TRSBC Review: The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan (Canongate)

The last werewolf

As this is the first book on the list I should be praising its brilliance and saying ego inflating things about it but that’s not my style. In fact, I’ve struggled with it, which is what a book club book should make you do I think?

Where is the struggle? Well a literary author has delved into genre and by his own admission only has the foundations of the genre to build from (think Dracula). Though Duncan is a big horror film fan (think American Werewolf in London) so it doesn’t veer that far away from what you’d recognise as werewolves and vampires.

But it feels like a literary novel as it’s told in diary entries (again think Dracula) as Jacob Marlowe discovers that he is the last werewolf on Earth. And that WOCOP (think Team Van Helsing) plans to kill him on the next full moon. And its focus is on Jacob as he goes from not caring that he’s the last werewolf and he’s about to be killed to really wanting to live.

It’s an exploration of what it’s like to live for 200 years and kill people once a month rather than a battle for survival though Duncan does chuck in plenty to keep the plot moving along. And that’s the struggle as it does feel on occasions that things happen just to move the plot along and seem disconnected from the struggle that is going on inside Marlowe. Though he isn’t struggling with his inner beast as he’s come to accept it and accept that he is something ’other’.

And this is where it gets interesting again as Marlowe as a narrator is very graphic in his language and descriptions. Not only do you get a good slice of gore but it’s sexually graphic and animalistic with the type of focus and description that you don’t get in a typical genre novel. And it certainly raised this reader’s eyebrows. So it might make for uncomfortable reading for some and you might want to be choosy about whom you recommend it to.

Without giving too much away the fact we find out that he isn’t the last and that love is the one thing that is worth living for does feel a very literary device. The genre fan in me wanted to explore more of his history and what Marlowe has done with his life. Having time seems to equate to being able to get hold of money in vast quantities. Being fair he was an aristocrat when he was human so breeding could have helped. As will the need for survival.

But because he’s relating his own tale this aspect just felt too easy to come by and too convenient but I am looking at it as someone who has read plenty of genre novels that pay attention to world-building.

Ultimately what this is a good barrier novel that will introduce literary readers (its prime audience) to genre ideas, moved on from Dracula-esque school reading, but not much and conversely for ardent genre readers they get a chance to experience a werewolf tale at a deeper level than they are used to.

The Summer Book Club is happening on the The Readers, a podcast that I co-host with Simon from the blog Savidge Reads, right now and the plan is to review each of the eight books we’ve selected. If you want to here an interview with the author, hear Simon and I discussing each book and hear what others thought please head over to the blog.

Review: The Somnambulist by Essie Fox (Orion)

The Somnambulist

Just after I finished reading The Somnambulist I was lucky enough for Essie Fox take part on The Readers podcast. Having Essie on the podcast was the reason I finally took The Somnambulist out of the TBR but it wasn’t the reason why I fist noticed it, neither was its inclusion in this year’s TV Book Club though I can’t pin down when I came across it but I have a copy since the middle of last year.

Why the background? This is going to a positive review (aren’t they 99/100 anyway?) but I wanted to say as lovely as a guest Essie was the book is entirely enchanting on it’s own. And I really was enchanted. I don’t think I’ve ever read what you’d call a ‘sensationalist’ novel, which I’m told by Simon these books are called. Though I do like Sherlock Holmes and stories that borrow that historical background and twist it like Steampunk does. Though I do usually like them with a twist say in the form of a ghost story.

The Somnambulist isn’t an entirely ‘straight’ novel but any unexplained elements are more due to a reflection of the sentiments of the time rather than an intention of the author to add any mystical uncertainties.

We follow Phoebe Turner as she breaks out of the cotton wool that her mother has placed around her and discovers a world of guilt and deception. Her exposure starts with something small, a visit to Wilton’s Music Hall but a couple of chance encounters will affect her relationship with her mother, Maud and her Aunt Cissy and the secrets they hide.

There are some books that hold an x-factor. Something that you can’t quite place your finger on. It doesn’t matter they aren’t perfect as they will captivate you with their story and the carry you along on a wave. And that’s how I’d describe The Somnambulist.

I was captivated with Phoebe; there was something in her innocence and the way that the people around her manipulated her that I felt compelled to keep reading in order to find out in the end what the fates (and Essie Fox) had in store for her.

It wasn’t a pleasure in her pain, it was a sense of background hope that everything was going to was be alright and I wanted to be right. Now this is where it gets tricky. It’s such a close knit tale that’s set up in such a way that saying too much with start pre-empt events.

And as I’ve said it’s the fact that Phoebe is starved of knowledge that makes it an absorbing read. Though what I can say is that Essie Fox has placed on her stage vibrant and  fitting (if not always totally realistic) characters that act out this gothic tale of woe.

It sounds cruel describing them as actors but they larger than life that it would be doing the book a disservice to describe it as realistic. And it’s more fun this way. Being larger than life the characters can get away with behaviour that would have felt out of place if Essie Fox had muted and mellowed their personalities.

This is proper escapist fiction. It’s a place and a world that is familiar though told in a contemporary way with real emotions and a main character you feel for. You also get distinctive secondary characters. But most of all you get twists and turns that keep you wondering what else is left both to discover and to throw on poor Phoebe’s shoulders.

Ultimately, it’s an accomplished debut novel that I greatly enjoyed and drew me in to a type of novel that I don’t normally read. If you fancy a gothic tale about guilt, deception, regret and lost love this is for you.

Out now in paperback and as an ebook