Sunday, June 16, 2013

Books read in 2013: No. 29 -- Grendel

by John Gardner

Started: June 14
Finished: June 16

Notes: Since I just finished another book by this author, I thought I'd re-read Grendel, one of my favorites from Gardner. This is quite likely Gardner's best-known novel today since his passing in a motorcycle accident more than 30 years ago. I first read this novel for a college class on existential philosophy more than 20 years ago, and then a few years after that I read it again. But that's been quite a while ago. I remember the book being quite dark, almost nihilistic, yet showing a certain genius in it. If you're not familiar with this short novel, it is basically the re-telling of the first part of the Beowulf saga but from the point of view of Grendel, the monster and Beowulf's first foe in the saga.

Mini review: I'd forgotten just how deliberate this novel is. Every line, every paragraph, perhaps every word, has intent. Allusions galore reign here. Allusions to Beowulf, obviously, but also allusions to Aristotle, Plato, numerous philosophers and philosophies, religion, the zodiac ... it's almost too much, and is breathtaking in its own way. All while being a fairly easy read and not a boring read. This might be the most literary of any literary novel ever written, or at least that I've read. Still, while I highly regard this book, it doesn't quite make it into one of my favorites. I have to sit and think why this is, and some reasons come to me. For one, there is some stream of consciousness writing here, and while I can appreciate such, it is not something I enjoy. Also, I felt the plot was a bit ... untimely? Is that the word? What is the opposite of serendipity? An unhappy accident? I'm not sure, and much more thought will have to be given on this. Still, though not quite a favorite novel of mine, it is well worth reading, especially by anyone who prizes philosophical fiction writing, because this is perhaps the best there is.


Jarod said...

I just reread Grendel last year. What struck me was the grim poetry of it all. It's not one of my favorites either, but certain sentences / paragraphs really blew me away. I think it's about time I took a look at Gardner's other works.

Ty Johnston said...

Jarod, that's much my response. There are so many good lines, I couldn't possibly pick one as a favorite. And Grendel's response to first seeing Beowulf (who is never named)has always struck me as genius.

Charles Gramlich said...

Definitely a very finely constructed novel. I should reread it too.