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November 28th, 2011


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01:02 pm - The Last Werewolf
I have just read The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan. This is a British horror novel, which made the NY Times 100 Books of the year.

It's a straight-forward adventure style story, with a very hokey premise. The background is the deathly rivalry between Werewolves and Vampires (which I think is a recent Hollywood invention), and a secret society which hunts down supernatural beings ('World Organisation for the Control of Occult Phenomena' hmmph). The story is simple, with quite a lot of sex and violence, none of it too extreme. The protagonist is an action-hero James Bond type, staying in flashy hotels and drinking expensive alcohol.

Two aspects elevate it well above the Dan Brown basement of schlock novels. One is that Duncan has a reasonable grasp of politics, history and psychology. I don't mean it's marked by uniquely conceived insights or anything, but it's not offensively stupid like so many action stories are. For a story with quite a lot of sex, most of it with prostitutes, the portrayal of women was not offensive either. Furthermore, in stories like this the creature is sometimes sentimentalised - made to kill only people like Nazis, whom the novelist thinks deserve it for example - but I think this story manages to strike a reasonable balance, not over-sympathetic. Reading back through this paragraph it sounds like I am damning with faint praise, but to be honest I think it's a real achievement to write a populist rollicking novel which isn't as dumb as the rocks.

The other feature which elevates it above the baseline is that at a sentence level it is written in a fairly elaborate and assured style. Big vocabulary, diverse literary and philosophical references, original metaphors. Some might find it over-written or pretentious. Personally I am happy with this style. Here is a paragraph taken more or less at random to illustrate what I mean:
Reader, I ate him. About three hours after resolving that I wouldn't. Throughout the dull solo feast the refrain from Tennyson's Mariana repeated in the hot spaces of my gorging head:
She only said my life is dreary, he cometh not she said
She said, I am aweary, I would that I were dead.

I guess that is something you either like or not. I like it fine. This book is first of a trilogy. I will read #2 when it comes out, and I also expect this one day to be a pretty good film franchise.

(8 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


From:abigail_n
Date:November 28th, 2011 03:00 pm (UTC)
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Haven't read the book, but I did read Duncan's review of Colson Whitehead's Zone One in the NYT. Which put me off reading anything by him ever again.
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From:communicator
Date:November 28th, 2011 04:43 pm (UTC)
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Oh, he's the 'intellectual dating a porn star' guy! I think that metaphor is stupid, and the idea it expresses is plain wrong. But it seems to me that the rest of the review expresses a completely different idea: that it's perfectly appropriate and sensible to use a literary style to write a genre novel. And there's an obvious parallel with his own project. I would say, ignore the first two paragraphs of that review and see if you agree with the rest.
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From:communicator
Date:November 28th, 2011 04:50 pm (UTC)
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ETA - sorry, that sounds dumb. Obviously you have read the whole thing, what I meant was 'if you suppress the negative feelings arising from the first two paragraphs' because personally I never got past those last time
From:abigail_n
Date:November 28th, 2011 06:57 pm (UTC)
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I didn't care much for the rest of the review either. The central point you cite is a valid one, but it's also an obvious one and the necessity that literary writers feel in stressing it just annoys me - as if they feel the need to emphasize that, obviously, one would think that there's something wrong with writing a genre novel, but here's why it's not. Plus, all those digs at genre fans really put my back up.
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From:londonkds
Date:November 28th, 2011 04:12 pm (UTC)
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I believe that the "fur against fang" tradition was invented by the White Wolf role-playing-games universe.
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From:communicator
Date:November 28th, 2011 04:51 pm (UTC)
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Right, that makes sense. I think it's a weak idea for a book with this approach. It feels new and fake compared to the werewolf story which is old.
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From:azdak
Date:November 28th, 2011 05:06 pm (UTC)
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"Reader, I ate him" is a fantastic line.
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From:communicator
Date:November 28th, 2011 07:09 pm (UTC)
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That's the kind of thing he does a lot throughout. It's less heavy handed than 'Pride and Prejudice and Zombies' and the like.

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