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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

“The Last Werewolf” by Glen Duncan (Reviewed by Robert Thompson)

Order “The Last WerewolfHERE (US) + HERE (UK)
Read An Excerpt HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Glen Duncan is the author of seven previous novels including I, Lucifer which was shortlisted for the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize. He was chosen by both Arena and The Times Literary Supplement as one of Britain’s best young novelists. Glen currently lives in London.

PLOT SUMMARY: A veil of melancholy has fallen over Jake Marlowe. Not only is he a werewolf, but he is the last of his kind. Hunted by his enemies and haunted by his past, he is worn out by centuries of decadence and debauchery, and by the demands of his lunatic appetites. As a result, he decides to submit to his fate at the next full moon. However, as Jake counts down to suicide, a violent murder and an extraordinary meeting plunge him straight back into the desperate pursuit of life...

FORMAT/INFO: The Last Werewolf is 304 pages long divided over three ‘Moons’ and sixty-one numbered chapters. Narration is in the first person via the protagonist Jake Marlowe, except for the last six chapters. The Last Werewolf wraps up the novel’s major plotline, but leaves a number of matters unresolved, hopefully to be continued in a sequel or two. July 12, 2011 marks the North American Hardcover publication of The Last Werewolf via Knopf. The UK edition was published on April 7, 2011 via Canongate Books.

ANALYSIS: Werewolves have never captured my interest the same way vampires have, but over the past few years, three books have come out that have really changed the way I look at werewolves. The first is Toby Barlow’s spectacular novel, Sharp Teeth. Then came The Wolfman by Nicholas Pekearo, rest his soul. Finally, we have The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan...

The Last Werewolf—my first Glen Duncan novel by the way—not only stars a werewolf as the main protagonist, but also features vampires, a World Organisation for the Control of Occult Phenomena (WOCOP), and copious amounts of sex. Sounds like a formula straight out of an urban fantasy/paranormal romance novel right? Wrong. Instead, The Last Werewolf is a gritty and visceral, hard R-rated contemporary horror thriller dressed up in literary wrappings, which is mainly due to Glen Duncan’s sophisticated writing style and evocative prose:

If this was Hollywood I’d be dismissing her fully paid and heavily gratuitied in preparation for a night’s heroic solitary brooding, a sequence of fade-shots wet-eyed Pacino would do with baleful minimalism, staring out at the city, lit cigarette, bottle and glass, the face tranquilly letting all the death and sadness gather with a kind of defeated wisdom. But this wasn’t Hollywood.”

The moon was an inscrutable pregnancy, a withheld alleviation, a love more cunning than a mother’s.”

Personally, Glen Duncan’s writing style was somewhat difficult to follow as I had to constantly stop and re-read passages in order to fully digest what the author was saying, while the prose can get overblown at times. That said, the author does a marvelous job capturing the voice of someone who has been alive since the early 1800s and is weary of life. Even more impressive are the subtle, but noticeable changes to Jake Marlowe’s ‘journal entries’ when he suddenly discovers a reason for living.

Werewolf elements in the book are fairly conventional. The Curse is only transferred by infection. The infected can only transform during a full moon. Benefits include increased senses, healing, and lifespan. Silver is a weakness. Et cetera, et cetera. Of course, the author puts his own spin on the werewolf mythos in the form of an amped-up libido, the infection killing people instead of changing them, and a strong aversion to vampires. However, it’s the intimate and thought-provoking look inside the mind and heart of Jake Marlowe the werewolf that is the novel’s main attraction, which includes being tormented by the memories of everyone he has ever killed, suffering from profound loneliness and a life void of love, and wondering if life after death exists for a werewolf.

Plot-wise, The Last Werewolf starts out a bit slowly with the novel focused on establishing Jake’s past—when he became infected in 1842; his first kill which he has not spoken of in 167 years; the time he saved Harley’s life, his human familiar, fix-it and friend for fifty years—his loneliness and exhaustion of life, and his desire to die. That’s when the author throws a few curveballs—vampires, WOCOP politics, a love interest—to complicate matters for Jake and increase the novel’s entertainment factor. Unfortunately, these interesting plot developments become bogged down by Marlowe’s long-winded ruminations, while a narrative shift towards the end of the book telegraphs the novel’s ending. An anticlimactic ending that leaves many matters unresolved like Alexander Quinn’s journal which supposedly contains the origin of werewolves, and the vampires’ Helios Project.

Despite these issues with the story, The Last Werewolf is a striking novel. Glen Duncan’s writing is intelligent and provocative; Jake Marlowe is a compelling and sympathetic protagonist, even if he is a monster; and the plot delivers plenty of action, sex, thrills and surprises. Admittedly, I enjoyed reading Sharp Teeth and The Wolfman more than I did The Last Werewolf, but Glen Duncan’s book ranks right up there with the best that werewolf fiction has to offer, and is a tale worthy of a sequel...


Angela said...

This sounds like a book right up my alley and now I am looking forward to reading it! Adding it to my TBR list, thanks for sharing!

Unknown said...

I heard about this one on the radio last weekend, I believe on a summer reading list show for NPR. It sounds interesting, and I'm always up for a good werewolf story. I'll have to keep this in mind. Thanks for the review.

Edith said...

Yikes. That excerpt tells me all I need to know. The writing style is not for me.

Robert said...

You're welcome Ang and Rabid Fox :) I hope you enjoy the book!

Edith, if the writing style is not for you, then it will definitely make it more difficult to enjoy the novel...

Samuel J. E. Trawick said...

Although Duncan can be a bit wordy and sometimes confusing he manages to draw readers into a wonderfully descriptive world. The Last Werewolf is a great story even if it is at times a difficult read.

Samuel J. E. Trawick, Author of The Frostbourne Chronicles


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