Sunday, 16 March 2014

Glen Duncan: The Last Werewolf

Vampires being as played out as they are, and zombies being dead on their feet, it seemed like time for me to check out the state of the art in werewolves. Or at least it did about two years ago, when I bought Glen Duncan’s The Last Werewolf. It sat in the pile ever after, because once I’d read about ten pages it became clear to me that Duncan thought he was better than all those other writers, and even worse, that he was better than all those readers. I didn’t have a pressing need to be condescended to at the time, so I read other things, and no doubt I would still be reading other things were it not for my decision that I needed to read at least some of the pile before I bought anything new to add to it.

Years ago, when I saw Se7en for the first time, I said something to the effect of it being like getting an all-expenses-paid gondola ride around the Paris sewer network; no matter how well you present a thing, it has to be something people would have wanted to see in the first place. The Last Werewolf has a couple of versions of that problem; on the one hand, no matter how good the writing, most people don’t want to spend their time hanging out with brooding nihilists, and on the other hand, the writing that can make sex interesting to read about it doesn’t exist yet. The fact that Duncan’s a goodish writer actually makes the brooding nihilism worse; Duncan’s good enough to make you appreciate just how big an asshole his protagonist is. 

Still, I stuck with it, though it must have taken me three weeks to finish the damn thing. It’s a mark of the overall quality of the writing that I could keep coming back to it without forgetting my place; it’s a mark of the confoundedness of the whole book that I was in no mad hurry to come back at all.

What goes wrong? Well, a lot, starting with Duncan’s urge to eat his cake and still have it; mocking genre conventions and then using them anyhow is all very well and good when you show some fondness for what you’re mocking, but the abiding tone of the whole operation is scorn. There’s a huge pacing problem; too much time is spent faffing about in angst and there isn’t enough time left to tackle the big reveal in the final act. The economics of the book’s world made my head hurt; the creatures of the night have effectively unlimited resources and so do the people who hunt them, but it’s never really clear how they get bankrolled. Duncan’s werewolf lives the life of Reilly, but it’s hard to see how he could be under any meaningful threat if he had reliable access to the kind of money that’s being tossed around casually; and it’s impossible to see how his opponents could afford the manpower to keep showing up at just the inopportune moment again and again. It’s all like something on TV, and not the good kind of TV either.

There are two sequels, and I don’t know how I feel about that. Most of the characters in this book are not going to feature in a sequel, what with the fact that only two of the book’s cast survive the climax. While that might seem like a promising start, the two which do make it were the two who annoyed me the most, so I can’t see them being added to the pile any time soon.

And now, back to the pile. There must be something good in it.

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