I am a sucker for well-rendered retellings of classic myths, especially of the Greco-Roman or Egyptian variety. The Penelopiad hit the spot like a war...moreI am a sucker for well-rendered retellings of classic myths, especially of the Greco-Roman or Egyptian variety. The Penelopiad hit the spot like a warm cup of tea. It told the story from Penelope's (Oddysseus' long-suffering and clever wife) point of view, including chimings-in from a chorus of her maids and peppered with poetic asides from the fields of the afterlife. This short book was big on story and packed with archetypal goodness, and I felt the narrative dealt fairly with Penelope and gave her a believable voice. I must admit I was a bit cruelly pleased to see Helen taken down a peg or three. She's always seemed the sort of gal who serves only to please a certain aspect of male imagination and to give womankind a bad name. Hussy. Of course, I'm sure one could view her own story through another lens and see it quite differently, as well. (Ah, now I need to research into stories retelling yet another myth...)
This book is short on pages but feels much fuller due to the author's command of language. This is not an easy read. It is not as difficult stylistically to slog through as the source material (Beowulf), but the wordage is quite florid, often astonishing for its deft use of metaphor, as well as filled with unusual word choice and unconventional phrasing. It is also frequently and surprisingly crude and nasty - not in a sexual way but in an earthy or bloody way. The ugliness of certain images is enhanced a hundred-fold by the simply beautiful language surrounding them.
This is largely a character study, as well as an existentialist tale, concerning Grendel's questions and angst and ramblings and rumblings, with musings on Being and the Self and the Other. Grendel is deeply unlikable, but you root for the bloody, smelly lout all the same, because he is somehow noble in his great savagery. (As eloquent as he is gross and horrible, he is not completely dissimilar to an unwashed Hannibal Lector in a fur coat, although less of a manipulator and more of a head-smasher.) He may eat men alive, but then he navel-gazes and philosophizes on not only why he did eat, but also on why the men existed in the first place. (He holds a very low opinion of humans in general, and "hates" everything/everyone from animals to trees to the sky. He is a bit of a nihilist.)
Grendel is involved in a 12-year war with the local humans, who fear and loathe him on principle, and is deeply devoted to, although he does not fully understand, his mute, incurious Mother. He is curious, quizzical, wry, furious, licentious, bitter, pitiful, jealous, greedy, childish, gluttonous, vulgar, brutish, violent, callous, and loud. Yet he is also true to himself, honest about himself, and often sees through to the heart of things in ways more sophisticated beings might not. He is at the same time the most inhuman and human being of all - the Beast inside us all.(less)