Monday, January 09, 2012

Review: The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan

The Last Werewolf
Glen Duncan
304 pages
Knopf
Published July 12, 2011



Literary genre fiction was supposedly a big thing in 2011.  Colson Whitehead's Zone One, Patrick deWitt's The Sisters Brothers, and Tom Perrotta's The Leftovers were all examples of literary writers dipping into the murky dank waters of horror, westerns, and post-apocalyptic landscapes.  Critics acted as if this was the first time this had happened

Jacob Marlowe is the last living werewolf and his days are numbered.  He's being tracked and hunted by an organization called the WOCOP (World Organisation for the Control of Occult Phenomena) and frankly, Jacob doesn't really care.  He's two hundred years old and he's just plain tired.
Live long enough and nothing is news. “The News” is “the new things.” That’s fine, until a hundred years go by and you realise there are no new things, only deep structures and cycles that repeat themselves through different period details. I’m with Yeats and his gyres.
Of course something happens and Jacob suddenly has something to live for and then lots of action follows.

The Last Werewolf is a strange book that combines some truly fantastic writing with a sub-par YA-grade writing.  This book is rife with literary references; There are mentions of literary figures, famous books and locations with literary significance throughout the book. The first quote in this review is actually pretty indicative of how Duncan inserts literary references into his prose.  The mention of "Yeates and his gyres" is in reference to William Butler Yeates, his association with the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and his experiments with automatic writing.  Near the end of the novel, Jacob is reading American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis, which is a book about a serial killer that contains a lot of violence and sexual content - essentially the same stuff that makes up The Last Werewolf.  The big difference between the two is that American Psycho didn't have all of the hand-wringing, brooding, and self-pitty that fills the pages of The Last Werewolf.

The writing is impressive and Duncan is good at slipping in some winking literary references, but the werewolf novel is really the most simple of all the types of gothic novels.  The whole concept of man's inner-beast is so literally illustrated in the character of the werewolf that there isn't really anywhere else to go with the idea.  There isn't much room for subtlety and so the naturally you have to go for the unsubtle which, in this case, includes lots of references to erections and anal sex.  I don't really have a problem with it, but it just seemed out of place and maybe that's why so many reviews mention it.  It just gets so porn-y.

I enjoyed the writing and I liked making note of all the literary references.  Duncan is obviously smart and well-read, so it's just so hard for me to understand how he ended up with this book.  When I got to the end and realized that he had set up the (strong) possibility of a sequel I was so disappointed.  It just reinforced my opinion that he was trying to write a Twilight or some other YA-type series for the more literary crowd.

The Last Werewolf was not at all my thing.  The pacing was poor (the first 100 pages are slog) and the plotting was worse.    Even the excitement in the action scenes wasn't enough to keep me engrossed.  Maybe this book wasn't written for me or maybe I'm being too hard on it, but I just can't recommend it to anyone.
When you can watch the alchemy that turns morons into millionaires and gimps into global icons, where’s the thrill in men who turn into wolves?

Rating: 5/10
Book source: purchased

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