I treated myself to another trip to Powells, because I had ordered a copy of “The Last Werewolf” by Glen Duncan and it was in and I had to go pick it up (they will mail books to you if you’re not in the area, but I pretended decided I needed to go and save myself the shipping costs, and…well, anyway…).
I had heard about this book a few months ago, don’t recall how or why now, but saw this video which features the author reading a short excerpt. Chalk it up to a combination of his lovely accent, his voice, his persona, and the stunning writing, but as soon as I heard it was released (July 12, 2011) I put in an order for it. I don’t normally cough up the moolah for hardcovers these days, but I couldn’t wait for it to come out in paper. Essentially it’s the story of the last werewolf (surprise!) who has reached the point in his 201 years where he is contemplating suicide. Thing is, there are people who want to keep that from happening. Why? I don’t know. And most evil yet, I skipped ahead and am now laughing about people being eaten by the werewolf. Seriously, it’s funny the way he tells it. But listen to him tell you, and read a bit:
This is one of those books where, as MaryJ says, “With writing like this, does it even matter what the book is about?”
There’s a style of writing that seems to have become the de facto standard these days, although I’ve never heard it discussed. It consists of endless similes to describe something. Something is always like something else. Duncan, at least two pages into the book, seems to be masterfully avoiding doing any of that. For that, I will always love him. Someone please call him and tell him? Thanks.
I must give you a snippet more from the first page (items in bold are italicized in the book, but WordPress italicizes the entire quote, ergo, I bolded instead):
I sipped, I swallowed, glimpsed the peat bog plashing white legs of the kilted clan Macallan as the whisky kindled in my chest. It’s official. You’re the last. I’m sorry. I’d known what he was going to tell me. Now that he had, what? Vague ontological vertigo. Kubrick’s astronaut with the severed umbilicus spinning away all alone into infinity…At a certain point one’s imagination refused. The phrase was: It doesn’t bear thinking about. Manifestly it didn’t.
“This room’s dead to you,” I said. “But there are bibliophiles the world over it would reduce to tears of joy.” No exaggeration. Harley’s collection’s worth a million-six, books he doesn’t go to anymore because he’s entered the phase of having given up reading. If he lives another ten years he’ll enter the next phase — of having gone back to it. Giving up reading seems the height of maturity at first. Like all such heights a false summit. It’s a human thing. I’ve seen it countless times. Two hundred years, you see everything countless times.
Even the book itself is lovely. The cover is matte black, lightly textured paper, the typeface is done in a pale yellow, but the moons on the front, down the spine and on the back are done in a metallic coppery-gold, almost a holographic effect. The edges of the pages are colored red – blood red. Nice touch. It’s a short book by the standards of today’s fantasy, coming in at just 293 pages.
As others have predicted before me, I believe this book will be to werewolf stories what Dracula is to vampire stories. Duncan also wrote a blog post for Powells.com which you can read here detailing his obsession with the movie “An American Werewolf in London,” as well as a discovery of a kind of magic.
I realize it makes more sense to tout a book once you’ve actually finished reading it, but I’m so excited about this one, I had to share now. If my opinion changes when I finish it, I’ll let you know, but I don’t think it will. Now, if only I had some nice whisky to drink while I read it…
I think we can all conclude that even if the Rapture occurs as predicted by Harold Camping, (where it says, “The End off [sic] the World,” I guess spelling doesn’t count in Heaven) I’m not going anywhere. Furthermore, I refuse. I’m holding out for Ragnarok, the Twilight of the Gods, as any good Norsewoman would. Hand me that labrys, would you?
That said, those of us who are still going to be here (you know who you are) will still need something to read. So I started looking at post-apocalyptic books, you know, to get in the mood. I was mildly surprised to discover that post-apocalyptic lit dates back to the early 1800s, when Mary Shelley (yes, THAT Mary Shelley) wrote what is apparently the very first post-apocalyptic book all the way back in 1826. Overshadowed of course by her earlier more famous work,Frankenstein, The Last Man
is set in the year 2100, after some kind of plague has decimated the human race. The book was trashed in its day, and it wasn’t until the 1960s that it was revived.
In 1885, Richard Jefferies wrote After London: Wild England wherein an unspecified disaster of some sort wipes out most of the population and nature begins to reclaim the land.
Everyone is familiar with H. G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds from 1898 but unlike the movies the book is set in Victorian London. I remember how surprised I was when I first found that out, although I don’t know why I was surprised that Hollywood had moved the setting to the United States.
Another surprise was finding that Jack London had penned The Scarlet Plague in 1912. Set in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2073, again, a mysterious plague nearly obliterates the human race. More a novella at only 86 pages, it is sadly out of print.
In 1909, E. M. Forster (better known for Howard’s End, The Remains of the Day, A Room With a View) gave us The Machine Stops.
I admit I am surprised at so much dystopian, apocalyptic writing during this Victorian era. Was science advancing too quickly for comfort? The new era of mechanization also gave rise to the Arts and Crafts movement, and Art Nouveau. It must have seemed like the world was already out of control, and the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 hadn’t even hit yet.
There has been more post-apocalyptic/dystopian literature written since the 1940s than I can shake a stick at, but it’s easy to see where that came from: World Wars, the Cold War, space race, and so on. Rather than try to list it all, I refer you to David Brin’s Facebook list (you don’t need to be a member to see this) of post-apocalyptic novels, including his own The Postman from 1985 (do not be deterred by the movie that was made of it). And if you are of a science-y bent, you can follow him on Twitter @DavidBrin1 .
Just some high level musings about reading classic literature, vs. whatever is on the best seller list. I’ve been on a classics kick lately, probably because I didn’t read them in school, or not enough of them anyway. I remember a short course on Shakespeare in high school, and I took a semester of Shakespeare in college, along with a Middles Ages & Renaissance class that covered Song of Roland and The Canterbury Tales, along with other stuff I have long since forgotten. But I missed out on studying Jane Austen’s works and her contemporaries, and the Brontës, Henry Fielding, Sir Walter Scott (does anyone read The Last of the Mohicans or Ivanhoe anymore?). I recently picked up a copy of Sinclair Lewis’s Main Street, but have yet to read it.
At my last job, my co-workers organized a book club, and we met once a month to discuss a book, and decide what to read next. These women were largely college-educated, great readers, and yet almost none of them had heard of Jack Kerouac. I was appalled. Instead one month we read a paperback crime novel, written by the sister of another co-worker. I won’t name it, it was dreadful. Factually, the author seemed to have done a good deal of research into the subject matter, but the characters were cardboard-thin stereotypes of the genre. My reading time is precious, and limited. I don’t want to waste another minute of my life reading that kind of drivel.
As Flannery O’Connor said, “There’s many a best-seller that could have been prevented by a good writing teacher.”