Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Last Werewolf.

Much like Philip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep, Jake Marlowe is a hard-drinking, heavy smoking, morally conflicted guy. The main difference though, and it's a big one, is that this Marlowe is, oh, 200 and something years old and a werewolf. The last werewolf in fact, something he finds out on the very first page of Glen Duncan's brilliantly noirish novel.

To say I devoured this novel seems very appropriate. It is a bloody, gory, violent book, albeit one with a moral heart. Violence is inevitable I guess when your main character turns into a werewolf every full moon and has to feed on a human (and spend the next month feeling guilty about it). Also, it turns out that werewolves have incredibly strong sex drives, so not a book for the prudish, this one.

But it is incredibly compelling and suspenseful. Marlowe is the last werewolf because they are being hunted by the secretive WOCOP organisation, whose mission it is to eradicate the werewolf race. Partly Marlowe wants to be caught and killed by them. He has lived a long time and he is tired. And there is the guilt caused by all those murders over the years. However there are other, even more secretive, forces at work to keep Marlowe alive at all costs. At heart The Last Werewolf is a mystery, hence the Chandler references I suppose, and it really works. I was drawn through this novel almost against my will- I wanted to turn away from some of the more stomach churning scenes but I just had to find out what happened. And I wasn't disappointed- the twist at the end was a total surprise to me and I cannot wait for the next book in the series (it's due out in June this year).

I loved Duncan's style. He draws on the traditions of horror and the werewolf myth but turns into something very modern. There are vampires of the traditional sort (no sparkly, daytime vampires here) and all the usual things about silver bullets and so on, but Marlowe's examination of the monster within owes more to modern psychology than any traditional myth. Duncan packs in literary and pop culture references and wisecracks but thankfully not so much that we lose our connection with the characters. It's smart, fun writing with real emotional impact and enough genuine horror to make me think I needed one of Marlowe's beloved whiskeys to steady my ragged nerves.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012


Some of you might have heard this segment on Radio National's Books and Arts Daily program. It's called Top Shelf and in it, writers and other artists are invited to list five works that have touched or influenced their life and work. A friend recently linked to Alain de Botton's choices on facebook and then set the challenge for us, his friends, to consider our own list of five influences.

This exercise really got me thinking about all the great artists and creative people whose work has touched me. Coming up with a list was very difficult. Did I need to go back to the books and artists that I loved as a teenager, considering that they probably shaped me into the adult I became? What is the difference between a work I simply love and one that influences me? Perhaps something I dislike could actually influence me quite strongly? Did I need to make sure I covered a range of different media, or could I list several books (and leave out, say, music altogether)? Could I 'cheat' and list a whole movement? (I wanted to include the Art Deco movement, but consensus on fb was that was definitely cheating!) And how could I possibly stop at five?

In the end this is my list, with brief explanations and in no particular order. Writers make up most of it, but though I love music and lots of visual artists, if I'm honest it's the written word that really gets through to me. A top 10 or 20 would definitely include a greater range of arts.

1. The writing of Annie Proulx. Ok, I'm probably already cheating here because I can't narrow this down to one book. That's because it is her style rather than one particular work that has shaped my writing aesthetic. I love the way Proulx can inhabit a place so completely. I love her appreciation of nature and rural settings. I love her characters. I was blown away by The Shipping News in the 90s and I've read almost everything else she has written since. I even loved her less-than-well-received memoir, Birdcloud.

2. The writing of Michael Chabon. Again, not just one work but the body of work. I love the way Chabon is so wholeheartedly enthusiastic in his writing. Each of his books is so different from the last, and yet they all share an intense interest in the world and all the wonderful things it contains. Chabon reminds me to unashamedly embrace genre fiction. Without him I probably wouldn't have read brilliant genre writers like China Mieville and Susanna Clarke. And Wonder Boys, goddamn that book is good!

3. Wes Anderson's film Rushmore. If I could have made any film, it'd be Rushmore. Anderson's visual aesthetic has, in some small way, changed the way I see the world. I love his quirky, wry, mannered style and I think this film is his best. I also love Bottle Rocket and The Royal Tenenbaums. I think perhaps he may have pushed his style as far as it'll go (I wasn't keen on Darjeeling Ltd) but Rushmore is pretty close to perfection for me.

4. Sylvia Plath's Ariel. It's a cliche for teenage girls to love Plath but, you know, they are right. It's not her battles with depression and her tragic end that gets me, it's her brilliant writing. So raw and honest, but also so skilful and beautiful. I studied her at high school and realised how powerful poetry could be. Now as an adult it's her description of motherhood and home life that I relate to most.

5. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the tv show). This might seem a little out of left field but was really a no-brainer for my list. Buffy was the first series that really showed me the possibilities of tv. Joss Whedon's storylines played out over whole seasons, even several seasons. The show played with genre and mythology in a fun and clever way. The characters were interesting and convincing, and challenged conventions (arse-kicking female lead, gay characters etc). There was a silent episode, an episode with no music and a musical episode (my personal favourite). Since Buffy, I have loved some really amazing tv series (Six Feet Under, The Sopranos and so on) but for me, this is where I realised that maybe tv could really be something pretty special. Plus, there's this...

So that's my list. It's not perfect but I think it gives a snapshot of how I see the world. And it was so much fun to come up with.