In a Faustian Tradition
Reviewed by Jeremy Billingsley
In The Devil’s Own Work, by Alan Judd, the narrator tells the story of his friend Edward, who falls victim to his own success after acquiring a manuscript from a recently deceased famous author. While Edward realizes literary recognition, fame, and wealth, the narrator can see the toll such recognition takes on the soul of his friend, on their relationship, and on the lives of those most dear to both men. A cerebral read in the vein of Henry James, this short novel originally published in 1991 masks the supernatural in favor of the physical effects of possession. One cannot ignore the corruption of the flesh on all involved once Edward makes the fateful decision to subvert the old author, O.M. Tyrrel and take on the demonic manuscript.
The book was the winner of the Guardian Fiction Prize for best novel. Judd, a British author who has also written for the Daily Telegraph and the Spectator, has written ten works of fiction and three nonfiction pieces. I searched online for a website and found only the briefest of references, a Wikipedia page and a brief biography on Fantasticfiction that contains basically the same information, along with a picture of the author. Like the elusive authors in this work of fiction, though, there is little more about Judd in the annals of literature or on the web.
This short read has been praised by Stephen King. A mildly voracious reader might finish this book in one or two sittings, a bit longer for the more careful reader. The book, in the tradition of Faust where one makes a deal with the devil for more power, draws on character and exposition to drive the plot. As we the reader watch the characters deal with the encompassing madness, we can’t help but be sucked into the madness as well, which leads to an unsettling ending for reader and narrator as well. This terrifying novel, short as it is, does an amazing job drawing on the terror as the narrator is helpless to watch his friend succumb to the darkness.