The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan
Review by Emma
It’s clear how self-aware Glen Duncan was of the tradition he attempts to navigate in The Last Werewolf, focused on the final months of the moribund race of lycanthropes. He negotiates a genre of horror we’ve become accustomed to, a vogue of monstrosity that’s returned from the depths of our imaginations after several decades of hibernation in which werewolves were merely fodder for satire, a campy terror that no longer haunted the nightmares of our subconscious. Not unlike Anne Rice’s Vampire series, Duncan invites the readership to reexamine lycanthropes, both to understand aspects of their humanity—or rather the crisis of being physically ripped from it each full moon—and view them within a narrative that’s persisted in folklore for hundreds of years. Jacob Marlowe’s narration is possessed of a certain eloquence, his speech fragmented with astute literary allusions, so off-handedly quipped that we come to understand him as a man very much in love with words and the importance of recognizing those storytellers that matter, just as Duncan does not presume to ignore the multitude of literary renderings the werewolf has undergone. Marlowe’s tendency to wax poetic is construed as his medium to wrestle with notions of morality while so Cursed. Duncan parses lyrical sentences with oblique references to Blake or Tennyson to give the reader a sense of the vital importance words have for Marlowe, a meta-commentary on his own risk to reimagine lycanthropy. However, this eloquence breaks down further into the narrative as the tempo increases.
Apart from establishing Marlowe’s verbosity, the first chapter immediately sets the pacing of the novel. The reader must scramble through the first several chapters to become orientated to the narration, to make sense of the sudden deluge of information. Just as Jake is suddenly in the throes of a desperate battle for survival, the reader must quickly adjust to the lack of quiet or stillness in the prose. Everything is told with a foreboding immediacy, the plot given a sense of movement. Unlike Rice’s Vampire novels –which include chase scenes but focus primarily on the morality struggles of blood kin, heavy and sometimes opulent cogitation—Duncan’s werewolf is one uncomfortable in the stasis of contemplation. Marlowe is clearly a creature of kinetic energy, constantly prowling about the world to escape the hunters and prey—he has the same vagabond temperament as the wolf that lurks within him. With the quick pacing ofThe Last Werewolf, it reads more like a thriller than an epic exploration of the boundary between the bestial and human. Duncan invites the reader to understand the life of rapid travel Marlowe leads, the sense that remaining in a single place is antithetical to the nature of the werewolf, one that seethes with the single mantraFuckkilleat. The speed is instinctual, quickened by chapters that are merely several sentences, forcing the reader to flip immediately to the next page.
Despite Duncan’s modern take on lycanthropy, discussing were-viruses as our contemporary world continues to whip up vaccines that no longer stave off violent disease, and his metanarrative recognition of the difficulty of writing something new and exciting and visceral about werewolves, I don’t feel as though the foundations of the genre have been at all shaken. Duncan straddles suspense and elegance, though remains unsure of his footing. As we are increasingly accelerated to the climax of the novel, one finds oneself wishing to read more spoken from the mouth of the intellectual, brooding Jacob Marlowe, less the animal that finds satisfaction in pure action.
This review was originally published as part of our Novel Destinations summer reading program in 2011.
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