Andrew's Reviews > The Last Werewolf

The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan
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May 21, 2012

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This book is one of a clutch of horror novels to have appeared in the past few years, written by authors of literary fiction who have turned their hands to genre material, perhaps to expand their creative horizons, perhaps to earn a little more scratch. I understand the literary in literary fiction to imply a focus on character and mood over plot, a considerable dose of introspection, and a more complex vocabulary than your average bestseller. The Last Werewolf has all of these, along with buckets of gore, parades of violence and as much clinically-described explicit sex as any reader could want. Unfortunately, it also has an attitude problem.

Jake Marlowe is the last werewolf. There's your plot. He's two-hundred-and-something years old and, tired of soothing the monotony of immortality between his monthly wolf-outs with expensive whiskey and skilled prostitutes, he's contemplating ending it all. Meanwhile, there's a global werewolf-busting agency out to nail him (WOCOP), a wealthy femme fatale with a thing for lycanthropes, and some vampires complicating matters... and at about the halfway mark, a suggestion that he might in fact be the penultimate werewolf. All of this is fine and fun stuff, and Duncan lays it out in beautiful wine-rich prose. The man can write the house down. Yet it all comes layered with so much self-conscious literary philosophizing and navel-gazing that it can chew the hell out of your last nerve if you don't love that stuff. I don't love that stuff, and with a literature Ph.D. to my name, I've got a tolerance for it. Got right on my last nerve, I say.

It feels as if the author wants us to know that not only is his werewolf a thoughtful and literate genius, so is he, and he wants to impress upon us how much smarter than this genre material he is, how much more he's capable of. The thing is, genre readers are also highly intelligent readers, much of the time, and this attitude isn't one that wins fans; Duncan gained some notoriety for himself by expressing what could be seen as a low and cynical opinion of genre fiction and its readers in a book review in the NYT, of Colson Whitehead's Zone One, another literary genre attempt and one I haven't read. Particular complaint: Duncan and Marlowe make awfully frequent references to supernatural movies and TV, and those moments have a flavor of, "Hey, ordinary people! We intelligent book-reading people also know your world! Moving pictures! Buffy!" Not needed, and not appreciated.

All this is not to say it's a bad book. Objectively it's quite good, and Glen Duncan is a skilled and powerful writer. It's been a few months since I read The Last Werewolf, but I'm pretty sure I went straight through in a single day, which is fast even for me. He had my full attention; there's a sequel due out in June 2012, Talulla Rising, and I'll be getting it. Just know, horror fans and werewolfologists, that you might want to approach this book in a particular way: like a fascinating lecture in your favorite subject, by a charismatic genius who requires a good amount of putting up with.
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