The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan
Read by Robin Sachs
Genre: Literary Horror
Quick Thoughts: With language that is at times harsh and crude, but always beautiful, The Last Werewolf has both style and a fascinating plot that should make it accessible to a wide audience.
When it comes to the debate about “literary fiction“, AKA serious fiction and genre fiction , also known as popular fiction, I tend to come down on the side of what I read, which is I guess is deemed popular fiction. Yet, I never really understood the true, non-academic difference. Most people tell me that literary fiction puts an emphasis on stylized writing, while genre fiction contains more straightforward plotting. I usually then ask if the book is accessible, well written and entertaining, and if it is why do we need to classify it. I mean, the most stylized writer wants the book to be accessible enough that people will read it, and the most straightforward plotter, believes he plots with style. So, who decides what is literary, and what is just popular? The New York Times? Some, faceless critic with an MFA and the great American Novel half finished on his computer? I recently read an article in the Wall Street Journal talking about how some summer releases are blurring the lines between literary and genre fiction. I found the article a little strange in its examples. One being Daniel Wilson’s Robopocalypse, which I find odd that people would even consider it on the literary side. Another being the beautiful and chilling Graveminder by Melissa Marr, whose previous novels were young adult. Yet, what really interested me was The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan, proclaimed to be a literary Werewolf novel. Although, I haven’t read too many Werewolf novels, I was intrigued by the idea. What makes this novel different than those popular fiction-ish Werewolf tales?
The Last Werewolf is the first person account of Jacob Marlowe, a 200 year old werewolf, and quite possibly the last of his kind. To be perfectly honest, I had trouble getting through the first hour or so of The Last Werewolf. It seems the first hour was basically just a grumpy old Lycanthrope, waxing poetic about the pointlessness and boredom of his existence. Jacob is ready to throw in the towel, and let the hunters take his life. He seems to truly value nothing, not his loyal human familiar, nor the prostitutes he uses to sate his hypersexual werewolf libido. At this point, he is quite unlikable, and pretty much vapid. Yet, as the plot begins to fill out, the beauty of the language, and its idiosyncratic style begins to pull you in. Duncan writes with a lush poetic style, full of harsh imagery. What really makes his language stand out is his ability to keep you off balance, peppering the poetic with literary and biblical references, and then dropping crude scatological terminology. In one breath he is talking about “the inrushing night’s symphony of smells” then in the next breath he describes his bowels as “disencumbering a piping hot turd.” Yet, Duncan is not standing on style alone, Jacob is a well developed character, who never truly becomes likable, but does become vulnerable. Duncan doesn’t offer a lot of dialogue, keeping the story squarely focused on Jacob for most of the book, yet the plotting is well done and the story is accessible for those “genre” fans that are willing to give the stylized writing a try. Unlike a lot of books that start of with a bang, than cannot maintain the pace, Glen Duncan’s The Last Werewolf slowly builds upon itself, steadily gaining tension and entangling the reader more and more in Jacobs Marlowe’s tale.
For the audiobook version, the right narrator was essential for The Last Werewolf to work. Because this novel is told almost entirely through Jacob’s voice, with little dialogue, it was important that the reader’s narrative voice encompass the character fully. Robin Sachs was simply brilliant is his reading. His idiosyncratic British voice was the perfect match to our lupine protagonist. Sachs truly seemed to understand the 200 year old character, offering an almost Victorian tone and cadence to Jacob’s speech with deliberate pronunciations and a slower, classic style. With Duncan’s off balanced poetic style, the wrong narrator could easily lead the readers to miss the point of the descriptive language with poorly placed emphasis, yet Sachs never has this problem. Duncan and Sachs are a perfect match of literary artist and performance artist, and makes The Last Werewolf a standout listen for fans of all types of literature.