Monday, January 30, 2012

Grendel by John Gardner

The book Grendel by John Gardner was a very interesting read. The book is a retelling of the epic poem Beowulf but from the first person viewpoint of the "monster" Grendel. How the monster sees the world and the spread of man is interesting and a stroke of genius on the part of Gardner. Grendel viewing Beowulf not as a hero but as a crazy berserker who just ripped off his arm is funny in the retelling.

I couldn't help but think of the book as a cross between Herman Hesse's Steppenwolf and Where the Wild Things Are.

How I came to read the book in the first place is amusing. I am a fan of the movie Layer Cake starring Daniel Craig and I read that the movie is based upon the book of the same name by JJ Connolly. One of the people commenting on the books says that first person books are a gimmick that can only be pulled off by a rare writer like John Gardner. So I bought Grendel and while I was halfway through it I began to think that a good number of the fiction books I read are first person and I consider myself a discerning reader. Herman Hesse, Chuck Palahniuk, W. Somerset Maugham, etc. all use first person viewpoints. The commentor was wrong about first person novels but he was not wrong about Grendel and John Gardner - it was a rare writer and a rare book.