Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Last Werewolf (Glen Duncan)

The Last Werewolf, Glen Duncan
Read: 13 July to 17 July 2011
4 / 5 stars

This being the Glen Duncan book that's getting the most attention is like that time that band I love (oh, just pick any indie-darling-turned-pop-culture-phenomenon and it'll work) got famous for a comparatively lesser album. It's Glen Duncan, so of course it's better than most of what's storming the bestseller lists, but.... really? This is how the staggering majority is cutting its teeth on Duncan? Y'all gotta give Hope or I, Lucifer or Death of an Ordinary Man a chance to see what this guy can do when he's firing on all cylinders.

So it's accessible, or as accessible as Duncan gets. Pop-culture references do-si-do with allusions to classic literature, foreign phrases tango with base instincts, werewolf-myth mainstays cozy up to new twists on an old theme. Duncan's penchant for telling a story by slowly mixing the past with the unfolding present helps everything blend together smoothly. And, since Glen Duncan is a wickedly fabulous writer, the narrative is also beautifully written. Sure, Duncan can come off as pretentious but what high-minded bookworm doesn't love a well-turned phrase? Or a whole book of 'em?

The story explores all the human elements that Duncan has so expertly captured in his previous works. Love? Yep. Lust? Of course. Loss, selflessness, selfishness, the omnipresence of personal histories, journeys of self-discovery: It's all there. Just like they were in Love Remains and The Bloodstone Papers.

Glen Duncan has been one of my favorite writers for years so I'm amped that he's finally getting a modicum of the attention he deserves. But that's not to say I didn't enjoy The Last Werewolf on its own merit (or the fangirl bonus of seeing my name pop up throughout the first half of the book). I liked Jake. What others saw as whining, I saw as soul-baring. I have no idea what it's like to be 200 years old and racking up murders by the dozen for most of that time. I don't know what it's like to feel as utterly alone as Jake did. I don't know what it's like to be hunted by maniacal organizations and their equally crazed splinter groups. But I imagine I'd be experiencing a lot of what Duncan has Jake pontificating about. To whittle a monstrous, other-worldly being down to a sympathetically human character is hard to do but Duncan always does it well -- I, Lucifer, anyone?

My only bone to pick doesn't really pertain to the work itself but the way that it's being heralded as a "sexy" novel. To that, I paraphrase Tom Robbins, another author I can't ever get enough of: Just because there's sex doesn't mean it's sexy. Sure, Jake sounds like he's more physically attractive and loads hornier than, say, the he-beasts depicted by Benicio del Toro or Lon Chaney, Jr., but this is also the first werewolf story I've encountered that set out to make its love-story element so overt. Yeah, Jake gets his were-rocks off more than the norm but does that make his story a sexy one? If so.... er, that's a little too puritanical for my crass and demented tastes.

Ultimately, I very much enjoyed this book but am not-so-secretly hoping that it'll attract some attention to Duncan's seven other novels. Because, like every band that I love who got famous for their most accessible albums, I maintain that the older stuff is even better.

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