The werewolf of the title is both literally and metaphorically a fox, a 2,000-year-old Muscovite prostitute in the body of a 15-year-old.
Russian author Pelevin (The Helmet of Horror, 2007, etc.) creates a novel both fey and fantastic, with flights of verbal fancy self-confessed as Nabokovian. The fox/narrator recounts that her “physical appearance arouses feelings in people, especially men, that are boring to describe…[for] nowadays everybody’s read Lolita, even the Lolitas.” The fox’s bushy tail creates hypnotic illusions in the victims, who are more or less reliably overcome with erotic desire. The narrator is the fox herself, namely A Hu-Li (not to be confused with her sisters E Hu-Li and U Hu-Li, both of whom she corresponds with), who recounts her lustful exploits in a satiric mode, and there’s much she finds to satirize: human foibles (“Every time I see a girl in a boutique with an admirer buying her a brooch that costs as much as a small aeroplane, I’m convinced that human females are every bit as good at creating mirages as we are”); sex; Russian consumerism; sci-fi; and even the story she tells, which loops back on itself in self-consciously ironic ways. The main relationship here is between A Hu-Li and the enigmatic Alexander, a Russian intelligence officer who’s revealed to be a superwerewolf (perhaps). Toward the end the novel becomes Zen-like in its philosophical play. Alexander turns out to be bewildered about his lupine nature, and the werefox is left to explain that “the super-werewolf is the one you see when you look deep inside yourself for a long time.” It’s nothing less than our own soul—part bestial, achingly human.
A complex, expansive, explosive novel—at times brilliant, at other times tedious—and definitely not for every taste.