The Last Werewolf – Glen Duncan

last werewolf ukJoin GeekChocolate for a howling good read, as two hundred years of full moon fever takes its toll on a lonely lycanthrope who just wants to lead a quiet life in this recently published novel.

Jacob Marlowe is in a position to reflect not only on his own life and death, but that of his entire species. He is, in the title of this novel, the last werewolf. Having lived two hundred years, his ennui is palpable: he has seen it all and done it all, and, reminiscing on the golden sunshine days of 1972, the Oakland Coliseum in San Francisco, hunted down a victim and shredded their Led Zeppelin t-shirt before devouring them.

In a world where makeover and reality television have sidelined the supernatural – where is the thrill in men who turn into wolves when television turns morons into millionaires and gimps into global icons? – Jake is aware of the absurdity of his life. Even the news, when watched for a century, is variations on a theme, the same story with different names.

His mantra has become that god is dead but irony is alive, and knowing he cannot endure another two hundred years, has opted to give himself to the leader of the hunt on the next full moon. Despite the protestations of his companion and familiar, he knows if he chooses to keep living solely for the benefit of another, even for the ten or so years that Harley is likely to have, he will end up hating him.

But as he prepares for his death, ready to embrace it “with the peace of your arms around cold stone,” a vampire clan suddenly becomes interested in keeping him alive. To Jake, this is unfathomable – boochies and howlers don’t mix. And of course, god being dead and irony not, an incompetent French hitman with a grudge against the vampires now wants Jake dead, just to spite them.

Sprawling across two centuries of introspective reminiscence and graphically intimate violence, this is not so much Interview with the Vampire as autobiography of the werewolf, but while interludes of his former life are written in exacting period detail, Charlotte Brontë never had quite so many explicit dismemberments, nor did she ever find use for the phrase “Reader, I ate him.”

As Jake observes in his diaries, Louis may have accepted Lestat’s offer to become a monster while in the grip of despair, and Frankenstein’s creation turned to violence only in revenge, but he cannot claim the same. Jake may have fed off Nazis or Khmer Rouge where he could, and set up foundations to undertake charitable work, but it does not offset what he is. Instead of killing himself after his first transformation, he has not only accepted his role as lunar predator, but embraced this fate. Evil requires conscious choice, and he has chosen to be a killer.

Determined to be more than the other werewolves who have gone before, Jake has not only maintained a connection to society, but also his use of language, but has become a chronicler of all that befalls him. Commenting that both werewolves and novelists are always watching, he channels his senses into every word – from the opening scene, images, smells and sounds bombard the reader, tumbling off the page, in every glass of whisky, every cigarette, the snow that falls on the London streets, the books of Harvey’s beloved library, and most especially, the victims, both present and in memory.

This is the most post modern werewolf novel you can imagine. Our protagonist feels the need to apologise for the clumsy and barbaric transformation he endures rather than the flawless CGI transition an audience has grown accustomed to. Confronted with a vampire floating silently and eerily through the air towards him, he ponders how it resembles “a tediously seamless special effect,” and considers the difficulty in concealing a supernatural double life from “every teenager with a smelting kit and a diploma in Buffy.”

While the novel is uneven – an interlude precipitated by another unexpected arrival in Jake’s life leads to an overlong diversion, and the finale is conversely rushed and unsatisfying, told by a different character yet in the same narrative voice – the language is engaging and never less than beautiful, sometimes horribly so, and frequently inappropriately hilarious. Attempting to evade the hunt, Jake is forced to make a late night rendezvous in drag, prompting him to imagine that the concierge who allows him admittance to the upmarket hotel must think him to be “a prostitute of dizzying kinkyness or filth,” dressed as he is and obviously unattractive.

Ultimately, Jake knows his search, whether it be for the mythical tome that holds the origin of werewolves, a cure for the curse, or deeper answers that will give his life meaning, is futile: “Where should have been God’s booming petulance was in fact a slab of silence the size of the universe.” But while he may be unanswered, Jacob Marlowe asked the questions, and the inevitable fate of the last werewolf makes his life all the more important.

The Last Werewolf is published by Canongate

The recently published sequel, Tallula Rising, is also reviewed in our book section, as is the conclusion, By Blood We Live



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