Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Talulla Rising by Glen Duncan

Talulla Rising is book two in Glen Ducan's The Last Werewolf trilogy. The first book, The Last Werewolf, came out in 2011 to much fanfare. I didn't think it lived up to the hype, but I still think it's a book that horror fans might like to check out. It's certainly nowhere near the literary heights of horror classics like Dracula or Frankenstein, but it does bring a grown-up werewolf to the contemporary literary scene.

Let me start with what I liked about Talulla Rising:

I like the world Duncan has created, even if I don't always admire how he executes the story. It's a world where werewolves and vampires are physically repellant to one another. Most humans seem oblivious to the monsters in their midst, but a small paramilitary organization is out to capture or kill them. Vampires get "vampire burnout" from living forever and not being able to eat real food or have sex or walk in the sunshine: vampires are depressives,"centuries of no sunlight. Seasonal Affective Disorder on a massive scale." Werewolves live about 400 years and even Jake Marlowe from book one was ready to be done with it after only 200 years of eating, shagging, and walking in the sunshine. There is some good, dark humor throughout the story.

Jake's advice to Talullah that she keep reading will tug at the heart and library card of most bibliophiles: "Literature is humanity's broad-minded alter-ego, with room in its heart even for monsters, even for you. It's humanity without the judgement. Trust me, it'll help." She thinks of his words after noticing the pages of Moll Flanders fluttering on the table near an open window. How can anyone not appreciate that sentiment or image?

Duncan also won me over with the idea of species sympathy: "a feeling of accommodating something you never imagined you'd have room for. At the time I'd thought: that's what God wants us to do, find room for each other the way He finds room for Everything." Least you think this book has gone soft or religious, the sprouting of Talulla's species sympathy gets its energy from a moment in the past when she secretly sniffed her best friend's recently worn underwear.

This species sympathy is part of a huge shift that's underway in Talullah Rising and which I'm assuming will play out in book three, By Blood We Live (click here to read a NYT interview where Duncan mentions the title).

Overall, however, Talulla Rising lands a bit lower on my rating scale than did its predecessor, The Last Werewolf.

There's some poor, uneven writing throughout, particularly in the first 100 pages or so when it seems that Duncan was still looking for Talulla's voice. In the beginning she sounds exactly like Jake Marlowe (the last werewolf character of book one) and even uses male slang to describe her own masturbatory act. I've never heard a woman say she "jerked off." Perhaps it's a British thing.

I'd need to give the book a second reading to sort out the vast array of sexual violence and stereotypes about women, men, rape, and motherhood (there's lots of angst about motherhood). In short it seems that Talullah's voracious female libido has to be counterbalanced by rape, prostitution, domestic violence, and/or the pornographic subjugation of women. It's like feminism never happened. I'm all for a healthy libido and it would be refreshing to see a woman character have one that can stand on its own.

Another sexual device that I found offensive is Talulla's teasing speculation about not if, but when she'll have sex with another woman. Sure, Jake Marlowe had sex with a few guys over the 200 year span of his werewolf existence, but this hint of woman-on-woman sex came off like a cheap Hollywood ploy designed to keep some people watching (or reading).

And speaking of characters, don't get me started on Mr. Walker. He's a walking, talking, plastic stereotype and the plot twist regarding him toward the end, with the help of the babysitter, is a cheap deus ex machina.

I had a hard time suspending my disbelief with the non-supernatural aspects of this novel. I'm hoping book three will rely less on stereotypes and cheap tricks and have more species sympathy.

If you really liked The Last Werewolf, you'll no doubt want to rush out to your local bookstore and pick up Talulla Rising. If you thought The Last Werewolf was just so-so, I recommend you check it out of the library. If you didn't like The Last Werewolf, I imagine you'd like the follow-up even less so, but you never know.

Talulla Rising
Glen Duncan
Knopf/Doublday, June 26, 2012
Source: review copy via netGalley

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