I’m doing a bunch of catch-up reading of the books that have made various people’s year-end lists, and I just finished Glen Duncan’s The Last Werwolf. It’s a fascinating book, in part because it cuts very strongly against the current pop-culture trend to humanize monsters. Jake, the suicidal lycanthrope who finds something to live for, spends a lot of time explaining to readers (the novel takes the form of his diary) what it means to be sexually aroused and emotionally fulfilled by murder. It can make for some uncomfortable reading (and Duncan seems very fond of the word cunt, which I’ll admit I find a tad jarring), but it’s overall a well-executed counterpoint to Twilight, Grimm, and the floods of neutered monsters on the market.
The other thing I quite liked about the novel is that it inverts the idea that monsters are secret forces in our history, whether it’s vampires controlling the media and the weather in Ugly Americans or threatening the presidency and the Union in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Jake isn’t really a force—though to extirpate some of his guilt, he uses his vast wealth to fund liberation armies and independence movements. Instead, we get to see politics through someone who truly has a long view: in this case, more than two centuries. “All paradigm shifts answer the amoral craving for novelty,” he tells us early int he novel. “Obama’s election victory did it. So did the Auschwitz footage in its day. Good and evil are irrelevant. Show us the world’s not the way we thought it was and a part of us rejoices.” The human trend in private armies fuels supernatural conflicts, not the other way around. It’s a clever way of playing with these sorts of metaphors. Normally superheroes and monsters are a substitute for the big forces that control our society and our lives, an explanation for why we are the way we are. This way around, suggesting that our trends in history influence the magical community, that even werewolves care about President Obama, is a way of giving our own actions and our own history power—they reverberate further than we can even imagine.