Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Last Werewolf, by Glen Duncan

Jake Marlowe, narrator of The Last Werewolf (Knopf, 2011) is an intelligent, literate soul whose laces his story with ironic observations, literary allusions, and historical philosophizing. He is the last werewolf, on the earth, supposedly, the others having been hunted down and killed by werewolf hunters. They pursue him throughout the story. He writes passably well (he narrates through journal entries), and it took me a while to put my virtual finger on the real problem with him and the novel in which he figures. There is a brittle, faintly artificial quality to his voice that competes with the novelty of his situation—novel at least for us readers—that situation being that he is the last of his kind.

Author Glen Duncan describes effectively how on a monthly basis Jake changes to a werewolf, and although I haven’t read too many of these novels he does a credible job of dramatizing the change. Marlowe does not welcome it. He spends the entire month dreading it, yet when the transition comes he has no choice about giving himself up to it. He has no control over the change or over himself once it has occurred. The novel wallows in such moments of self-pity and loss of control.

Ultimately, the conventions of werewolfery take over this novel, which is most interesting when Marlowe talks about what it feels like to be a werewolf, how he dreads the change, his world weariness, and so on. He is a sort of existential werewolf. He waits willingly to be hunted down and killed. He remembers the attack in the forest two hundred years before that led to his condition. He remembers the woman he loved, his wife, who became his first victim, an act that haunts him.

Sex and passion—of the human and bestial sort—are the real focus here, as becomes clear when Marlowe meets another werewolf (there really is another one, after all), and she is female. They have incredible sex, as werewolves and as humans, at least Marlowe says they do. Therefore the novel satisfies our prurient interest in the moment of human to wolf transformation and also in the sexual lives of werewolves. This is assuming we have such an interest. Glen Duncan assumes we do.

The main character’s name—Jake Marlowe—alludes to two important literary narrators—Jake Barnes of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises and Joseph Conrad’s Marlowe, in such tales as The Heart of Darkness and Lord Jim. Jake’s mannered self-consciousness especially suggests Hemingway’s narrator, also trapped in a situation over which he has no control.

The novel awkwardly telegraphs its ending.

None of this was actually very satisfying.

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