Thursday, March 16, 2006
Verdict: VASTLY over-rated.
Pretentious, clusmily constructed, replete with POV errors and senseless anachronisms, Grendel is a good idea poorly handled. Toss it in the recycling bin and instead re-read Shelley's Frankenstein, which is far more elegantly done, far more interesting, and deals with the same major themes (Art, Isolation, the Monstrous in Man) in much more complex and illuminating ways. This book comes highly recommended by people who should know better. The 'witticisms' are painfully unfunny, and Grendel can somehow see through walls and into the inner chambers of meadhalls and houses without being seen himself. He can make elaborate metaphors about "misers caught at their counting" despite having been raised in a subterranean cave with his mother (and no, having the monster think "I don't remember who taught me language" when his mother doesn't speak at all is NOT sufficient). Grendel witnesses several funerals--all of them burnings on pyres--and yet he thinks "darkness lay over the world like a coffin lid."*
This book is bullshit. What technique does Gardner employ to make it appear he was writing a sophisticated book about lofty ideas? Why, he has Grendel talk to a dragon who spews ten pages of high-fallutin' nonsense. Let's not try incorporating our ideas into the action...that might require work.
Years back I read On Moral Fiction and thought it bunk. Then I read Gilbert Sorrentino's "John Gardner: Rhinestone in the Rough." You were right Gilbert--he sucks! Skip it.
*I don't want to give the impression that I'm that much of a stickler for precise technique in fiction--but when a book is as dull as the begats chapters in the Old Testament, I'm bound to notice such faults.