12 January 2012

Post 468: The Last Werewolf

The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan. ISBN: 9780307595089.

I've mentioned previously that I like monsters because they show the monstrous parts of our humanity: the lust, the violence, the lack of control over our emotions and impulses, etc. Werewolves more than most monsters speak to our primal and "out of control" nature, the beast lurking just beneath the surface, so you would think that a book that explored not only that topic, but what it means to be the end of a species, a cornered wolf if you will, would hit all the sweet spots for me. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Rather than wanting to spend more time with 200 year old Jacob Marlowe, I found myself giving a shit about as much as he did about his death.

But unlike most monster novels of yore (and why did he not deign to reflect at least on Dracula?), Marlowe doesn't attempt to cope with the monster while trying to remain human. Instead, he separates himself even more so from humanity, not by removing himself from it physically, but emotionally. He willingly, and even proudly, recognizes that he has done so, but assures us, dear reader, that he makes amends for it monetarily. 
No worries, he can check out of humanity and slaughter a person a month for the 400 years (or more) he is pretty sure werewolves can live. Here, I will math for you. That would be 4800 people, assuming he killed only one a month and did not turn anyone else into a werewolf. This is by no means a holocaust, but there have certainly been pre-bomb battles with lower death counts. But Marlowe is not a particularly introspective werewolf despite his unusual-for-the-species journal keeping habits. He is more logical than anything, which further separates him from his human-animal nature, as if he can conquer both by providing us with sound reasoning as to why he prefers to fuck women he hates and drink/drug himself into a stupor more often than not, oh yeah, and the killing, totally justifies that he kills innocent humans.

I suppose part of my disconnect from Marlowe, besides his general disconnect for his former species, is that he is able to control himself as a werewolf, at least to a certain extent. Most werewolves are presented as fairly mindless (but intelligent), hyper-vicious, and over-sized anthropomorphic wolves. Duncan presents his werewolves as being aware of what they are doing in wolf state, and able to time and even plan attacks. That Marlowe stalks and stakes out his prey in human form is somewhat questionable. If he feels he can and should offset his karma financially, why does he not target people who are likely to irreparably harm others?

Marlowe's hyper logic does not seem to extend to this particular question, and certainly with 175 years of killing as a werewolf it must have occurred to him at some point, but the fact that the topic isn't even broached just makes him feel like even more of a detached sociopath than he sets himself up to be. Which makes the rest of the novel fall completely flat on its ass when Marlowe all of a sudden finds himself wanting to live again because he can feel again. I just don't buy it. You don't get to be a sociopath for over a hundred years and all of a sudden find yourself falling in love and wanting to live again.

Meanwhile, Duncan ignored the more interesting tidbits he threw at us, such as a potential explanation for werewolf existence, which Marlowe might then have actually reflected on in relation to his soon-to-be extinction. But no. We get bloody sex romps and passive journal entries instead. That all being said, I didn't absolutely hate the novel, but a more involved narrator would have been nice.

I think I was interested in the novel more for the author than the actual work. Rewatching this interview, you can kind of see why (he kind of looks like he'd be a werewolf). Sadly, Greg Zimmerman and New Dork Review of Books pretty much nailed the meh-ness.
LibsNote: Library copy.


  1. I listened to The Last Werewolf on audio and thought it was amazing. The audiobook narrator Robin Sachs got Jake's initial tone of ennui and self-loathing down pat, I thought, and then changed the tone slightly and gradually as Jake (the book's narrator) rather disbelievingly realized he had changed his mind about wanting to die. (Also, to be fair to Jake as a character, I thought he had tried and failed many times not to give in to the inevitable monthly compulsion to eat human flesh, and staked out his kills ahead of time in order to choose someone who had had a full life and/or would not be much missed. Still gruesome and deplorable, I agree, but he did become a werewolf through no fault of his own!)
    I wanted to review the audiobook, but I never did because another rhapsodyinbooks said everything perfectly in a Sunday Salon post that I would have wanted to say.

  2. FACT: 3% of the world's Jacobs are werewolves.


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