Tallullah Rising. Glen Duncan

Finally the holidays have kicked in enough for me to want to read something non-work related and completely indulgent. Which is, after all, what reading should be about. I chose to renew my acquaintance with the werewolves and vampires in Glen Duncan's follow up to the wonderful 'Last Werewolf'. The story begins with Tallulah in one hell of a predicament, Jake is dead and she is due to have her baby any day now. She has taken herself off, with her familiar, Cloquet, to the Alaskan wilds. The full moon is on its way just to complicate things and then, it all happens. She gives birth to two babies/werewolves but the vampires have arrived to take the child they believe she is carrying ( the whole twin thing was as new to Tallulah as to them, thank goodness). They steal away with her boy and then she gives birth to a girl. There are several moments of chase, capture, escape and capture again but they do not become too predictable despite the pattern in retrospect. Duncan does not give the twi-hard vampire fans anything to see here. This is an adult novel that is as comfortable with its philosophical musings on life, death and otherness as it is dropping gouts of viscera and sex on its readers. That said, it certainly takes you on an adventure filled ride around the globe and there are enough plot twists to keep you not only interested, but highly involved.

It is not labelled horror/literature by reviewers without good reason. The writing is tight and controlled with many a literary reference and an intelligent backstory. It moves easily from modern London and America to a sort of James Bond with supernaturals but resists being trite for all that.

I will await the next one, it has been left with enough of a cliffhanger to be certain that one is forthcoming.

Fans of Justin Cronin's work would do well to read Duncan's writing too.

 

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The Last Werewolf. Glen Duncan

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This has been quietly waiting on my shelves for me to get around to it in between school novels, weighty tomes for my Masters and books that I promised students I would read. Finally, I got there. Jacob Marlowe is an urbane and intelligent voice and it was easy to listen to his story. He relates the tale of his life, flitting between the action at the moment (getting shot at by a WOCOP agent) and back to his beginnings (being ‘created’ by a werewolf running away from said WOCOP) and the intervening years; the sad tale of his first love, told as dispassionately as only a werewolf could. We begin Jacob’s tale near the end and this technique keeps the pace up. The plot has enough unseen twists to keep most genre fans happy and it differs from other supernatural tales in its style and voice, the aforementioned urbanity staying charming throughout, even when relating depraved debauchery. I did find the ending a bit disappointing in that I was able to guess much of it before it happened, a shame really as up until the last quarter I felt outwitted by the novel, which I like. However, having said that, I would still recommend it. The self awareness of the voice of Jacob was touching and sad at times, even while chronicling his own inability to maintain a moral focus. His ability to analyze his fate and embrace his own monstrosity was fascinating and oddly allowed me to sympathize with him.
This is definitely not for anyone enamoured of the Twilight genre. It remains strictly adults only and it’s gore and sex may put off some readers but for me it was an interesting exploration of the idea of survival and morality, relationships and modern life.

Cell – wish I hadn’t picked up the phone :(

Just finished this one by Stephen King. After his brilliant Under the Dome I really wanted to catch up on some of his books that I hadn’t got around to yet. Actually, it was pretty good and I was really enjoying it until the end!

Clay is in Boston having just signed a deal with a publisher to create some graphic novels. He stops to buy an ice cream on his way back to his hotel as he can’t ring his wife until four. In true Stephen King style – all hell breaks loose. People’s cell phones are rigged up to send them into a murderous rage and everyone who answers their phones begins a rampage. Clay does not have a phone, but his young son does and he immediately is terrified that he may have answered it. Clay finds a young girl and a gay man named Tom who have also not answered their phones and they desperately try to get out of town. Eventually they do, but the phone crazies begin to change their behaviour and are more organised. They sleep at night, forcing our heroes to use the night to travel. They meet up with an elderly teacher and his one remaining pupil who decide a bit of vigilantism is due. Now, however, the crazies are able to tap into their minds as they have been improving their telepathic powers. They are now much like a giant computer virus, their brains as the bits a bytes in a system designed to maintain the crazies’ status quo. Clay and his band suffer much in their journey and they eventually part ways so that Clay can go and try to find Johnny, his son. However, the Raggedy Man does not want to let them go and makes the others wait for Clay. He wants them all to go to a no phone area where he will make them pay for the damage that they have done to the rest of his system.

I won’t give the ending away, but it was immensely disappointing. It just left me hanging without any real answers. Frustrating.

Under the Dome

WARNING – PLOT SPOILER

I will never look at ants in the same way again. In fact, I promise not to stamp on them if they’re where I don’t want them to be.

The plot of this one was the usual Stephen King fare really. And this is not a criticism. That’s why we all read him. There are the usual bad guys who have not so hidden agendas. There are lots of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances trying to make sense of a world that has gone crazy. There are lots of people who seize the opportunity when bad things happen, to make things better for themselves. In the end, it comes down to Stephen King knowing a lot about human nature. He makes his characters believable by showing us incrementally what they do and feel and how they act toward others and of course, he then puts them under the magnifying glass and shines the sun in.

The small New England town of Chester’s Mill, just near Castle Rock has just become sealed off from the rest of America by a giant dome. The dome is invisible and of course at first several people die as they realise that they are in fact, in a massive upturned jar. The dome is just permeable enough to let air in and out, but not enough to allow winds and breezes from outside. Within five days the air inside the dome is becoming unbreathable. The people are living in a society ruled by a self-serving used car salesman come selectman Jim Rennie who is obviously becoming more and more megalomaniacal by the minute. You are either with Big Jim, or against him. You really don’t want to be against him.

Dale Barbara, Barbie, is our hero. He is an ex-soldier who became trapped in the town because of ill luck. He’d worked there for a while, but was leaving after one too many run ins with the local hoods led by Big Jim’s son Junior. Barbie is chosen by the US govt. to take over Chester’s Mill during the emergency. Big Jim outmanoeuvres him and jails him on a trumped up charge of murder and then proceeds to create him as a boogyman figure to rally the town under his own leadership. The fact that Big Jim has a finger in every pie helps him in this. Everyone, it seems, owes him something.

What is worse is that some of the people who believe Barbie’s innocence, including Julia Shumway, the town’s newspaper editor, find out that there is something strange going on out on a hill outside town and it may have something to do with the Dome. The rest of the plot details the race against time to find out what is causing the Dome and how to get the town back on track. They all need to do this without Big Jim knowing and without the police force of young thugs that he has tracking them down.It wouldn’t be a King novel without lots of violence and horror, but he makes it come from the people, not so much from the creators of the Dome. The twist at the end, which I won’t give away completely, was interesting, but I did feel slightly let down by it.

The tension is suitably tight and the action is, if at times predictable, also fascinating. This will rank up there with the likes of The Stand as an epic tale told by a great writer of genre fiction.

Still ducking and weaving

Now two thirds of the way through Weaveworld and so glad that I decided to re-read it. Susannah, Mimi’s daughter, and keeper of the carpet in which the Fugue is woven, is still on the run from Shadwell, Immacolata and now Hobart, the rabid policeman. She has reconnected with Cal after Jerichau has been taken and is trying to find a place to hide the carpet, not an easy thing to carry with you when you are on the run.

The tension has been constant and the imagination behind the rendering of the world is simply awe inspiring. Little wonder that Clive Barker is seen as the master of this (sub) genre.

Highly recommended for lovers of speculative fiction, fantasy and even horror.

Voice of the Shuttle

I am re-reading Weaveworld by Clive Barker. This book is a piece of genius and I absolutely loved it when I first read it in the *cough* late eighties. I have decided to re-read it after seeing it on a shelf at Borders and having a moment of nostalgia. It wil be interesting to see if it lives up to my expectations.
Last night I read the first three chapters and things look promising. Immacolata is every bit the evil protagonist I remember and her sisters still have the ability to make the reader shudder. Shadwell is scarily familiar to anyone who lives in the modern world and so makes a plausible adjunct to the evil team.
Cal has just been taken by these characters and we are waiting to find out how he will get out of this situation. I always like to stop reading at a moment like this so that I prolong the suspense. Next time, let’s see what happens.

Let The Right One In

John Ajvide Lindqvist’s cold Swedish ‘vampire novel’ was fascinating. It dealt with Oskar who lives in Blackeberg, an outer suburb of Stockholm and is being bullied at school. Oskar meets Eli who intrigues him and eventually gives him the confidence to tackle the bullies head on. There is more to Eli than meets the eye however; he can only meet her at night….

While it can be called a vampire novel, it is much more about those awful dormitory suburbs outside of any major city and the soul destroying life that some people have to live in these places. A group of alcoholics cross paths with Eli with distastrous results and their relationships are described in a very believable way by the author. The gore is almost a sideshow to the relationships in this book.

When we first meet Eli she is living with Hakan who Oskar assumes is her father. Hakan is much more of a parasite than Eli is in a lot of ways, but he is a victim too as he kills and drains people for Eli because of his need for him/her. The reader is made very uncomfortable by this relationship, but again Lindqvist has not shied away from difficult ideas here.

Eli and Oskar eventually have a neat closed off ending, but it is not as Hollywood as it could have been due to the bleak setting and the reality of the situation that Eli and Oskar are both in. Oskar accepts Eli for who she/he is, and she does the same to him. We see Eli as a sympathetic creature who is aware only too clearly of what she is and who is drawn to her, but accepts this nature. She tells Oscar that he cannot help being who he is too.

This book deals with the whole idea of vampires in a new way with some old touches. Eli has to be invited in to a house before she/he can attack any victim, and the vampires must stay out of the sunlight, but they fit right in with some of  the outcasts who are pushed to the outer suburbs because that is the only place they can afford to live. The crimes committed are less likely to cause the sort of hue and cry they would if they were in the more affluent areas and a portion of the population is transient. The bleak feel of the estate in which Oskar and Eli live as well as the school where Oskar is cruelly bullied add to the general creepiness of this modern horror story.