Saturday, 15 February 2014
Book Review: The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan
The Last Werewolf is the first in a trilogy and follows Jacob (or Jake) Marlowe who at the start of the book discovers he is the very last werewolf in the world and that a vengeful member of WOCOP (World Organization for the Control of Occult Phenomena) intends to kill him (werewolves can be killed by silver bullets, of course but also by beheading) at the next full moon. Jake however, doesn't much care, over 160 years of transforming and killing and avoiding bounty hunters have taken their toll and he is tired of the lupine life. In human form he is an erudite, chain smoking, rich loner, his main companion an elderly man called Harley who is clearly in love with him. The call of the wolf is never far away though and the animalistic drive surges through him for much of his time, not just when he has changed. So he is tired of it all and much to Harley's horror decides he will make it easy for his would be killer the next full moon...except some people don't want him dead. Without giving too much of the plot away, Jake Marlowe staying alive is as important to some as Jake Marlowe being dead is to others. He finds himself at the centre of a fight for his life without caring much for the outcome. Will either side triumph and will Jake find a reason to want to live?
The familiar werewolf tropes are here, the transformation at full moon, the silver bullets, the heightened wolf senses and the violent killing and eating of humans but The Last Werewolf is more literary than genre fiction. Told in the form of a journal and littered with cultural and literary references this is always an intelligent and sharply observant read,
"Perhaps Jacqueline was right: humanity's getting its metamorphic kicks elsewhere these days. When you can watch the alchemy that turns morons into millionaires and gimps into global icons, where's the thrill in men who turned into wolves?"
It's also frequently very graphic with no holds barred descriptions of sex and violence. Whilst shocking it never felt gratuitous, Jake is part wolf and so driven by the needs of the animal within.
For a while however, I struggled a little with the book partly because I didn't know what to feel about Jake. I don't need to like a character to enjoy a book so whilst his amorality didn't concern me, I think his disinterest in his life did affect how I engaged with him for a time. I wasn't sure if I would care much if he lived or died if he didn't care himself. The middle of the book whilst having some unexpected twists was perhaps a little too plot driven for me. After a beginning that left me enthralled with its rich use of language I didn't exactly lose interest but I did begin to question if Jake was just going to have things happen to him without really doing anything proactive. I felt we were both passengers, along for a ride that had its surprises so we kept going but ultimately we never really felt involved. Thankfully another twist changed all that and the final third of the book became a gripping, fun, exhilarating and sometimes poignant tale. By the end I did care about what happened to Jake, both the human and wolf and I'm now very much looking forward to reading the other two books in the trilogy.
Many thanks to Canongate Books and Netgalley for sending me a copy of The Last Werewolf in return for my honest review.