Saturday, April 2, 2011

GRENDEL by John Gardner ✰✰✰


I had trouble getting through this one, for reasons that I can not quite put my finger on. Perhaps it was the busy time frame in which I tried to read it, or perhaps it was that I was not in the right frame of mind. Several years ago my son and I read Beowulf aloud, and we really enjoyed that classic epic. I was very excited to read this revisionist version, written from the viewpoint of the monster, Grendel.
In some respects, Grendel is depicted in a fashion that brings the creature in Frankenstein to mind. He is drawn as a being that wants to love man and God, but who, through the violence of those with whom he is so fascinated, descends into murder and chaos. I thoroughly enjoyed the characterization of most of the main characters in the novel; it was definitely the best aspect.
I have heard this book lauded as a realistic rendering of life in Anglo-Saxon England, but I have read other books, such as Helen Hollick's The Forever Queen, which paints a far more vivid portrait.
Perhaps the aspect of the book which caused me the most annoyance was the philosophical nature of Grendel. My expectation was a plot based book, revolving around a man-vs-creature battle of wits. Instead, I got a philosophical comparison of men and monsters, in which my sympathies were oddly drawn to the monster. As I stated earlier, had I been in the mood for a study of this type, my opinion of the book would likely have been much different.
In addition to the great character sketches, what kept me reading was the wonderful ability of John Gardner to craft such lovely, simple prose, such that even though the emotions are those of a monster, I felt connection and empathy. I would guess that if a person likes philosophical musings, or is at least in the mood for them, they would very much enjoy this original twist on one of the oldest known tales.

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