Saturday, August 04, 2007

The change

Why is this the first I've heard of this amazing-sounding book?!?

Mark Ford at the FT on Toby Barlow's novel Sharp Teeth:
Sharp Teeth is a novel in verse set in Los Angeles. It relates a struggle waged between three rival packs of werewolves - though, in the main, they are closer to dogs than wolves. These lycanthropes don’t need a full moon to assume their canine identity. Indeed, they can make what Toby Barlow calls “the change” whenever they want - though it’s best to do so in private. They communicate by mobile phone, and even enjoy playing bridge.

Like vampires in the Dracula myth, Barlow’s beasts are always on the lookout for new recruits. They scour the streets looking for the disaffected and damaged - anyone who can be seduced by a vision of power and freedom. The pact between dog and dog-to-be is sealed by an exchange of blood drawn from their respective little fingers.

Barlow’s unsettling narrative is not quite an allegory of LA gang warfare. Rather, it develops a supernatural parallel to the gory struggles for turf fought out by the city’s trigger-happy tribes. Sharp Teeth also draws heavily on traditions of noir and gothic, of comic-book fantasy and Hollywood horror.

The verse throughout is strictly functional - a way of keeping the story moving as fast as possible. The characters are deliberately stylised. At work on the werewolves’ case is a cop, Peabody, who could have stepped out of the pages of any crime thriller. The arch-baddie, Venable, has a lisp and looks like Truman Capote.

At the book’s centre is a romance between a sympathetic dogcatcher and a female “weredog” determined to renounce her feral past - though this involves tracking down, killing and eating all the members of her former pack.

Sharp Teeth is not for the faint hearted - and should be avoided by those with even a hint of dog phobia.

Mmmm.... and it gives me a terrible pang of wishing I was currently writing my upper Manhattan animal shape-shifter novel. Choices, choices...

(I sort of had an inspiration of great genius the other day and thought that if I made the protagonist a triathlete as well as an animal shape-shifter, and if she made her living as a personal trainer, there would suddenly be a lot of massive new deductions I could take on my taxes...)

The same way that I think you're either an Iliad or an Odyssey person (here was where I asked this before), I think you're either a vampire or an animal-shape-shifter person. I like novels about vampires too, but I'm definitely more on the animal-shape-shifter side of things.

It's part of the appeal of Philip Pullman's novels, too, this notion that there's some animal that perfectly corresponds to our inner self. In practice, if we're picking them for other people, we probably rely more on body type than on personality, which is not really fair; and of course also it is the sort of thing where we would probably get a more accurate selection if we did not choose for ourselves, the temptation is to choose something more glamorous and less ordinary!

(Pullman does well choosing the whole range of animals for his characters, only I often found myself thinking while I was reading the books that he likes dogs less than I do and birds more.)

In any case, and on an entirely frivolous note, here's the animal my protagonist turns into (also my own preference of course--if you are not above such things, you may reveal your own in the comments!):

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