THE DEVIL’S OWN WORK by Alan Judd. (Knopf: $17; 113 pp.) Literature, muses and the nature of creativity are the subjects of “The Devil’s Own Work,” a slim novel by Alan Judd that is more fable than flesh-and-blood fiction.
Strange things happen during an interview between talented young writer, Edward, and O. M. Tyrrel, a world famous literary figure. Tyrrel behaves oddly, hinting that his work comes from a mysterious force. He tells Edward, “It took a long time to accept that that is really my only choice, listening to the pen. I used to do anything I could to drown it but nothing ever worked. I had to surrender myself to it.” An ancient manuscript changes hands. Tyrrel suddenly dies. Shortly afterward, Edward, now in possession of the manuscript, begins to achieve literary success beyond his wildest dreams. Tyrrel’s mistress, a beautiful, ageless woman moves in with him. The book is narrated by Edward’s guileless friend, a teacher, who witnesses his sudden rise to fame and subsequent misery.
Judd writes in long sentences filled with intelligence and complexity, yet the book itself--the plot and characters--are almost overly simple. This is a cautionary tale, but the act it cautions against, selling your soul, hardly seems to be news. Although “The Devil’s Own Work” is enjoyable in an ordinary, methodical sort of way, at 113 pages it might have benefited from a companion piece, perhaps a completely different literary approach to demons, which might have added another facet to a somewhat limited work.