrible consequences of his actions inform Pyper’s heart-breaking conceit; it’s a narrative that has much to say about the nature of depression, how it fulminates and engulfs hope if not checked, threatens to besmirch experience and ultimately snuff out any joy that may be gleaned from life, leaving those afflicted smothered by the “claustrophobia of being human”.
Having established his protagonist as an educator renowned for his extensive knowledge of Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’, Pyper is not diffident when it comes to referencing that classic text as he develops this increasingly harrowing tale in sly and creative increments. Ullman is painted as a flawed individual, buffeted by supernatural surprises, and thrown off-balance by Pyper’s MacGuffin-like narrative device (there’s a few nods to a certain Hitchcock movie). The repeated allusions to Milton’s study of the human condition serve as a vital underpinning to Pyper’s text and while many of them are subtle, the reader will become cumulatively aware throughout the novel of that books massive significance to this novels narrative mechanics.
A fantastic effort, this is – in places – an explosively violent horror novel. It’s also entertaining, extremely well executed and a thoroughly gratifying reading experience. A book that is not afraid to ask the bigger questions about the conundrums of human existence, the crippling nature of societal dislocation and the glimmering jubilation to be discovered in recognizing and acting upon the possibilities of redemptive, life-changing action.