Cameron's Reviews > The Sacred Book of the Werewolf

The Sacred Book of the Werewolf by Victor Pelevin
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Dec 29, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: literary, urban-fantasy
Read in January, 2009

Every so often while reading the burgeoning urban fantasy genre, I long for a more literary text. Though I thoroughly enjoy my escapist and predictable werewolf yarns, the yearning for something with more weight often assails me at the novel's completion. Attesting to Pelevin's reputation as one of Russia's leading contemporary novelists, The Sacred Book of the Werewolf provides that density of subject and verbage. Knowing this is a translation, I am amazed at the translator's adept handling of Pelevin's wry humor and complex ideas voiced through his characters. This novel claims less kinship with urban fantasy than with some personal philosophical engagements.
The voice putting pen to story is A Hu-Li, a multi-milennia-old werefox and pursuant of the mysteries of life. She relates her current time in Russia, oftentimes commenting directly on the state of the country, but Pelevin often slips in a more subtle commentary through her interactions. As we are being told her story directly as she writes a memoir-like document, A Hu-Li is prone to comedic engagement with her intended audience, revealing the inner workings of her multi-layered and antediluvian mind. Rather than being burdened with the centuries she has witnessed, her perception is an engaging and almost innocent one. She reveals that werefoxes mostly forget what they know so as to avoid this very detrimental lassitude of long spans of time, remembering past events only with sincere effort.
This innocence translates into a comical love affair with a werewolf, the initial subject and eventual object of A Hu-Li's philosophical explanations. For someone who has seen several milennial turns and who makes a living as a sex worker, A Hu-Li's dearth of sexual knowledge and wide-eyed and tail-puffed, yet remarkably logical love are all the funnier, especially their sex scenes which seem to be a snarky commentary on genre urban fantasy and its proliferation of sex and the more outre expressions thereof.
If A Hu-Li tends to come off as sounding a bit superior, she at least tries to be humble about her superiority amidst an explanation of Taoist philosophies of nothing and merging with the infinite, wrapped of course in paradox and ouroboric logic. Pelevin manages to capably interweave these moments of philosophical musing without derailing the story, humorously pairing them with A Hu-Li then mundanely checking her email.
If the story ends on what should be a predictable resolution, it is more impressive that I did not anticipate it. And it speaks more to the depth of A Hu-Li as a character that she is even more surprised than I was, and she has had several thousand years to reach that understanding. Sometimes the most cunning fox fools the most gullible target: herself.
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