Is it cheesy blogging to say I devoured a werewolf novel?… But I did! I inhaled it, I ate it up in big, bloody chunks until I was completely satisfied, I — oh, fine. Fine. Be that way. I’ll stop, but only to make you happy.
Almost exactly a year ago, I read Glen Duncan’s fast-paced, literate, ironic, ferociously sexy, bloody novel, The Last Werewolf, written in the voice of 201-year-old Jake Marlowe. As far as I know (and there may not be a lot of contenders,) it’s the best werewolf novel ever written. It’s got plenty of Wolf in it as well as plenty of Wer — lots of plot twists and scares and cleverness — but, like all good horror novels, that’s not what it’s about: it’s about loneliness and connection, death and life, ultimate meaning in a world that appeared ten minutes ago to have none.
Talulla Rising is narrated by Tallula Demetriou, Jake’s lover. I loved Jake’s literary, ironic, melancholy voice so much from the first novel that I thought this alone might spoil the sequel for me, but Duncan pulls a magic trick and makes Talulla’s voice just as compelling as Jake’s, in a completely fresh and separate way. The novel opens with Tallula ready to give birth and also ready for the Hunger — her monthly transformation into her wolf-self, which is undivided from her human self, but gives her unfettered access to violence and, afterward, deep animal peace.
Since major plot points take place immediately after the opening, I won’t go any further with plot (though there’s a ton of it, as there is in Life, as Talulla points out.) I’ll say a few other things, though. This novel, like the first, is tense and bloody and sometimes frightening. But, like all good horror novels, that’s not what it’s about: it’s about what it means to be human (or, in Talulla’s case, not quite human.) What is the worst thing we can possibly do and still hold on to our life’s meaning? What promises do we keep to ourselves and those we love? “God being dead and irony still rollickingly alive,” as Talulla says — in a universe where we make our own meaning, and the temptation is strong to step into a void of silence — what obligations do we have to ourselves and to each other, and perhaps especially to our children?
I will also say that if you didn’t think so before, this novel puts paid to the notion that a man can’t write convincingly in a woman’s voice. (I have never thought so, but I know people who do. I just think it takes talent, and paying attention.) Try this:
The physical sensation was shockingly literal, once the tough little anemone mouth had found my nipple and latched on: a living creature sucking nourishment out of my body. I went in and out of bearable horror, as if a six-pound parasite had attached itself to me, but also in and out of the feeling of having come bloodily into an inheritance. All those Madonnas with Child; my dad’s Compendium of Greek Mythology showing Hera’s breast milk spurting out to create the Milky Way; connection to every female animal I’d seen with an offspring tugging at its teat (the dismal word “teat”); Richard coming back from a visit to his sister who’d just had a baby and me saying So how was she? and him saying “fucking bovine”; the Polaroid of my mother breastfeeding me under the maple tree and you could feel my dad’s thrill and pride and fear of her through the photograph back into his hands holding the camera and his man’s beating heart that still held the awed and jealous little boy in it.
Was this book flawed? Well, yes, I suppose. It’s a little overstuffed in terms of plot, but Duncan made this book more restrained in terms of language, so it made up for it. The sex is fairly explicit, which didn’t bother me at all but might bother some. But this book was so enjoyable! Everything you could want from a novel of this kind, and totally satisfying even though everything wasn’t wrapped up at the end in a tidy bow. I can’t wait for the third book in the trilogy, to satisfy my whetted appetite. (Okay! Okay! I said I’d stop!)