Saturday, January 26, 2013

All wolf and no gang

“Reader, I ate him.”  Just a little taste (tee hee) of the mordant wit of one Jacob Marlowe, the eponymous (anti) hero of Glen Duncan’s The Last Werewolf.  I’m not so much with the paranormal stuff, but something about this novel caught my eye and I put it in my ears.  If you can withstand the gore and can tolerate the somewhat raunchy sex (Jake seems to have an animal-like fascination with not-the-usual female orifice), this is a very enjoyable, compelling story. 

When I first began listening, I was disturbed at the use of Jake/Jacob, as it brought to mind another werewolf, one that I would rather not be conjuring up. (I also got the occasional hit of Jacob Marley, but the internet tells me that Marlow is the main character in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, which is what the author meant to reference I’m going to guess.)  Soon enough, though, other literary Jakes or Marlows ceased to matter; I got entangled in Jake’s adventures, because he is one hell of a storyteller.

Jake learns that he is the last werewolf early in the novel. He’s about 200 years old – having been turned, almost by accident, while on a walking trip with his best friend in the 1840s. He’s grown fabulously wealthy, is a philanthropist (hoping to assuage the spirits of those he has killed and eaten) and lately has been eating only those “no one wants;” his last meal before the novel starts is a hedge-fund manager. But the news of the death of the appropriately named Wolfgang puts him in a funk.  Against the advice of his human friend, Harley, Jake decides he’ll just give himself up. But the operatives of WOCOP (World Organization for the Control of Occult Phenomena) won’t take him down in human form, it’s going to be another month before Jake is hunted down, speared by a silver stake, and beheaded.

If only that were possible. Jake gets his house in order but as the next full moon waxes, he is kidnapped by … wait for it ... vampires who believe that a virus in certain werewolf blood will enable them to live in the sunlight. Then, Jake makes a stunning discovery; one that alters his worldview entirely, and he finds he's got a reason to live.

What’s most fun about this novel (and I grant that it may not be fun for all) is Jake. He is the best of narrators – witty, cynical, self-aware with a touch of self-pity, feral and human, completely in command of the structure of climax and aftermath.  His tale takes on an air of tragedy in a few places and Jake lets us in on his suffering. The 11+ hours sped by, and I’ll probably tune in for the sequel.

Robin Sachs, a narrator I’ve heard of but never listened to before, takes command of Jake’s story from the get-go and never lets up.  Jake has a deep, smoky voice redolent of the single malt he drinks that makes him very easy to listen to.  Sachs varies the pace brilliantly (Jake’s escape from the vampires is a model of tension and release), and never loses sight of Jake’s emotional journey. Jake is British, but Sachs can pretty much toss off multiple accents with conviction.  There are a couple of Americans in the story who sound entirely authentic.  It’s an excellent performance.

I will add that late in the novel, another character assumes the first-person narrative. Rather than change narrators, Sachs continues on, which was an interesting editorial decision. I wouldn’t want to have listened to an entire book in this voice, but Sachs does a reasonably good job of portraying a type of character he wouldn’t normally create. (Trying to avoid spoilers here; it seems very obvious to me what I’m referring to, but maybe it will remain a secret for you.)

A word about sex. Several other audiobook bloggers mentioned how graphic they found Jake’s sexual encounters. I didn’t find them particularly disturbing, but maybe I’m more used to the overly flowery and detailed descriptions from the occasional trashy romance. They certainly are true to Jake and his animal nature (his mantra is “fuckkilleat”), and I’m not sure you could have a novel about werewolves without it.  Just another thing that makes this werewolf named Jacob several cuts above that imposter from Forks, Washington.

["A(sic) 18th century engraving depicting a wolf attack from Johann Geiler von Kaiserberg's Die Emeis (1516)."  Wikimedia Commons tells me that its image is from a book by Ian Woodward called The Werewolf Delusion.]

The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan
Narrated by Robin Sachs
Books on Tape, 2011.  11:34

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