Okay, a werewolf novel. My first gut reaction to hearing of a new werewolf movie or novel runs from ‘meh’ to ‘oh, that’s silly.’ I’m not sure why, to be honest. I’m a fan of horror. AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (I bought my brother a Slaughtered Lamb tee shirt as a gift), WOLFEN, and even THE HOWLING are films that remain near and dear to my heart, along with the original Lon Cheney Jr. WOLFMAN. And one of my favorite cheap jokes from YOUNG FRANKENSTIEN is Marty Feldman saying, “There wolf!” after Terri Gar says, “Werewolf?” One of my favorite novels of the new millenium is Toby Barlow’s SHARP TEETH; it’s a fricken prose poem about LA werewolves!
Yet those great movies/book have been the exception to the wolfy rule, at least in my experience anyway. All the cheesy CGI and truly bad horror novels of the last twenty or so years makes me weary of lycanthropy. And maybe it’s the rigorous mythology of full moons and silver bullets that seems too restraining, even defining. Yes, a werewolf book/movie/comic/story, I know what that’ll be about.
So it was with almost apprehension that I picked up Glen Duncan’s THE LAST WEREWOLF. I’m glad I did. It’s the best novel of 2011 thus far.
Jake Marlowe is 201 years old (was bitten by a werewolf in Wales, 1846) and is the presumed last werewolf. He’s the last because no one has survived a werewolf attack in decades (due to, possibly, some sort of virus that now blocks the transmission of werewolfness) and WOCOP (a world-wide organization dedicated to eradicating werewolves and assorted occult beasties) has hunted the wulf to extinction. Part of the genius of this novel is that Duncan sets up the basic, primitive survival parameters early in the novel, and then throws in his wolf: an erudite, worldly, arrogant, witty, depraved, disturbed, lonely and horny guy who doesn’t want to live anymore within those parameters. It’s not that he can’t live with being the monster anymore, he can’t face living during those intermnible months where he’s not the monster.
“In ages past the beast in man was hidden in the dark, disavowed. The transparency of modern history makes that impossible:… The beast is redundant. It’s been us all along.”
“Yes,” I said. “I keep telling myself I’m just an outmoded idea. But you know, you find yourself ripping a child open and swallowing its heart, it’s tough not to be overwhelmed by … the concrete reality of yourself.”
I’m guessing (there’s no guessing really, go read some reviews on Goodreads or Amazon if you wish, my favorite bit from a…cough…reader at goodreads, “Why is this book so terrible? Because Glen Duncan is a literary asshole who isn’t passionate about werewolves.” I love me an in-depth review!) some fans of paint-by-the-numbers thrillers and horrah novels might be put off the ‘lit’ry’ aires Duncan dare bring to the werewolf party. By lit’ry aires I mean fully drawn, compelling characters, irony, metaphor, proper use of first person narrative, and an expansive vocabulary.
Don’t be a player hater. Enjoy every indulgence. Duncan has plenty of fun and ironic winks with the double-crossings of agents and vampires and thriller pacing of the plot. But the
heart meat of the book is Jake Marlowe and his all-to0-human existential crisis. Ennui of the immortals has been done plenty of times before, particularly within the tiresome vampire novels/movies. But it hasn’t been done with this much fun, bloodlust and the other kind of lust, intelligence, humor, and yeah a big, complex, twisted, but beautiful heart. Jake Marlowe the werewolf really loves us all so much he could just eat us all up.