by Glen Duncan, Knopf, 2012, 352 pages, $25.95.
A year ago, Glen Duncan’s “The Last Werewolf” appeared, and reviewers, especially his fellow Brits, went out of their way to heap praise on novel and author. They termed the book everything from “glorious” to “a sublime study in literary elegance … bloody and brilliant.” “The Last Werewol”f became a best seller, and The Times Literary Supplement named Duncan one of Britain’s best young novelists.
And now, “Tallula Rising,” Duncan’s unapologetic sequel to his last novel, which ends with the death of Jake, the last werewolf. As if to dispute the title of the book he’s in, Jake has left his lover Tallula Demetriou pregnant and still tracked by WOCOP (World Organisation for the Control of Occult Phenomena) — for werewolves are valuable to the vampires tracking them, vampires who wish to walk in sunlight.
OK, OK. Silly? Yes. Promising? Possibly. But in his attempt to make “Tallula Rising” literary as hell, Duncan really overshoots his intentions.
The book begins with a breathtaking, nonstop sequence in icy Alaska, a full moon overshadowing the lodge that seemingly hides Tallula and her guard Cloquet. Mother goes into labor as she begins to “turn.” Suddenly, hunters from WOCOP burst into the lodge and kidnap her son Lorcan, one of the werewolf twins Tallula delivers. Her daughter Zoë remains in her mother’s protective arms. By the novel’s climax Tallula will confront the being responsible for the kidnapping: Remshi, “the first vampire.”
Still silly? Yes. Still promising? Possibly. Yet this opening scene is emblematic of what is objectionable in scene after scene as the novel progresses: All that has any chance of working well is scuttled by plain old excess.
Tallula’s primal urges — she’s a werewolf, after all — are given free, complete and graphic rein. The novel is disproportionately violent in its delineation of wulf, the werewolf essence that is now and forever a part of Tallula. It wallows in the bloody dismembering and horrific devouring of werewolf victims. The almost pornographic transcription of Tallula’s capture and incarceration near the end of the novel pays decidedly uncomfortable and obvious “homage” to Auschwitz and Guantanamo Bay.
Oh, and the sex — werewolf and human — is so painstakingly explicit that it’s impossible not turn away. There is the conceivable argument that Duncan’s is a serious rendering of the werewolf psyche, but his novel’s unfettered violence and sex rob us of the protective imagination through which we read.
The Guardian wrote last year: “In its own blood-crazed and sex-dazed way, ‘The Last Werewolf’ makes the case for literature.” Maybe that’s a reason to pick up “Tallula Rising.” Maybe.
Steven Whitton is a professor of English at Jacksonville State University.