Friday, 1 June 2012

Tallulah Rising, by Glen Duncan

In last year’s review of The Last Werewolf I anticipated the arrival of a sequel, and that I would read it. I was right, and no sooner did Tallulah Rising hit the shelf, I got my paws (sorry) on a copy. I really enjoyed these books, so I just want to state right here it is impossible to review without giving some spoilers of the first. I’ll try not to give away much, but if you even think you might read The Last Werewolf, stop now!

So, the big twist in The Last Werewolf was that Jake Marlow wasn’t really the last werewolf. He finds himself able to enjoy the company of a female werewolf, Tallulah. This female is the central character of the sequel. After various events in the previous book I am not explaining, Tallulah finds herself both pregnant and alone. Oh, and WOCOP (World Organisation for the Control of Occult Phenomena) still wants the werewolves dead. Also, did I mention the vampires in my last review? They are the werewolves’ natural enemy, but they want something from Tallulah that doesn’t involve her being dead. Yet.

Duncan certainly knows how to set up a plot, and he sets lots of plates spinning in this one. Even with all the plot he jams in, he still finds time to think and grapple with more existential questions, lifting this from a shlocky horror to something with a bit more bite. In this second book much of this revolves around Tallulah’s feelings with regard to her pregnancy and subsequent motherhood. Her fears have to do with the main theme of the first book: how does the human come to terms with the monster that lives inside them, especially when the monster eats another person every full moon? It isn’t simply a matter of sustenance - The Hunger (as it is called) also demands cruelty and horror.
It’s only the best for us if it’s the worst for them.
As we discover in The Last Werewolf, one of the best things for a werewolf is to consume someone you love. Hence Tallulah has rather complex fears over bonding with her baby; she is terrified that if she does, she will eat it. It is both a logical extension of themes already existing in the novel, and a metaphor for the complex feelings most new and expectant parents experience. A few times, especially early on, I had to wonder if this was a good book to be reading while I was pregnant, but at least I know I won’t have that problem!

Duncan really knows how to write a page turner. Often chapters and paragraphs end on a tantalising detail, so you just can‘t stop. He is a total tease, which makes this a terrible bed time book as you compulsively keep reading. The plotting is immaculately done, sometimes relating back to what seemed minor details in The Last Werewolf. Events are carefully layered, plans are hinted at but not explained, and every time you think a partial resolution might be coming Duncan throws in a twist, until the final quarter of the book, when events and characters all come together at a rapid pace. I did think the end of the book was a little deus ex machina, however it is clearly setting up the third of the planned trilogy, and it signals a possibly interesting direction for this book, so I’ll forgive him.

I criticized the first book for some slightly florid writing at times, a problem that reared its head once or twice in this book too. The change of voice from Jake to Tallulah allows Duncan to explore new territory which he clearly enjoys. Tallulah is a new werewolf, and a thoroughly modern woman, whereas Jake was world weary and laconic. Some of the ideas don’t change though. Sexual deviancy is a bit of a theme in both these books. I find it slightly bemusing how often anal sex seems to feature. I thought perhaps it was appropriate in a male werewolf, but Tallulah’s musings on it include pre-werewolf days, so I guess it wasn’t just that.

After slogging through Tristram Shandy, this was the perfect antidote. It is wonderful entertainment, full of sharp wit and black humour. The characters are engaging, and the plot draws you in. For all that Duncan writes this in a supernatural world, the characters are all battling with recognisably human desires. There is a lot of sex, and gore, but just enough literary pretension to lift it above much of what is being published in what is a very popular genre.

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