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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

With the same vicious imagination, blood-dark humor, and ferocious narrative energy of his bestselling novel The Last Werewolf, Glen Duncan now delivers a heroine like no other.
 
Grieving for her werewolf lover, Jake, whose violent death has left her alone with her own sublime monstrousness, Talulla Demetriou is pregnant and on the run, fleeing to a remote Alaskan lodge to have her child in secret. There, with her infant son in her arms, it looks as if the worst is over. Until the door bursts open and she discovers that the nightmare is only just beginning. Tormented by guilt and fuelled by rage, Talulla is suddenly plunged into a race against time to save her son.  Pursued by deadly forces, including (rumor has it) the oldest living vampire on earth, the odds seem hopeless. Unless, of course, a mother's love for her child turns out to be the deadliest force of all. . .

Excerpt

1

“Oh. mon Dieu,” Cloquet said, when he opened the lodge door and saw me on the floor. “Fuck.”

I was on my side, knees drawn up, face wet with sweat. Pregnancy and the hunger didn’t get along. Hated each other, in fact. I pictured the baby pressing werewolf fingernails against my womb, five bits of broken glass on the skin of a balloon. And only myself to blame: When I could’ve got rid of it I didn’t want to. Now that I wanted to it was too late. Conscience from the old life said: Serves you right. I’d fired conscience months back, but it was still hanging around, miserable, unshaven, nowhere else to go.

“Did you get it?” I gasped. Behind Cloquet the open door showed deep snow, the edge of the pine forest, frail constellations. Beauty mauled me even in this state. Aesthetic hypersensitivity was a by-product of slaughter. Life was full of these amoral relations, it turned out.

Cloquet rushed to my side, tugging off his thermal gloves. “Lie still,” he said. “Don’t try to speak.” He smelled of outdoors, dense evergreens and the far north air like something purified by the flight of angels. “You have a temperature. Did you drink enough water?”

For the umpteenth time I wished my mother were alive. For the umpteenth time I thought how unspeakably happy I’d be if she and Jake walked in the door right now, grinning, the pair of them. My mother would dump her purse on the table in a puff of Chanel and say, For God’s sake, Lulu, look at your hair—and the weight would lift and everything would be all right. Jake wouldn’t have to say anything. He’d look at me and it would be there in his eyes, that he was for me, always, always—and the nightmare would reduce to a handful of solvable problems. (I’d expected their ghosts, naturally. I’d demanded their ghosts. I got nothing. The universe, it also turned out, was no more interested in werewolf demands than it was in human ones.)

“Talulla?”

Pain thickened under my toenails, warmed my eyeballs. Wulf smirked and kicked and cajoled in my blood. Come on, what’s a few hours between friends? Let me out. Let me out. Every month the same delirious bullying, the same pointless impatience. I closed my eyes.

Bad idea. The footage ran, immediately: Delilah Snow’s room, the wardrobe door swinging open, its long mirror introducing me to myself in all my grotesque glory, what I was, what I could do, the full range of my options. Monster. Murderer. Mother-to-be.

I opened my eyes.

“Let me get you some water,” Cloquet said.

“No, stay here.”

I had hold of his coat and was twisting it. My dead moaned and throbbed. My dead. My restless tenants. My forced family of thirteen. Those ghosts, yes, of course, as many as you like. The only way to be sure of never losing the ones you love. The Dahmer Method. Extreme, but effective.

“Breathe, chérie, breathe.”

Chérie. Mon ange. Ma belle. Lovers’ endearments, though we weren’t, and never would be, lovers.

One by one the broken-glass fingernails withdrew. The pain furled shut, like time-lapse film of a flower closing. By degrees, with Cloquet’s help, I made it to the armchair. Wulf smiled. The prisoner’s smile at the guard, knowing the breakout gang’s already on its way.

“Did you get it?” I asked again, when I’d caught my breath. “At least tell me you got it.”

Cloquet shook his head. “There was a screw-up. It’s stuck in freight clearing at Anchorage. It’ll be in Fairbanks Saturday morning. There’s more snow coming, though. I’ll have to take the Ski-Doo and trailer.”

I didn’t say anything. I was remembering an artwork I saw once at MOMA: a foetus made entirely of barbed wire. Lauren and I had just stood there looking at it, silenced.

“Don’t worry,” Cloquet said. “It’s two days. You’re not due for six weeks. I’ll go back to Fairbanks Saturday first thing. They promise it’ll be there. It has to be.”

“It” was a consignment of obstetrics equipment, including oxygen machine, forceps, foetal and adult stethoscopes, heart monitor, PCA pump, sphygmomanometer and sutures. “Fairbanks” was Fairbanks, Alaska. Necessary obscurity: WOCOP—World Organization for the Control of Occult Phenomena (think CIA meets Keystone Kops meets Spanish Inquisition, Jake had said)—knew I’d survived Jake’s death and was carrying his child. Its hunters wanted my head and its scientists wanted me strapped down in a lab. It didn’t stop there. Having found a correlation between survived werewolf bites and increased sunlight tolerance, vampires were after—what else?—my blood. More than all that, my straw-clutching subconscious had seen the snow as a sterile environment, a natural hospital. Conventional medicine was out of the question (Well, Miss Demetriou, as you can see on the monitor, here’s the umbilicus, and here’s a very healthy-looking placenta, and of course here’s the—JESUS FUCKING CHRIST WHAT IS THAT?) so Cloquet had found the converted hunting lodge, with its exposed beams and wood-burning stove and wardrobes that smelled of camphor. Three thousand dollars a week, no other residents within fifteen miles, no phone reception, a half-mile of dirt road through the Christmas trees’ thrilled hush to the highway, from which Fairbanks was a ninety-minute drive southwest. I could scream as loud as I liked. No one would hear. I had a recurring vision of myself lying on the dining table in a pool of blood, screaming as loud as I liked. I had a lot of recurring visions.

“It doesn’t matter,” I said. “This thing’s going to kill me anyway.” Gratuitous. Post–Delilah Snow I was full of random cruelties. I knew how the fear of me dying gnawed him now that he was an accessory to murder. Murders, plural. Looking after a werewolf uniquely disqualified you from doing anything else, as Jake’s poor minder Harley could have confirmed, if he hadn’t had his head cut off. That Cloquet had become my minder still occasionally mesmerized me, the giant absurdity of the fact. Yet I remembered the feeling of dreamy inevitability that night in the forest five months before, when I’d put out my hand—my changed hand, clawed, wet and heavy with blood—and he, after a cracked laugh, had taken it. What had happened moments before—carnage, death, vengeance, loss—had left the two of us with a raw permissive consciousness, and into it this new relationship insinuated itself. Expect the absurd, Jake had warned me. Expect the risible twist, the ludicrous denouement. Expect the perverse. It’s the werewolf’s lot.

Cloquet shut the door, took out a big white hanky and blew his nose. The cold had given him a look of surprised innocence. Sometimes I saw him like this, humanly, the mangled person and the road back to his childhood strewn with wrong turns and ugly coincidences.

Long ago he’d been a little boy, side-parted hair and a volatile world of loved toys and stormy adults. Now, as he snuffled and swiped, nostrils raw, eyebrows raised, I had an image of this dark-eyed child standing alone on a jetty looking out over black water, waiting for the reunion that would never come. Tenderness stirred in me—and like an awkward reflex the new force obscured it, said it didn’t fit the grammar, wasn’t the done thing. There was too much else going on in me to argue, but I’d already made it known I didn’t like rules. God only knows to whom I’d made it known. Some vague werewolf scheme of things I didn’t even believe in.

“How is it?” he asked.

“Better.”

“I wish you’d take the drugs.”

Just say no. So far I had. Acetaminophen, pseudoephedrine, codeine, Demerol, morphine. All with potential side-effects my imagination made certainties. Administration of this drug during the first trimester can cause behavioural abnormalities in the infant.

Behavioural abnormalities. Jake and I would’ve exchanged a look. But ironies were like secrets: unshared they died. Jake and I would’ve. Jake and I. Jake. I. There were these moments when there was nothing between me and the reality of his death, when the future without him yawned, a vast space of sheer drops and wrong perspectives. There’d be more and more of these moments, I knew, until eventually they wouldn’t be moments at all, just the continuous, crushing way things were. The way things were that having our child was supposed to alleviate.

“Save the drugs for when I really need them,” I said.

We both knew I really needed them already, what with wulf jamming the room with its stink and the cattle-wire shocks in my fingernails and ringing iron in my eye-teeth and outside whispering the dirty talk of the wild. Transformation was less than twenty-four hours away.

“You don’t have to be brave, you know,” he said.

“I’m not. I’m just thinking ahead.” I didn’t want to think ahead. (I didn’t want to think back, either. There was horror in both directions.) Rufus, my fish supplier for the Brooklyn diners, had described watching his wife having their baby. I want to tell you it was beautiful, he said, but basically it looked like someone had taken a twelve-gauge to her pussy. This image kept coming back, as did the Sex Ed video they showed us in high school, yellowed footage of a big-thighed woman sweatily giving birth. Unanimous teen revulsion. Lauren had said to me: Fuck the miracle of life, where do I sign up for a hysterectomy?

“I’ll go and check downstairs,” Cloquet said.

“No, I’ll go.”

“You should rest.”

“I need to move. Ow. Fuck.” The baby shimmied, scraped something in me. It sent these violent communiqués. The same communiqué, every time: I saw you. In the mirror. You and Delilah Snow. Mother.

I waited for the pain to fold itself away again.

“You sure you don’t want something?” Cloquet asked.

I shook my head, no. Then held out my hand to him. “But I don’t think I can get out of this chair by myself.”

2

One minute you’re little Lula, eight years old, sitting on the counter in the Tenth Street diner drinking a vanilla shake under the pink Coors neon—the next this, the stink of liver under your fingernails and the water in the shower running red around your feet. In the thought experiment you commit suicide. I wouldn’t do it. I’d kill myself. In reality you don’t. In reality you kill and eat someone else. You start at one end of the experience, go through it, come out the other side. You’ve killed and eaten a human being. Blood winks on your fingers, mats the hair on your arms and snout. The gobbled life flails and struggles in what it touchingly mistakes for a bad dream. The moon sets. The next day you wake up in sheets that smell of fabric conditioner. There is CNN. There is coffee. There is weather. There is your human face in the mirror. The world, you discover, is a place of appalling continuity. I ate his heart. It seems incredible the words don’t refuse, don’t revolt. But why should they? You didn’t. There’s your horror, yes. But your horror’s a tide going out: every wave stops a little farther away. Eventually the tide doesn’t come in any more. Eventually there’s just the sighing delta, the new you, the werewolf. The last werewolf, as it happens.

Jake had thought he was the last. He’d thought he was ready to go, too. One by one I’ve exhausted the modes, he wrote:

hedonism, asceticism, spontaneity, reflection, everything from miser-able Socrates to the happy pig. My mechanism’s worn out. I don’t have what it takes. I still have feelings but I’m sick of having them. Which is another feeling I’m sick of having. I just . . . I just don’t want any more life.

Then he’d met me. Courtesy of the risible twist, the ludicrous coincidence. Love has come, he wrote.

Full, incendiary, unarguable with. Love has come, and with it the renewed pricelessness of time. I think of an hour with her—then of my hundreds of thousands of hours before knowing her was possible, wasted hours, by definition. The life we could’ve had if she’d been around a century ago (or fifty years, or ten, or Jesus Christ five) is an obscenity in my imagination. The bigger obscenity, of course, is the question of how much life we’ve got. There’s no God but I know his style: He wouldn’t teach you the value of time unless you had fuck-all time left. . . .

He was right. We had two months. Careful what you wish for, he’d sent me, dying, in my arms. Before we’d met he’d wished for death. Death had listened. Death had made a note. Unerasable, it turned out.

A century and a half of loneliness coda’d by sixty days and nights of love. Not much of an equation. Reversed, it looked a lot worse: sixty days and nights of love followed by hundreds of years of loneliness. No wonder I missed every abortion appointment I made.

I had three recurring daydreams. One was of me with a twelve-year-old daughter living in a Los Angeles villa. Turquoise pool, cactus garden, sunlight, Cloquet in a straw hat and white bermudas teaching us French.

Another was of a little werewolf boy in a shredded school uniform covered in blood, a leftover eyeball in his lunchbox, a human tongue flopping out of his blazer pocket. Of course it was darkly hilarious. Dark hilarity’s always an option, if there’s no God.

I said three recurring daydreams.

I know.

Not yet.



Halfway down the basement stairs my legs buckled. I grabbed the banister, slid to my knees and vomited. Bile and water, since I hadn’t had solid food in twelve days. It hadn’t always been this way. I’d swanned through the first eighteen weeks of pregnancy symptom-free. Then, without warning, everything had changed. Cramps, vomiting, night sweats, visual disturbances, nosebleeds, back ache, diarrhoea, breathtaking uterine pains. Overnight, biology made me its punchbag. If I was lucky I got about a week’s grace post-transformation, when the bodily violence subsided, but when the moon hit first quarter it started up again, and the fiercer the hunger, the more maternity beat the shit out of me. A curse on top of the Curse: you’re starving, but your appetite makes you sick. (My last victim, an onion-and-whiskey-flavoured pimp in Mexico City, had brought on X-rated vomiting less than an hour after I’d eaten him. A pointless death. Now he was an oddity among my dead, confused and wraithy from having not been taken in properly—or from having been taken in and then half forced out again.) For a while I’d clung to a moral theory, that motherhood abhorred murder. But things had happened. Things had happened, and the theory had gone.

“It’s okay,” I croaked down to Kaitlyn. “It’s just me.”

The stuff you come out with: It’s just me. Your other kidnapper. How reassuring. Kaitlyn didn’t reply. She was on her feet by the camp-bed, holding the restraining cable. Twenty-three, according to her driver’s licence. Pale skin, greasy blonde hair, slightly bulbous blue eyes and a blow-up dollish mouth. Overall a look of not being quite clean (I imagined a grimy navel and a bedroom like the site of a poltergeist freak-out) but slim and pretty enough not to have suspected anything worse than a one-night stand when Cloquet picked her up in Fairbanks.
Glen Duncan|Author Q&A

About Glen Duncan

Glen Duncan - Talulla Rising

Photo © Michael Lionstar

Glen Duncan is the author of eight previous novels. He was chosen by both Arena and The Times Literary Supplement as one of Britain’s best young novelists. He lives in London.

Author Q&A

Q: You created such a memorable and beloved character in Jake Marlowe. Was it difficult to switch voices and start writing in Talulla’s voice?
 
A: It was, of course, difficult to say goodbye to Jake. I was very fond of him, not least for all the vicarious smoking, boozing, cynicism and STD-immune sex he afforded me. But the point of these novels is to keep refreshing the werewolf myth in ways that shed light on the human experience, and by the end of the first novel I felt his voice had done as much as it could; to continue in it would have been the equivalent of the band not knowing when to quit the encores. Talulla’s predicament—of someone new to the Curse and vulnerable—prised open the basic questions from a new angle, and helped keep the imaginative process vital. 
 

Q: Have you ever written a novel primarily from a women’s perspective before? Does that change the writing process for you at all?
 
A: I’ve never written a novel exclusively in a woman’s voice, but an earlier novel, Love Remains (a rape story), was written partly in the voice of a female character, Chloe Palmer. The temptation is to say that it doesn’t change the writing process, since any novel worth its salt is an act of imaginative projection, but what I’ve found is that there’s something to be said for not being able to take anything for granted. I can write characters like Jake in my sleep; by and large their psychology is simply my psychology, projected into their unusual predicament. Talulla (and Chloe) on the other hand, require a process of constant imaginative self-scrutiny—is this really what a woman would do/think/say/feel?—in a way the male (Glen Duncanesque) characters don’t. If you’re lucky, the writing gets cleaner. If you’re not, the characters are simply unconvincing.


Q: Your novels raise the question of whether you are writing literary fiction, genre fiction, or a combination of both. Do you think those labels are valuable to readers? Or is it time that we moved beyond them?

 
A: I don’t know whether it’s time we moved beyond them. What I do know is that they don’t mean much to me anymore. To quote Wilde (for non-Wildean purposes): ‘Books are either well written or badly written. That is all.’  
 

Q: Are there things you could explore with Talulla (a relatively new werewolf) that you couldn’t with world-weary Jake?

 
A: Again, there’s no point in these books if they don’t in some way refresh the basic human mysteries. In Jake’s case they were abstract, metaphysical, existential, a version of the intellectual’s question: ‘What is the truth?’ In Talulla’s they’re much more rooted in the mysterious physical and emotional realities: maternity, sexuality, morality, survival, guilt, desire; a version of the pragmatist’s question: (Never mind what the truth is): What is one going to do?
 

Q: Motherhood is (clearly) a major theme in the novel. To your knowledge has the concept of a pregnant werewolf or a baby werewolf ever been explored before? How do Talulla’s fears of motherhood affect her?

 
A: Not to my knowledge, but my knowledge is useless, because I’ve never read any werewolf narratives. I’ve watched the movies, but nothing from what I’ve seen springs to mind. Talulla’s fear in relation to maternity is a very specific one: Will she be capable of eating her own child? Which is of course a grotesquely and gothically enlarged version of what I suspect is a common fear among mothers-to-be: Will they ‘feel’ the way they ‘should’ about their children? In a world where the ‘appropriate’ response to virtually everything is commercially co-opted and aggressively peddled, it’s hardly surprising that half of us are on drugs or in therapy because we don’t think our feelings are quite what they should be.
 

Q: You’ve spoken of the werewolf as a metaphor for being an outsider or other. Does that metaphor start to shift in Talulla Rising?

 
A: I don’t think so. Talulla, like Jake, is a monster by virtue of a nature that puts her outside humanity. But like Jake (and many venerable ‘outsiders’ before him) she functions as a mirror to and commentary on the group from which she’s ostensibly excluded. And we find (surprise) she’s not so ‘other’ after all.
 

Q: You give us the beginnings of a vampire mythology in this novel. Do you plan to explore that further in the third volume? Will the werewolf origin story (Quinn’s book) also come back into play?

 
A: Yes, and yes. But I’m not issuing spoilers for my own books! 
 
 
Q: You’ve always written very explicitly about sex in your novels and you said in an interview for Metro that you’re amazed that more people don’t write about sex. What do you make of the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon? Do you think that its popularity with readers who may not have previously wanted to admit they liked reading about sex will open doors across genres?
 
A: I don’t quite know what the ‘Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon’ is. Is it Twilight with sex? I haven’t read the Twilight books either, but if the movies are anything to go by (I’ve seen the first one) they’re sexually pretty tame. I’ve never understood why anyone would be reluctant to read books in which sex plays a significant role, any more than I can understand a reluctance to read books in which love or anger or grief or loss or compassion or creativity or the desire for meaning or a sense of absurdity (I could go on, obviously) plays a significant role. The point of literature—of all art—is to find room for everything human. It doesn’t get much more human than sex—so why leave that out? Without sex you’d lose The Bible, The Iliad, Paradise Lost, Anna Karenina, more than half of Shakespeare… And that’s before we mention Lawrence, Eliot, Joyce, Nabokov, Updike, Roth… Need I go on?
 

Q: Have you noticed a different reaction to this series in the various countries where it’s been published?

 
A: Not really. In all the territories so far it’s had a similar effect, which is to bring in some readers who think of themselves as literary (wouldn’t normally go near a book allegedly about werewolves) and other readers whose tastes would normally be self-avowedly commercial, surprised to find themselves engaged by the existential crises of lycanthropes who spend as much time smoking, drinking, shagging and philosophising as they do ripping people open and gobbling up their vital organs. So far it’s been a refreshingly (and sometimes hilariously) inclusive experience.
 

Q: After the third volume of this series, do you think you will continue to write more supernatural/paranormal novels? Or has your appetite been sated for the time being?

 
A: This isn’t my first fling with the supernatural. I, Lucifer was the approximate autobiography of the Devil, and the protagonist of Death of an Ordinary Man was a ghost. What these books have taught me is—to resort to cliché—that there’s more than one way to skin a cat. Thematically I remain constant: love, death, sex, loss, compassion, cruelty, betrayal and forgiveness. I suspect that regardless of the outward form of whatever I write next (a murder story appeals at the moment) it’ll still revolve around these human perennials. 

Praise

Praise

“Gorgeous. . . . Irresistible. . . . As with The Last Werewolf, Duncan writes with caustic edge and pop-culturally relevant humor. ” —Dallas Morning News

“A lusty, visceral, bloody tale. . . . This is enjoyable stuff. . . . Talulla has the wit and pluck to entertain us.”—Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Horror fiction at its best.”—The Oregonian
 
“Duncan’s antihero is an apex female predator, the antithesis of Stephenie Meyer’s gothy milksop. She’s smart, confident, and a caring mother. She’s also a ferocious man-eater . . . The spectacle alone is worth the price of admission.”—NPR
 
“The horror genre at its best—wildly imaginative, written with wit and intelligence, wickedly entertaining.”  —The Times (UK)
 
“Flat-out killer. . . . This harmonic hybrid delivers sweet (plot), salty (character), sour (emotional pathos), bitter (psychological probity), and umami (stylistic and linguistic panache). . . . Best described as a gleeful three-way between Raymond Chandler's entire oeuvre, Anne Rice's vampire novels and Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum. . . . A high-calorie blast. . . . Duncan delivers with intelligent humanity a monster we want to track and befriend, even knowing she would happily eat us alive.” —New York Times Book Review
 
“A howling good read. . . . Horrifying and humorous, imaginative and energetic.”—CNN
 
“Duncan is an immensely talented literary novelist, and with Talulla Rising, he has again proved you don’t have to be driving with a learner’s permit to enjoy a good vampire-versus-werewolf book. . . . Its descriptions of sex and violence—by turns hallucinatory and anatomically precise—might render Twilight fans blind and mute. Everyone else should have a blast, though.” —Richmond Times-Dispatch
 
“In Talulla Rising, Duncan again creates an oddly engaging world defined almost exclusively by the abnormal . . . The story moves from Alaska to London to Italy to Crete, makes good use of the monsters’ special powers, offers cliff-hanging moments. . . . Duncan can be awfully entertaining.” —Bloomberg News
 
“A lusty, visceral, bloody tale [told in] capable, muscular prose . . . This is enjoyable stuff . . . Duncan’s werewolves are never cartoons . . . Talulla has the wit and pluck to entertain us.”—Cleveland Plain Dealer
 
“As well as being thought-provoking, it’s all great fun . . . Duncan’s writing does more than transcend genre fiction: it creeps up on it in the dead of night, rips out its heart, then eats it.”—The Guardian
 
“I like now and then to be reminded that I am a companion of the Wild Beast, and Glen Duncan ensures that I never forget it. He writes brilliantly of the presence of evil in its most contemporary disguise, with its heady temptations of heedless abundance, hunger, and satiety. Never again will it be possible to think of werewolves as mere metaphor. This fierce, witty, and erotic novel is full of surprises, both provocative and illuminating.” —Susanna Moore


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