Friday, 30 October 2015

Review: The Werewolf of Paris by Guy Endore

Vampires have their renown classic in Bram Stoker's Dracula, but werewolves do not have a similar widely acknowledged classic of their own. Or do they? Guy Endore attempted to write just that with his The Werewolf of Paris that was published in 1933. It succeeds for the most part, but there are some problems with the novel that diminish its claim for the title of a true werewolf classic.

The novel opens with a frame story of an American doctoral student in Paris who gets his hands on an old manuscript. It draws his attention away from his research as he begins to study the past. The manuscript is Aymar Galliez's tragic story of a baby boy who was born on a Christmas Eve (a bad sign) with hairy palms and joined eyebrows (bad signs indeed). The baby, Bertrand, is the result of a rape committed by a priest upon a young woman living with Galliez' family and Aymar's mother decides to hide the evil deed and keep the baby's mother in her protection. Aymar inherits this responsibility and observes the Bertrand's growth into a young man. As farm animals begin to be killed in the neighbourhood, Aymar locks the boy up in his room, but never reveals to the mother what he suspects.

But there was a strange shame here that he could not overcome. Oh, the terrible disgrace, the ignominy of it — possessing a mythical monster in one’s own family, in this age of science and enlightenment! - End of Chapter 9

The first part of the novel is very character-oriented and engaging. Aymar's struggles with himself, his position and his misdeeds feel very true to the period and situation. There's a strong sexual and even sadistic theme in the story that is a deviation from what one expects from novels from this period that stops the novel from merely rehashing the themes of other horror classics.

However, eventually Bertrand leaves his childhood home and moves to Paris and this is where the novel takes an abrupt turn. From a character-focussed story, the author pulls back and starts describing the tragic events of the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune of 1870–71. Although this setting builds up a great atmosphere for a dark story, the characters are not very connected with the events. The author actually apologises at least twice for forgetting the characters and tries to return to them, but they don't really get as much attention anymore as they did during the first part of the novel.

The writer apologizes for the confusion of the last chapters. His excuses are that the chronology in the script is none too clear, and further that the elucidation of the events in the story was none too easy. - Beginning of Chapter 15

For me, this disparity between the first half of the novel and the rest is what decreased my appreciation for it. I lost connection with the characters when the author changed the story's focus and never really got it back during the rest of the story. It actually felt as if the author had decided to write a completely different story half-way through, but did not want to start over and instead tried to work his new ideas into the story that he had already begun. Also, the story never returns to the framing story of the young American student when he's finished with the found manuscript, which seemed a bit of a lost opportunity.

Endore's concept of werewolf is very traditional: the man is possessed by something evil that makes him turn into an actual wolf. Bertrand believes for a long time that he's merely having bad dreams, which indicates that he is semi-conscious of what happens to him during the transformation but not enough so to make any conscious decisions.

Overall, I think the novel was worth my time, but I cannot rate it among the best werewolf novels that I've read because of the disparity between the two halves of the story. But if you are a completitionist and a werewolf-enthusiast, you cannot really miss this one.