22 May 2010


I am so, so, so, so sorry for the lateness of this blog! *wallows in remorse* I have just been so busy, I didn't have time to read anything until now! I do have a new review and a new weekly treat in store for my dear readers, so I hope that somewhat compensates!

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*

Now, to introduce the new treat I promised. I decided to start a new weekly series (or blurb series really), in which I post some trivia about important events in literary history that occurred this week. For instance, in "This Week in Literary History"--like the name? How original, Zella!--I could post about the publication of a landmark novel, the birth of an author, or a famous event somehow connected to literature. As a die hard lit geek (and a die hard trivia nerd), I love reading little random trivia factoids, and I hope you enjoy this new series. I think I'll usually just post one trivia fact per week, but since this debut week is special, I will post two author's birth anniversaries:

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


  1. Sherlock Holmes is really good, isn't it.

  2. I'm actually reading the Sherlock Holmes collection (for the first time, I'm embarrassed to say) now.
    I'll have to check out Grendel--after reading Beowulf again. I haven't read that since high school.

  3. Chairman: Yes! Sherlock is the best! He's been a favorite of mine ever since I was a little girl. :)

    Paul: Ooooh, how are you liking the Holmes' stories? It's fun to read them in chronological order. :) (That's a wise idea to reread Beowulf before Grendel if it's been awhile! I last read Beowulf in October for school and there were a few things I knew seemed familiar, but I didn't remember them.)

    Thanks to both of you for commenting! :)

  4. I will definitely be checking out Grendel! We read Beowulf first semester, and I love character driven and psychological novels.
    Thanks for the recommendation!

  5. Very nice review, I think you summed up Grendel perfectly. Oh yay, I'm mentioned in Zella's blog! *dances* I'm glad you enjoyed the book; Grendel is one of the most complex characters I have ever read about, and one of the most intelligently confused. :D He changes his viewpoints so many times it would have made my head spin, had the teacher not provided a reference guide on different philosophical viewpoints. xD

    "This Week in Literary History" is a fantastic idea, I can't wait for more! I'm such a trivia nerd as well. :D

  6. Oh I loved Beowulf! I mean, the poem, not the character. I didn't like how, after ripping Grendel's arm off and basically banishing him to living with his mom for however long he lived, Beowulf just HAD to go and finish him (and his mom) off. I wasn't glad when he died, but I wasn't immensely sad, either. I will definitely have to read Grendel.

  7. Oh I loved Beowulf! I mean, the poem, not the character. I didn't like how, after ripping Grendel's arm off and basically banishing him to living with his mom for however long he lived, Beowulf just HAD to go and finish him (and his mom) off. I wasn't glad when he died, but I wasn't immensely sad, either. I will definitely have to read Grendel.

  8. Agh! NOW you tell me I was deprived as a child! I never read The True Tale of the Three Little Pigs! But I do love that genre. Mostly I've loved the movies in it, like the Shrek franchise, and Hoodwinked, etc. :D
    Grendel sounds interesting! I'll have to steal it from Spammy before he reads it.

  9. Serena: You will definitely love Grendel if you like psychological/character-driven novels. Those are some of my favorite books, as well. I think they are actually more interesting and gripping, when done well, than a more plot-driven novel. :)

    Feathery: Thank you so much for recommending it! I enjoyed it immensely! "Intelligently confused" describes Grendel perfectly! I hope you enjoy the trivia series. We do something similar with random facts for the library I work at--but it involves all trivia not just books, which seems funny to me--and that inspired me to do a book trivia series for my blog. :)

    Spammy: I bet you'll love this book! It doesn't cover Beowulf himself much, but Grendel is very much his own character here. (Just curious: Why did that bother you that Beowulf finished Grendel off? Did it seem gratuitous to you?)

    Scott: You poor deprived child! You simply must read The Three Little Pig book! (Read it to your younger sisters and you'll have the perfect excuse. :P) I think you'll enjoy Grendel as well. Just don't duel Spammy over it. :D

    Thanks to all of you for commenting! :)

  10. Zella, I've been told that Doyle modeled Holmes after one of his professors in medical school, which I find intriguing. Perhaps there's also a real Professor Moriarty -- probably he taught statistics? Lol. I think the literary trivia is a good idea and I like your Pope quote about forgiveness. Partly I like it because it reminds us that we will all need forgiveness sooner or later, so we might as well be willing to return the favor.

  11. Yes, I have heard that Holmes was based on a real person, too. That intrigues me, because I bet he was an interesting fellow. :D

    LOL I like your theory on Prof. Moriarty. I am positive he taught math! Or maybe chemistry. :P

    Yay! Glad you like the trivia series! I just hope I can find something appropriately literary each week.

    Thanks for commenting, Eric! :)

  12. This book sounds awesome! I wrote something along the lines of Grendel for a school assignment, only, it was the dragon (and it was FAR shorter!). Thing earned me an A++ :D
    Great review, I'll be looking for the book now.

  13. Oooooh, Jourdie, that sounds so cool! I love alternative tales from the antagonist's POV. I would love to read your story! :)

    I would also love to read your review of Grendel when you finish it. I think you'll enjoy it--it's an intriguing book. :)

    Thanks for commenting! :)