The Adversary’s Good News Israfel Sivad is a surreal, philosophical novel about Christian Michael Anderson who decides to end his life. He’s got the noose ready and aims to go through with it until he has a change of heart at the last minute. Fortunately, he’s rescued from his attempt by a mysterious stranger named Evius, who informs him that he has, in fact, died.
This leads Christian on an odyssey through the underworld, where he meets gargoyles, demons, a drug-dealing Tinkerbell, but most of all begins to confront the demons within himself.
Sivad is an erudite and ingenious writer. He’s in complete control of his story, knowing the ins and outs of every moment: how his lead character feels, how the setting looks and even smells, and each chapter ends with a riveting cliffhanger so you’re compelled to read on.
This is a book about big ideas that will have you looking differently at your own life by book’s end. Even its surrealism has a profound sense of reality, in the sense that it’s a reflection of a philosophical worldview, rather than specifically detailing what may or may not exist beyond death. Like the strongest philosophy, the novel feels like it’s uncovering truth. In this way, it’s closer to a work like The Odyssey, in which each sequence peels a layer off reality, and the character’s own vision of himself.
Unfortunately, Sivad’s sentence structure sometimes gets in the way of clarity. It’s as if he wants to convey a novel’s worth of ideas in each sentence, so it takes some time to unpeel the meaning of what he’s saying. This isn’t saying that the writing is too complex, because writing can be both complex and clear, but frequently adjectives are misplaced and other grammatical problems are frequent. The prose is meant to have a kind of loftiness and seriousness of purpose, but all of Sivad’s ideas are not conveyed with equal clarity.
Here’s an example:
Unsure why the man who saved his life would make such a friendly plea but feeling a bit beholden to the desires of his apparently new-found companion, Christian stopped in the living room with Evius. It wasn’t his intention. It wasn’t even his desire. But the interminable calculus of our existence sweeps us up into the midst of its derivatives of situations we never imagined for ourselves.
The last sentence is a signal of the breadth and scope of Sivad’s narrative, but the phrase “apparently new-found” (spelling aside) is more of a signal of the prose overall, given that the word “apparently” is misplaced, as he’s never seen Evius before. This may seem like a small thing, but these sorts of errors are cumulative. They may give the read a feeling of intellectual rigor, but make it difficult to unpack everything he’s trying to say.
When combined with the quality of the cover, it seems as if Sivad is more concerned with the big ideas in his novel, and less concerned about the small details, which are really just as important and would make his big ideas so much more meaningful.
However, the story itself is riveting and imaginative. If some of the unclear language could be cleaned up, the novel is an amazing tour de force. It will make you think differently about life and death, and even the creative process, as Sivad is a highly inventive writer. Overall, the book is recommended for Sivad’s ambition and fresh ideas, but it gets a knock for editing. That said, there aren’t a lot of books with this kind of narrative scope, and for that Sivad deserves high praise.