The Sacred Book of the Werewolf: A Novel
by Victor Pelevin
Translated by Andrew Bromfield;
Review by Sherin Nicole
Viking Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780670019885
Date: 04 September 2008 List Price $25.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
A Hu-Li is a stone-cold fox, but mostly just a fox—as in a two thousand year old Fox Spirit—and an implausible prostitute. She takes payment for illusions of sex. Fantasies she generates through her fluffy, red fox tail (aptly called an organ). Not really a fair exchange when she also obtains life-giving sustenance in the deal. Perhaps this less than Tao practice is why events begin to go awry, starting with the startling suicide of a client. A Hu-Li can't muster the sympathy to care. She admits she messed up in allowing the man to "slip off the tail" a colloquialism for shattering the illusion and abruptly snapping a person back to reality. This unfortunately tends to make the client: homicidal, suicidal or both. But still, our leading lady feels very little for humans as individuals until this domino chain of happenstance causes her to meet Alexander.
Alexander is a dashing secret officer in the FSB (KGB) and is used to commanding a situation. So when he hires A Hu-Li for an afternoon's delight the situation rapidly leaves her control and lands firmly in his lap. The life she's known, her sense of self and her virginity are all soon left behind.
Did I mention this is a love story? It is. It's a love story, wrapped up in satire of Russian society, intertwined with a heart of darkness journey to enlightenment. The heart of the story is in that journey. In each epiphany Alexander initiates and A Hu-Li discovers. Her internal dialogue becomes the action, her dawning understanding of both "tailless monkeys" (humans) and were-creatures the plot. The thread spun throughout is the quest for the Super Werewolf, a creature of legend and spiritual metamorphosis. And the Super Werewolf becomes the key to all our journeys: the spirit foxes, A Hu-Li, Alexander and humankind's. Of course Alexander's humanity is as much an illusion as those spun by our fox's wondrous tail.
The Sacred Book of the Werewolf is rife with history, philosophy and acute observation. So much so it reads like a mental workout. The kind that leaves your muscles aching in that 'stretchy' way that signals you're getting back into shape. And it's funny. Not I-think-I-may-stop-breathing funny but in the manner of a surprised-chuckle, which is equally satisfying.
If it seems like I enjoyed this book. I did. I read it at a much slower pace than normal because, well, I had to keep stopping to think…or to smile and that was delightful. Of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't note that the ubiquitous references (history, art, culture, philosophy, etc) combined with A Hu-Li's musings become a bit dense at times. Often, it stalled the forward momentum of the book.
However, Pelevin constructs the fox's inner space with such intricacy that is it both disquieting and enthralling. Much like suddenly discovering you're reading someone else's mind—a feat A Hu-Li insists is impossible even while you ride shotgun in her head.
The Sacred Book of the Werewolf is not a read for the faint of mind but it is one worth the journey.