GrendelGrendel by John Gardner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I knew this slim, challenging, incredible novel would become an instant favorite the moment I experienced the monster Grendel’s voice in the prose: acerbic, sarcastic, depressed, vulgar, philosophical, yearning, angry. Grendel is forever a prickly teenager, regardless of his age (“I understood that the world was nothing: a mechanical chaos of casual, brute enmity on which we stupidly impose our hopes and fears. I understood that, finally and absolutely, I alone exist. All the rest, I saw, is merely what pushes me, or what I push against, blindly”). His tortured, resentful relationship with Hrothgar and the king’s shining mead hall on the hill is fascinating, and thanks to Gardner’s beautiful, poetic prose, it’s also deeply immersive and rewarding. Anything having to do with Unferth is probably my favorite part of the novel (“I waited. The whole shit-ass scene was his idea, not mine”) although the chapter that details Grendel’s visit with the dragon stands out for me as well (“‘Stand around the side if you don’t mind, boy,’ [the fire-breathing dragon] said. ‘I get a cough sometimes, and it’s terrible straight out front'”). I love, love, love this novel, and I will never forget the amazing character Gardner created out of a character-less monster from antiquity.

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