Book Rec: Grendel by John Gardner

I understand many people don't like epic poems as a genre, all right? I've had to read Beowulf enough throughout my education to watch as all of one, maybe two (I'm shocked there are possibly four people really into it this semester in one class) people who don't try to fall asleep, text, doodle, or bitch about how bad it is. I get it. The language can be off-putting and its a lot of celebration for so few action sequences. Book Rec: Grendel by John Gardner Sadly, I've also seen how little interest people have in this wonderful novel, as well. It does tend to go over better than Beowulf (maybe 4-5 people interested per class), but not by much. Judging by what John Gardner is dealing with - broad strokes: existentialism, nihilism (and this winds up in the YA section of my library? I need to have a good talk with the new wave of librarians about their incessant reshelving and dumping of the full Dickens collection for three copies of A Christmas Carol and one of A Tale of Two Cities) - this should be even less accessible than Beowulf. It's not. For those out of the loop, Grendel is Beowulf told from the perspective of Grendel, the misunderstood spawn of Cain. He's not born a monster: he's made one. The Danes refuse to be friends with him and try to kill him on sight. So, he opts to destroy them before they can destroy him. Beowulf arrives and is, to be blunt, a douchebag (so much for being about the writing, people). I'm not even a fan of the character in the poem (I read it for the writing, thank you), and Gardner, being so knowledgeable about medieval literature, justifiably makes him obnoxious, aggressive, and full of himself. Even the Dragon (best character in the novel) and Unferth (what a wimp) are expanded to play important roles. Gardner's writing is excellent. Period. Done. I shouldn't have to say more, but I will. He refuses to cast the world of Grendel in the good and evil mode of the unknown poet of Beowulf. Every character comes across as flawed at times, admirable at others. It feels real, and no matter what my 11th grade English teacher said, is not an attempt to claim all people are inherently good or inherently evil, leaving no room for middle ground. Gardner thrives in the gray and casts it beautifully to the page. I'd say, if you like the idea of the Gregory Maguire novels, you might like this. It depends on how well you love Beowulf for that audience. If you hate Beowulf but like good novels, this is probably a better fit.

Labels: book rec