I have always enjoyed retellings of traditional stories through the villain's POV. One of my favorite books as a child was Jon Scieszka's hilarious The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, in which the Big, Bad Wolf explained why he was being unfairly accused. (If you did not read this as a child, you were seriously deprived.) As I have gotten older, I have also read (and enjoyed) Gregory Maguire's clever retellings of traditional fairy tales. So, when Feathery posted a comment describing John Gardner's Grendel--a retelling of the epic poem Beowulf, which I adore, through the eyes of Grendel, the antagonist--I was immediately intrigued and couldn't wait to read it. I am happy to say that I was not disappointed! Thanks so much, Feathery! :)
Grendel is a very much a character-driven novel--I think a good character-driven novel can be just as riveting as a novel that relies more on plot for suspense, as long as the protagonist is compelling and complex. Fortunately for this book, Grendel is about as compelling and complex of a character as I have ever encountered. Gardner does not attempt to transform Grendel into a particularly likable character--the monster is nihilistic, bitter, and murderous--but the author balances this out with a fascinating psychological exploration of why Grendel is the way he is. If, like me, you're a fan of psychological fiction, you will adore the multi-faceted persona of Grendel, who both loves and hates humans and, as a result, is trapped in an emotional maelstrom of self-pity, self-loathing, and extreme loneliness. Grendel emerges as a character that is both disturbing and pathetic. Though you may not agree with Grendel's jaded views on life, his first person narration is loaded with clever insight and acerbic wit that is a joy to read. At first, I thought the prose seemed anachronistically modern at times, but upon further reflection, I think that was actually a wise decision on Gardner's part. The narration, which is both eloquent and simple, ensures this is a highly readable book and that, in my opinion, makes it more accessible than if it had been written in a stilted, overly formal style.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, but I must warn you: Do not, I repeat DO NOT, read this book if you have never read Beowulf. The plot assumes a knowledge of the original tale, and much of the enjoyment of this novel comes with contrasting Gardner's portrayal of Grendel with the traditional story. All of the major characters from Beowulf, some with interesting back stories added by Gardner, appear in the novel, as do most of the major events from the original epic. If you have read Beowulf before, you'll have no problem understanding this book, but you need to have that foundation to properly appreciate Grendel.
If you like alternative versions of famous stories, are a Beowulf fan, or are just looking for a superbly written psychological novel, try Grendel. You will never look at Grendel, the dreaded foe of the hero Beowulf, the same way again.
Next Week: *whines* I have no idea! I am sorry, but I'll find something. I will also try to be a bit more prompt about posting. *cries*
21 May 1688: Famed Enlightenment poet Alexander Pope was born in London, England. I adore Pope's exquisite poetry, for which he is justly famous, but you may also be familiar with many of his popular quotations, such as "To err is human; to forgive, divine." My personal favorite Pope quote is "There never was any party, faction, sect, or cabal whatsoever, in which the most ignorant were not the most violent."
22 May 1859: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the author who created Sherlock Holmes, my absolute favorite detective ever, was born in Edinburgh, Scotland. Trained as a physician, Doyle started writing the popular Holmes series because he was bored waiting for patients. (Thank God he didn't have many!) Doyle wrote four novellas and over fifty short stories starring Holmes. If you have never met the original Sherlock, I highly encourage you to read one of Doyle's stories (or more than one)! :)
Next week, in addition to a review, I will mark an important anniversary in classic horror. :D