Book club: The Demonologist by Andrew Pyper


This novel had been getting a lot of buzz when we decided to include it in our reading list. As today’s moderator suggested, it would appear that Andrew Pyper was trying for that sweet spot where genre fiction overlaps literary fiction, but as a group, we were not convinced that he was successful.

Pyper’s protagonist in The Demonologist is David Ullman, a Milton scholar who is offered an all-expenses paid trip to Venice if he will visit a particular address and use his expertise in the area of demons to assess a situation. He brings his daughter Tess with him and she is captured and drawn into the underworld.  The rest of the novel follows Ullman in his attempt to find and rescue her.

What worked:

We agreed that the story was interesting.

We thought he had moments of good writing.

There were some good action sequences.

We liked the relationship between Ullman and fellow professor Elaine O’Brien: a non-sexual, cross-gender friendship.

The cover (both dust cover and hardcover) were well done.

What didn’t work:

The novel reads too much like a screenplay. It seemed made for film, and not the literary fiction audience that we suspect he was going after.

We didn’t understand what was really going on. Does Ullman really believe there are demons that can intervene in our lives? Did important bits in flashbacks in the novel really happen, or were they subject to perceivers’ error?

Many of us were simply not very engaged in the novel. In a comparison between Pyper and Dan Brown (for example), those of us who admitted to being familiar with the latter rated Brown as better at engaging the reader in the story, and better at owning up to the agenda of the protagonist (in Brown’s case, and anti-Vatican stance, for example.)

The novel needed a(nother) good edit.

Overall rating: 6/10 (with a range of 5-7)

I hosted this month and decided to go for a Venetian theme, even though a relatively small part of the novel takes place in Venice. (As someone pointed out, this was probably a better theme than roadside diners/motels in terms of meal options.) Because of my Sunday morning committments, I chose a mainly cold buffet meal.

We lunched on a caprese salad, scampi alla Veneziana, crostini al radicchio Trevisano, proscuitto e melone, cheeses (a Romano sheep’s milk cheese and some asiago), and drinks made of prosecco, campari, and peach juice.  My spouse picked us up a Cappuccino Dacquoise for dessert.

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