William Heaney, head of the the UK’s National Organisation for Youth Advocacy, leads a troubled life. His wife left him for a celebrity pastry chef, his teenage son hates him, and his oldest daughter has moved back in with him — and brought along her boyfriend. Heaney can also see demons. In his latest novel, How to Make Friends With Demons, Graham Joyce brings these entities to vivid life for his readers, too.
Ever since a traumatic event in college some 20 years ago, Heaney witnesses the hidden demons that haunt us all, creatures that only a few can see.
There are one thousand five hundred and sixty-seven known demons. Precisely. Okay I know that Fraser in his study claimed to have identified a further four, but it’s plain that he’s confusing demons with psychological conditions. I mean, a pathological tendency to insult strangers in the street is more likely caused by a nervous disorder than the presence of a demon. And chronic masturbation is what it is. I suspect that Fraser didn’t even believe in his own case studies. I think he just “discovered” four new demons so that he could peddle his bloody awful book.
According to Heaney, common demons include the “messy intellectuality” manifested in compulsive footnoting, the “collecting demon,” and demons that feed on various emotional ailments. Alcohol is not one of them, but rather “a series of volatile hydroxyl compounds that are made from hydrocarbons by distillation. The fact that it is highly addictive or that it can drive men or women to extreme and destructive behavior does not make it a demon.” Heaney, incidentally, spends large portions of the novel in pubs, often inebriated.
He also fronts a trio of forgers who fake antiquarian books. Heaney sells the illicit products to unsuspecting marks. At heart an altruistic philanthropist organization, his crew promptly donates all proceeds to the GoPoint Centre, a perpetually underfunded London homeless shelter.
Through potential buyers, Heaney meets two individuals who change his life. Toy-shop owner Otto introduces him to the first, the homeless Desert Storm veteran Seamus, who has chained himself to a railing in front of Buckingham Palace. Lashed with what appear to be explosives, he threatens to blow himself up if the police approach him. Heaney and Otto meet with Seamus.
“I want an audience with the Queen. I want to tell her what I know.”
“Eh? The Queen? Queen doesn’t give a fuck about the likes of you and me, Seamus.”
“I’ve been a fucking loyal soldier to the fucking Queen. I want to tell her what I know. And if she won’t come down here, she can ride raggy-arsed to Birmingham.” Whatever this phrase meant, Seamus found its utterance very funny. He tipped back his head. “Ha ha ha ha ha!”
Otto looked at me again. “Tell him the Queen won’t come. Tell him she’s eating pie in the palace, and too busy.”
“He’s right, Seamus,” I said. “The Queen won’t come here.”
The old soldier looked around at the gritty pavement on either side of him. “Yeh,” he said seriously, “it’s bit mucky, innit? Maybe we should sweep up a bit.”
The second encounter occurs while Heaney drinks in the Museum Tavern — legendary watering hole for Karl Marx located across from the British Museum — where he runs into poet and frequent Heaney client Ellis, and Ellis’s beguiling young companion.
She held out a tiny white hand across the table. “My name’s Yasmin.”
No, it isn’t, I wanted to say, because she didn’t look or talk at all like a Yasmin. Demon of false naming, we know all about that one. But I held my tongue. “William Heaney.”
Well, there we had it. She knew my name before I’d revealed it; I didn’t know hers even after she’d declared it to me. Another demon in there somewhere. Perhaps we held each other’s gaze a splinter too long because Ellis said, “I think I’m going to vomit.”
“How do you two people know each other?” I asked genially.
And as she told me, my demon, my real demon, who had been listening, crouched, always attentive, breathed its sweet and poisoned breath in my ear. “Take her away from the lout. Take her home with you. Lift her skirt.”
She talked at length and I listened. Voices are sometimes like the grain in a strip of wood. You can hear the character of someone’s experience in their voice. Hers was warm, and vital, but damaged.
The alluring Yasmin promises the most riveting and engrossing fictional femme in fantastic literature since the elusive title character of Jeffery Ford’s sensational The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque.
Leaping forward and backward through time, Joyce expertly weaves a cohesive novel that essentially chronicles a mid-life crisis. The book successfully explores a range of emotional states with a heady combination of horror, humor, and wonder, while maintaining its center on the kindhearted, confused, and at times delusional narrator Heaney. How to Make Friends With Demons, expanded from his O. Henry Award-winning short story “An Ordinary Soldier for the Queen,” displays author Graham Joyce in all his finery and ranks among the best novels of the year.
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