Customer Review

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Growls with brilliance (not the best title...), 6 Sep 2008
This review is from: Sharp Teeth (Paperback)
Sharp Teeth is a novel in verse, my first. I've read the Odyssey by Homer, and some really long stuff by Keats, but never anything like this. Unlike those two, this rarely rhymes (that said, there is the odd couplet) and it often feels like bits of prose have been cut and pasted into meandering columns:

Some of us have problems,
they still talk about Bone and what the grease does to him.
He can't go into fried chicken places
the smell, the scent, turns his blood right away.
They say he took out a whole Popeye's once.
He walked in, just to pick up a bucket.
The smell hit. the change happened,
and the place had to go.
Chicken, customers, biscuits and gravy.
There's no percentage in hating
your nature, it's just in your blood.

Of course, the subject matter is rather different, too. Sharp Teeth chronicles the lives of a group of lycanthropes (werewolves) -- and Anthony: a doghandler; Peabody: a policeman -- living in modern Los Angeles, as they go against rival clans, and their leader, Lark, comes up with a cunning plan. As you can probably tell from the (IMO, darkly funny, as with a lot of the novel) above quote, Toby Barlow has put a few new spins on what can be a tired old cliché. These werewolves "pay no heed to the moon", change at will, don't hate vampires (mainly because I don't think there are any in Barlow's universe!), and turn into large dogs rather than giant, clawed, mindless human eaters.

So get this straight
it's not the full moon.
That's as ancient and ignorant as any myth.
The blood just quickens with a thought
a discipline develops
so that one can self-ignite
reshaping form, becoming something rather more canine
still conscious, a little hungrier.
It's a raw muscular power,
a rich sexual energy
and the food tastes a whole lot better.

That bit has been quoted in a lot of reviews, but I love it.

There are multiple point of view characters, and I think this really helped the novel, particularly when it switched to characters like Anthony, the dog-catcher, who falls in love with a lycanthrope, Peabody, the intrepid cop investigating a number of cases where bodies turn up ripped apart. Those outside characters looking in on what was going on brought it a sense of realism -- I know it has werewolves in it!, but still, sometimes I find you almost need a characters disbelief, a human character you can associate with, to heighten your belief.

Toby Barlow has also managed to find every quote that even vaguely mentions dogs, and has put them at the beginning of every new chapter. To which I can only reply with: "Time spent with cats is never wasted.", Freud!

There were a few flaws though: particularly towards the end, when some of the novelty and story drive was beginning to wear off, Sharp Teeth started venturing into more stereotypical territory, even if there was a ridiculously over the top ending with helicopters, etc. There was also a fair bit left unresolved -- for example, why did Lark want some of the pack to travel to a cards tournament?! It was all part of "the plan", but I'd have liked to know more of what that plan actually was.

I don't normally mention things like this, but Sharp Teeth is beautifully designed and I love the black and white cover art. Strangely, though, there's an excellent recommendation from Michael Moorcock that doesn't make it onto either cover. Despite the flaws, Sharp Teeth is one of the most original, funny, and interesting books I've read in a while. It's a book I could easily have missed and never heard of, and that makes it even more precious. 9/10.
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