This is an extraordinary book. I sat down with it and devoured it in one sitting and then came up for air, feeling as though I had been savaged.
It is written in verse, but it's a very free verse which doesn't intrude upon the reader, and after a few minutes it is easy to forget that the lines don't run to the edge of the page. The language is familiar and direct, and causes no complications. Having said that, the writing has all the power and concentration of good narrative poetry. Though the story is hard-bitten, it is the verse that really packs the punch. And what a punch!
This is a werewolf novel. Whatever instinct it was that made Toby Barlow think of writing a werewolf novel in verse, it was a good one: the book works spectacularly well. It works because verse can do something that prose can't. It can concentrate feeling and cut straight to the essentials. In 'Sharp Teeth' it goes for the jugular and doesn't let go. There's no messing around here, no unnecessary detail, no asides or elaborate descriptions, no self-indulgence, just a bitter narrative as straight and as powerful as they come
'Sharp Teeth' doesn't trade on the magical or mysterious. It's a werewolf novel told in a realistic style. Its characters and settings are modern and recognisable. Its passions, although they run high and wild, stay within the bounds of ordinary human experience.
Yet, like any good werewolf novel, it's full of a savage sensuality: it's vicious and it's violent. It reeks of blood, eroticism and desire. It looks at the passions that bind people together and drive them apart. It looks at the tension between the individual and the pack. And driving all this is a powerful undercurrent of unfulfilled need and animal frustration.
The book uses the werewolf story to examine the hard, gritty realities of modern urban life: sex, jealousy, survival, competition, status, the need to keep one step ahead. It looks unflinchingly at the dehumanising power of the modern social environment. And yet, in an emotional landscape where there is not much warmth or compassion, it tells a deeply compassionate tale.
Oh, and there's a darn good story line in there, too.