Top positive review
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A fox's tail
on 16 January 2009
"The Sacred Book of the Werewolf" is one of those rare books that truly and completely defies classifiation.
Rather than a straightforward fiction or genre story, Victor Pelevin's symbolism-crammed book hops from one style to another -- Eastern mysticism, Russian urban fantasy, inhuman love story, wildly funny satire and postmodern exploration of Russia's place in a post-Soviet world. Despite the wealth of symbolism and a heavy dose of Buddhist philosophy woven in,, it's not stuffy or boring -- instead it's a wickedly funny personal journey that slowly slips into a bittersweet pathos as our shapechanging heroine learns some truths of the universe.
A Hua-li is a werefox -- an ancient, genderless creature with a hypnotic tail, a currently obscene name, who feeds off the energy emanated by humans during sex. She's also a virgin, and is starting to get an "old maid complex."
And to stay energized, she works as a prostitute in Russia -- she doesn't have actual sex with her clients, but manipulates them with her tail. But after some disastrous encounters, she finds herself being investigated by the Russian authorities -- and particularly by the handsome Alexander, a werewolf who transforms and molests A Hua-li. She's shocked but captivated by the young werewolf, and soon they're in the middle of a passionate affair. Yeah, great message to be sending.
The subject of the super-werewolf prophecy comes up when A Hua-Li's older sister and her flaky English aristocrat hubby come for a visit, with said hubby intent on becoming the super-werewolf himself. And A Hua-Li sees the werewolves being used to call oil from a dry well. But when a shocking change comes over her werewolf paramour, A Hua-Li must reexamine their relationship as she keeps her lover safe -- and reveal what the prophecy of the super-werewolf truly means.
Buddhism, wereanimals, aristocrat/chicken-hunting, mass media, Rainbow Streams, Nabokov, DVD sex games and hypnotic tails who contain all the truth of the universe. Victor Pelevin has a knack for bizarre postmodern fiction that is rarely seen outside a Haruki Murakami book -- and "The Sacred Book of the Werewolf" is like a brightly coloured mosaic of randomly sized and shaped pieces, which nevertheless manage to fit together. It's a weird and sometimes confusing ride, but somehow it all clicks at the end.
Along that ride, we're privy to A Hua-Li's intricate meditations on everything from sex to watermelons -- often described in carefully numbered lists. Pelevin fills his meandering storyline with literary allusions (hello, Nabokov!) and infuses it with plenty of wry humour ("We foxes are keen hunters of English aristocrats and chickens"). There's even a hilarious scene where Alexander and A Hua-Li contemplate what DVD movies they should play out as their sex games ("Listen, how old are you, twelve?" "Okay, let's forget the Matrix").
Yet he has a knack for hauntingly memorable scenes as well. Any creature as ancient as A Hua-li will have a sense of bittersweetness in their life, and her view of her lover's shocking transformation and his subsequent fear and confusion are striking. And as the book winds toward its esoteric end, Pelevin unrolls a heavy swathe of Buddhist philosophy that finally explains who/what the super-werewolf is, and what the prophecy means. Let's just say that it's not your average "chosen savior of Group X" prophecy.
And modern Russia, as Pelevin paints it, is all grimy cold urbanity speckled with American products and foreign businessmen. He injects a lot of symbolism (Alexander, the oil well, the super-werewolf, the hypnotic tails that can reveal the true nature of things) as well as a mocking satirical edge (a doomed aristocrat's nonsensical ramblings about how HE can become the super-werewolf without any enlightenment).
The one thing I didn't like? A Hua-li being raped by Alexander and immediately falling for him.
But A Hua-Li is a pretty oxymoronic character -- she can be ruthless and manipulative yet loving and sweet, has the enthusiasm of the young nymphet she pretends to be yet is ancient and experienced beyond even her own measure. And Alexander is her total opposite -- rough, brash, traditional yet modern, and possessing a straightforward mind that struggles with the more unusual spiritual paths of the "super-werewolf." And then there's A Hua-Li's sister -- merciless and wickedly funny, especially since she marries British aristos in order to "hunt" them.
"The Sacred Book of the Werewolf" is a bizarre crazy-quilt of genres -- a sort of symbolic Buddhist urban-fantasy satire, with a mingling of bittersweet and hilarious. Definitely a memorable read.