John Gardner

Robin Clark 1991 [1971]
A book review by Danny Yee © 2002
The starting point for Gardner's novel Grendel is the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf, but it is as far from that as Joyce's Ulysses is from Homer's Odyssey. It is a similarly original and inventive work, which fits into no genre, defies summary, and lends itself to complex exegesis. Writing from Grendel's perspective, Gardner makes him into an everyman, facing the existential terror of human existence but at the same time observing humanity from the outside. While trying to work out who he is and what he should do, Grendel eavesdrops on Hrothgar's hall, is fascinated by Wealtheow and the Shaper, Hrothgar's harper, humiliates Unferth, confronts a nihilist dragon, and confuses priests, before meeting his end at the hands of a stranger from over the sea.

Grendel mixes fantasy, lyrical description, dialogue, and poetry with philosophical rumination on topics from personal morality to the nature of the state and the power of art, weaving them into a complex multi-layered text. It also has a pervasive and varied humour, ranging from near-slapstick grotesquery to subtle mockery of theories. To read it is to venture on a kaleidoscopic roller-coaster ride — one which never falters and carries us rapidly along, but which may leave us shaken and thoughtful at the end.

February 2002

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%T Grendel
%A Gardner, John
%I Robin Clark
%D 1991 [1971]
%O paperback
%G ISBN 0860721418
%P 152pp