Sharp Teeth, By Toby Barlow

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

A novel in verse – about werewolves. Hmm. It's a great elevator pitch, but would anyone actually want to read it? Well, they ought to. The verse is free verse of the loosest kind, often recognisable as verse only by the typography, but the compression of language, the absence of all those little prose discourse markers such as "because" and "so" and "nevertheless", and the vividness of the imagery ("Cocky men's eyes grow bald with fear/ when their flesh is torn open and they face/ their weakness", or "...Blue's face/ goes canine then human then canine again/ fur riding up and down his flesh like a bristled wave") all combine to make this a leaner, meatier, more muscular read than most prose novels.

It tells the story of rival packs of lycanthropes (actually, they turn into dogs, not wolves) in an otherwise realistic, contemporary LA. Characters include Lark, the pack leader wth a plan; Baron, the ambitious lieutentant who betrays him; and Anthony, a Mexican dog catcher who falls in love with the beautiful Sasha, unaware of her secret life as a gang member and shapeshifter.

The fantasy works on one level as an allegory. Lycanthropes resemble gang members in so many ways: the loyalty and hierarchy of the pack, the outsider status, the radical separation from conventional, law-abiding society, the constant threat of violence, the way packs recruit from the most damaged members of society to offer an alternative family... But leaving allegory aside, this novel also works as a tough, fast-moving crime thriller, combining the grit of Elmore Leonard with the poetry of Raymond Chandler.

Comments