Writers often say there is a little bit of themselves in a character in their books. How could there not be since it’s the voice in their head that is leading them to the writing. As readers, I think we tend to find a little bit of ourselves in a character as well. It may have been what drew us to the book to begin with or we may be looking for something or someone we aspire to be (whether we are aware of it or not). I picked up The Demonologist by Andrew Pyper because I thought it sounded interesting – David Ullman a professor who teaches mythology and Judeo-Christian religious narrative but whose tenure is based on his expert knowledge of Paradise Lost by John Milton, is asked to go on a trip to Venice and provide his opinion on an event. He takes his young daughter along where she ends up disappearing, causing David to question the actual existence of demons in the world. Little did I know that I’d find a bit of myself in this book.
I was fully engaged in this book from the second I started reading it. I liked the main character and enjoyed the topic. Then I came across these lines:
“For me it is the dark cloud of depression. Or should I say, what I reluctantly feel obliged to call depression, just as half the world has diagnosed itself, though it doesn’t seem to precisely fit my case. All my life I have been pursued by the black dogs of unaccountable gloom…” (p. 9)
“Professional semantics, maybe, but it feels more like melancholy to me than anything as clinical as the chemical imbalances of depression. What Robert Burton called in his Anatomy of Melancholy … a “vexation of spirit.” It’s as though my very life has been haunted.” (p. 10)
And this is where I started to love this book. I felt a kinship with this professor (as unreal as he is) and saw a tiny bit of myself in him. It’s the melancholy that stuck out. I would say I’m an overall melancholy person – it’s not depression, more of that gloomy feeling that I identify with. Although I’m not pursued by any “black dogs…”, or are my nightmares my form of black dog pursuers? In any case, I felt a familiarity while reading The Demonologist.
David Ullman is a gloomy and lonely guy. His marriage is on the tail end of over due to his wife sleeping with a colleague. He doesn’t have a vast circle of friends, his best friend being a fellow teacher in a different department, Elaine O’Brien. His one shining spot is his daughter Tess. She makes him happy and they have a connection that enables them to understand one another. Early on, David is approached by a mysterious woman who offers him a chance to fly to Venice and provide his expert opinion on a “primary case of interest”. Ullman is initially reluctant to go on this trip but after a discussion with O’Brien, his mind is changed.
Ullman flies to Venice with Tess and the days before he has to view the case are full of joy and happiness for the two of them. They site see and get lost and have a good time together. The hour arrives for Ullman to go to the agreed upon location where he is to watch something and offer his opinion. To me, this was the scariest part of the book. It was creepy and disturbing – more of a mental scare than a graphic one. What Ullman sees terrifies him and he runs back to his hotel room with plans to leave immediately. While packing, Tess somehow goes to the rooftop area. Ullman goes with the intention of bringing her back so they can leave. Tess, however, is not herself and it’s there that she completely disappears. This starts Ullman’s search for real demons. The search tests his beliefs – he is an atheist and thinks demons a manmade invention – as well as his fortitude.
I throughly enjoyed this book. It is dark, sad, and almost depressing, but there is something beautiful in all of it. David Ullman is pushed to his limits and the reader is left guessing to the very last page to find out if he is successful or not. I made the mistake of reading this book the same night I watched an episode of The Strain and had horrible dreams of a vampire/demon hybrid. I’d recommend not doing the same, especially if you are prone to nightmares like I am. If you like a book that is smart and offers true feelings of being scared, I’d highly suggest you read this book. I thought it was a great read and was happy to have picked it up.