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Death of an Ordinary Man

3.37  ·  Rating details ·  901 ratings  ·  102 reviews

I Lucifer established Glen Duncan as a writer “up there in the literary stratosphere with Martin Amis or T. C. Boyle” (Washington Post). Now with Death of an Ordinary Man, Duncan continues his penetrating and innovative exploration of the supernatural with a novel that is far and away his most powerful and accomplished yet.

Nathan Clark’s gravestone offers a short and
Paperback, 304 pages
Published November 30th 2004 by Grove Press, Black Cat (first published 2004)
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Average rating 3.37  · 
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 ·  901 ratings  ·  102 reviews

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Sep 13, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone whose interested in what could happen in the afterlife...
I had finished I, Lucifer by this author prior to reading this novel, and I was facinated by his take on heaven, hell, the devil, and god.

Here, also, is an interesting take on what happens to a person after they die. The main character awoke to whiteness, nothingness, then suddenly found himself at his funeral, with no recollection of how or why he got there.

He spends the day around his family, being drawn into them like a moth to a light. He can see and hear thier thoughts, he is also drawn
Jan 16, 2010 rated it really liked it
Glen Duncan is the master of writing the nitty gritty of those thoughts which most of us are embarrassed to think, or even verbalise. This book puts us directly into the heads of every one of its characters (bar one, whom we never actually meet, but who casts a shadow into the story). It tells the story of Nathan, who is a ghost at his own funeral, dipping into and out of the minds of the attendees, his family, and into and out of their memories. There is a door with a scary attraction, and two ...more
Aug 05, 2009 rated it really liked it
The story follows a dead man as he hovers over his family & closest friend the day of his funeral & wake. The plot, such as it is, follows him as he tries to discover why he died. But it also follows him through time as this thoroughly devoted family man who dearly loves his wife & 3 kids reexperiences key moments in his life. The book has passages of amazing insight about family relationships. There's a brilliant chapter on his daughter's first sexual experience (it's not ...more
Nov 19, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Quite brilliant. Before Death of an Ordinary Man I’d read only one other book by Duncan, I, Lucifer, which I suppose was similar in its style and themes and so on. He has this amazing talent for describing an existence outside of the human experience. His imagery transcends the senses, and is something I think everyone needs to experience at least once.
But I think what struck me the most in this story was the characters and the depth to which we got to know them. The omniscient perspective of
Nov 22, 2012 rated it did not like it
Honestly, I thought this book sucked. 50 pages into it, I wasn't sure whether or not I'd bother finishing it. For some reason I kept reading, figuring it would get better. By a certain point, I still didn't care much for the story and disliked most all of the characters, yet I was far enough along in the book I thought "I might as well finish it now." I really didn't identify with any of the characters. I thought the whole stream-of-consciousness writing style very annoying -- especially ...more
Nov 10, 2009 rated it it was ok
The supernatural parts aren't really supernatural enough, and the family drama parts are too overwrought. It bothers me when you can't tell whether the author or the narrator has a warped view of the world; it's like seeing "Inglorious Basterds" without knowing how WWII actually ended. The women in this novel are presented as mystic goddesses, all vastly superior to men but without man's humanity. It's a common problem with male authors, and it bothers me.

The criminal center of the novel is a
Feb 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing
The best book I've read since college. The story is heartbreaking, but I couldn't tear myself away. It took a little while to really get into the author's voice, as the main character is just as clueless as the reader as to what's going on in the beginning. It's worth sticking it out and getting into.

Ayelet Waldman
I read this book because I was contemplating a dead narrator in my new novel. I've changed my mind, but I'm glad I had a chance to read this.
Nov 25, 2018 rated it did not like it
Now for a libra beginning of rating this book: I’m sure this book is great for someone. I don’t think I ever gave a book a one star, but this was hard to get through. It is very well written and the language is at times stunning, but the lack of concrete plot was impossible. I’m someone who loves to follow a story, especially when I’m on a train attempting to escape my commute and not reading Gertrude Stein. The book is literally about a ghost that floats through his after life (or in between ...more
Nick Milinazzo
Feb 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Nathan awakens to find himself dead and viewing his own funeral. Although he knows for certain he is dead, he cannot remember how it happened. With the ability to read thoughts and experience the memories of others, he spends the day of his wake trying to come to terms with what lead him to this point and to answer some questions, namely: How did he die? How did his daughter die? How will the rest of his family go on aft another tragedy?
The beginning of the book is very choppy as Nathan comes
Allison Velat
Jun 30, 2018 rated it it was ok
This book was extremely hard to get into . I’d read several reviews about how good it was so decided to keep going . It took me about three times to reread just the first three chapters to try to grasp things .

The idea of the story line was very intriguing, and it was interesting to see things from the characters perspective after death and the authors unique spin on it .
This book does make you stop and think about how something awful can destroy so many people and how we try so hard to
Jul 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2017
As ever, Glen Duncan can do no wrong in my eyes, but I suspect if this had been the first of his I'd picked up I might not have got past the first few pages, the initial premise being something of a turn-off for me.
However, persist I did (after all he got me reading werewolves!) and I ended with the feeling that I've lived half blind to all that was going on around me, so unaware and incapable of observation. And of living at this level anyway. I'd like to go back and do it all again, properly.
Dec 10, 2017 rated it liked it
While the concept of this book was interesting, in practice it just never really got anywhere. A man comes back from his death as an invisible consciousness, looking and hearing his families hidden inner lives. The subplot being the terrible thing that happened to his youngest daughter, and how that impacted his family. Unfortunately, by the time I got the details of that (which is the only slightly interesting part of the story), I did not care about any of the characters in the slightest, so ...more
Dec 21, 2019 rated it it was ok
I don't know why I couldn't get into this. Maybe I wasn't in the right headspace. I liked the concept of telling the story from the point of view of a dead man. But I thought it needed something more. Duncan seems to have relied on the shock factor to tell his story. The ending was boring! Maybe someone else will like it better.
Oct 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Excellent story all the way around, and very well written.
Sep 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Very enthralling book - I like the sometimes stream of consciousness writing. The story is heartbreaking but you can't turn away. I've not read any other of Glen Duncan's work but will.
Lewis Brown
Feb 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Duncan has a unique ability to find the words to describe the things we think but can’t possibly acknowledge we think.
Mat Costanzo
Mar 10, 2017 rated it liked it
I love the way Duncan writes. He's capable of turning out sophisticated insights with a droll wit or cutting poignancy. In the end though, this story was just too sad for me to enjoy. Maybe I'm a little soft but I need more humor and hope than this. It was a bit disappointing because Duncan goes in for this kind of dark rumination in several of his novels, and then his werewolf series actually feels too light, like he dumbed the writing down to focus on the action. I, Lucifer is a favorite ...more
Feb 11, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, reviewed
Comparisons with Alice Sebold's better-known play on the same theme are unavoidable (so I won't avoid them), but Duncan's Death of an Ordinary Man is not afraid to go to places, dark places, that The Lovely Bones tends to (delicately, beautifully) swerve around. For that alone I prefer Duncan's effort.

Death of an Ordinary Man takes some getting used to (especially if you jump into it after having just read a James Frey novel); Duncan's style in this novel is ethereal, wispy, intangible and
Angie Lisle
Mar 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is one of those books that clearly doesn't play by the "rules" promoted by most writing self-help books - which may explain why I enjoyed it so much.

The story unfolds very slowly. It's a bit like the movie Pulp Fiction in that it's not put together in the traditional beginning-middle-end structure that we all know so well. Even the prose, which reflects the garbled minds/emotions of the characters, follows the pattern set forth by the story structure. The entire book is designed to do one
Jamie Campbell
Sep 11, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: everyone!
A perplexing take on the experience of a soul coming to peace with their own death . . . and sharing, with the reader, a profound naivete about "what happens when we die" along with a puzzling naivete about the circumstances of their own death. The reader follows the narrator on a metaphysical tour of their funeral, complete with forays into the thoughts and emotions of their family and friends. You learn about the narrator's life through his family's thought and memories and his own ...more
Nick Brett
Nov 10, 2014 rated it it was ok
Tough one to review this, a book that makes you think, does very much cover the human condition and one that you gradually peel apart to understand the circumstances behind the story.

Trying hard not to give anything away, we start with a man floating above his own funeral and trying to remember what happened, He follows through to the wake and we see (through his eyes) how his family are coping and he/we can also sense what they are thinking.

He is trying to remember and we as readers are trying
Feb 26, 2009 rated it really liked it
A dead man observes his family at his own funeral and wake, looking for clues as to why he died. His recently departed stature gives him the ability to see but not be seen, as well as to hear some of the thoughts of his family. Their grief triggers memories of another death in the family, one that no one dealt with nearly as well they seem to be handling his passing. The presence of two people he doesn't recognize is what troubles him most, and until he finds the connection, he can't let himself ...more
Jan 22, 2013 rated it liked it
It took me awhile to get sucked into this book... So long, in fact, that I nearly quit reading it. (sidebar: I am getting a lot better at quitting books that suck, rather than forcing myself to finish them. Well, maybe not getting better, but I am thinking about it. Strongly) I am glad that I did not quit, because it got a lot better. It is a pretty depressing book, with extremely dark subject matter. If you are a sensitive Sally, this is not the book for you. However, if you are not, you may ...more
cold green tea
Aug 17, 2008 rated it did not like it
Shelves: fiction
This novel might have been good were it not for self-indulgent prose, the author’s exaggerated sense of his own daring, and tepidly realized characters. The premise (a ghost at his own funeral, knowing the thoughts of his family and rediscovering them as strangers) is not new, but Duncan at first seemed to take it to a very interesting place. The narrator explores his families memories with fear and curiosity. There is a real sense of approaching mystery, bewilderment, and dread that fades very ...more
Jul 10, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: families
My first Glen Duncan book was Weathercock which completely blew me away - that is the highly intelligent and sophisticated level of writing coupled with the dark and raw subject matter which I found highly intriguing. I've since read Love Remains and now Death of an Ordinary Man, both entertaining enough, but neither achieves the dizzying heights of brilliance of Weathercock. I'm hoping that with his new book, The Last Werewolf, Duncan achieves the literary heights (or delights) he did with ...more
Jul 27, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One of the saddest books I've read in recent years. Nathan's story is absolutely heartbreaking, as is that of his family, whose thoughts and feelings following Nathan's death make up most of the content.
I wouldn't count Death of an Ordinary Man among Duncan's best, simply because it doesn't have the almost conversational flow that make his other novels so easy to get caught up in, but it is brilliant nonetheless for its portrayal of a family with a tragic story, and their battle coping with the
Jan 06, 2010 rated it liked it
This was not as good as his previous work "I, Lucifer". It would be extremely difficult to topple or even equal that fantastic work. While not as strong this book has it's own strengths. The story is a tragic one. The reader is taken through a journey of the life of an ordinary man coping with the fact that he is dead. He is forced to observe his own funeral and the state his death leaves his family in. The premise is not totally new territory from a narrative stand-point but Duncan does use it ...more
Aug 11, 2011 rated it liked it
After reading this book I still don't know if I completely liked it. At times Duncan's writing really moved me, he is articulate, accurate and describes human interaction in a wonderful way. However at the same time, I had trouble connecting some of the characters which made it difficult to read at times.

As mentioned by some of the other reviewers, this book isn't for everyone and it does take some time to get used to Duncan's writing style.

Overall though, the good bits, outweighed the bad, and
Feb 21, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: england
Pretty interesting book written from the perspective of the man who has died. He sees his life and his wife and children, his best friend and his dad, all trying to come to terms with his passing.... something he too is trying to do all the while seeing his life pass before his eyes, as they say --- I won't give more away, it is worth a read simply because the perspective taken is so unique and complex
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Aka Saul Black.

Glen Duncan is a British author born in 1965 in Bolton, Lancashire, England to an Anglo-Indian family. He studied philosophy and literature at the universities of Lancaster and Exeter. In 1990 Duncan moved to London, where he worked as a bookseller for four years, writing in his spare time. In 1994 he visited India with his father (part roots odyssey, part research for a later work,
“She hated the predictability of herself, but knew life probably wouldn't be long enough for her to grow out of it.” 5 likes
“That's the problem with being alive," she says, staring at the floor. "You've got to keep thinking of what to do.” 4 likes
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