Joshua Nomen-Mutatio's Reviews > Grendel

Grendel by John Gardner
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Feb 25, 12

bookshelves: fiction
Recommended to Joshua Nomen-Mutatio by: karen
Read in December, 2010 — I own a copy

During a routine walk from the kitchen to the main room, he stopped mid-stride and suddenly realized that no actual speech had escaped his mouth in what was, sadly, many years. And even very few non-lingual sounds aside from occasional coughs and heavy, anxious breathing ever passed between his lips and the world. He scrolled through his long-term memory for the last time he'd spoken and before reaching a definitive answer he interupted himself with the realization that no matter what the specifics, it had been a very, very long time. This made him feel unspeakably dreadful. He decided that words needed to come out of his mouth right then and there. He parted his lips, did something instinctive with his throat and a little staccato "Ah!" sound sputtered forth and immediately halted. It was then that he grimly realized how foreign the process of speaking had become. Something within had atrophied. Suddenly he felt about as intelligent as a tree stump. This compounded the misery. This was supposed to be effortless but it no longer was. Then, as the purpose of language took hold, he expressed his fear, sorrow and frustration with perhaps the oldest language of all: unfettered screams and moans. All manner of such sounds came rushing out of him. Bellows, wails, shrieks, unhinged cackles, hoots, feral pitch-shifts, agonized AHHs and sickly, tattered OOOHs. Lunging and stumbling around the cavernous main room, he indiscriminately hurled the products of his rumbling diaphram and vocal chords at objects, at space between objects, at the thoughts piling up inside himself, sometimes feeling as if he might knock them over or obliterate them with the force of his emotions-becoming-sounds. He briefly envisioned himself as some monstrous, insane version of a symphonic conductor. He caught a glimpse of himself in a distant mirror on the other side of the room and this only amplified the tremendously unnerving cycle of storage and relief that was moving through him. He felt possessed by the sound. He felt that he possessed it. These alternating currents of channeling and being channeled through carried on for some time. His throat had become raw and sore, his lungs ached, felt aflame. He slumped upon the floor, back against the staircase. He heaved atop the first few steps with his eyes closed. He felt like weeping but no tears would approach. He decided that getting noise out of himself was something he'd need to do more often. He didn't exactly feel pleasant, but his head felt clear and his body lightened in a way it never had before and this was vastly superior to the alternative. It wasn't until then that he realized just how backed up with words he'd been. How much of an island he truly was. All he could think of after a while of laying there--covered in evaporating sweat, finally regaining a steady heart rate, now feeling happily emptied--was how he could make his noises louder.
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Reading Progress

12/07/2010 "Interrupting my already criminally negligent relationship with The Instructions. Also, karen was so right about the font. It pleases." 2 comments
12/08/2010 "A great treatment of existential angst in here. Showing both how stupidly funny such a thing is while also giving it its due." 3 comments

Comments (showing 1-47 of 47) (47 new)

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Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Yeah, I thought it was great. I'm sure you'll enjoy it, too. This is a cop out "review" obviously, but I guess I just felt like sharing a little part of this bigger project I'm working on, and it fit the existential loneliness theme of this book. It also fits with the awesome cover image, too.


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Thanks, Shan. You're definitely one of the top people I'd like to get some feedback from on a draft when it's ready.


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Hopefully you'll also like the rest of the writing that surrounds it later on. Thanks, Elizabeth.


Mariel No way is this a cop out review. It brought back the book for me most vividly.


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio That's awesome, Mariel. Glad it worked like that.


message 6: by [deleted user] (last edited Feb 19, 2012 11:58AM) (new)

This is so cool.

I love this cover. My kids were really into it for a while, and asked me all kinds of naively mind-blowing questions about it. (It helps that our cat is named Grendel, so the behavior and thoughts of cats and men were considered separately and together.)

Anyway, great review. Catches the tone nicely.


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Ceridwen wrote: "My kids were really into it for a while, and asked me all kinds of naively mind-blowing questions about it. (It helps that our cat is named Grendel, so the behavior and thoughts of cats and men were considered separately and together.)"

You and your kids and cat are all awesome.

Thanks for the kindnesses.


message 8: by Drew (new)

Drew My uncle was a Beowulf scholar, and when I was maybe 9 or 10 years old, he told me the whole Beowulf story at some family gathering where we were both bored. Apparently he thought I was way smarter than I actually was, because a few weeks later I got a package containing Seamus Heaney's translation of Beowulf, a sci-fi reimagining called The Legacy of Heorot, Michael Crichton's Eaters of the Dead, and this, which naturally I couldn't handle at the time and eventually lost.


message 9: by [deleted user] (new)

Awww. I think it's sweet when academics freak out and give age inappropriate gifts related to their passions.


message 10: by Drew (new)

Drew It was. That wasn't even all that was in the box, there were maybe 6 other books that I can't remember but that were (however tangentially) related to Beowulf. I felt bad for not liking more of it, although I did enjoy the Crichton and the sci-fi thing even at the time. Oh, also, there was this The Roots of Modern English, which I loved, because I was a nerd.


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Ceridwen wrote: "Awww. I think it's sweet when academics freak out and give age inappropriate gifts related to their passions."

Agreed, though it might be less sweet for an Ancient Dildo Theorist to do so.


message 12: by [deleted user] (new)

Haha! True facts. Thought that's a loose understanding of the term academic. Or possibly I am hopelessly naive about academia.


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio College is all Basket Weaving and Ancient Dildo Theory these days.

Actually I can think of some real academic disciplines that are essentially Ancient Dildo Theory, or at least could involve something like it.


message 14: by MJ (new)

MJ Nicholls Great review, but

Drew wrote: "My uncle was a Beowulf scholar..."

almost eclipses its awesomeness.


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Pretty stiff competition.

I have a friend whose mother, Chris Vinsonhaler, did this dramatic translation of Beowulf: http://beowulfpoet.com/dramatictransl...


message 16: by Drew (new)

Drew MJ, there's more! At the risk of being pretentious-by-association/upstaging Josh's friend's mother, this dude was a badass and a Renaissance man. Apparently he wasn't particularly well liked as a professor - it seems he told his students to 'shut up' too often. But he was a professor of science fiction as well as the whole Beowulf thing, which automatically made him my most entertaining uncle growing up. When I was in high school, he got thrown from his horse and paralyzed, and died a few years later. The crazy thing, though, is that about 3 or 4 days after he died, I got another box of books from him in the mail. Annotated (not by his own hand, of course).


message 17: by MJ (new)

MJ Nicholls Brilliant. People having relatives who were readers and/or educated literary folk is a matter of fascination to me, seeing my own family's choice of texts was, er . . . no texts. I'm worried my genes will kick in at 43 and I'll go back to cereal boxes.


message 18: by Drew (new)

Drew Actually, most of my family is of the no-text persuasion; he and I are the exception, and he married into the family. They were actually going to give his whole library to charity without even looking through it, and I, ever the opportunist, had to intervene.


message 19: by [deleted user] (new)

My mother learned Old Norse as part of her schoolin'. Years later it came in handy, weirdly, because my paternal Grandma's best friend was an Icelander named Helga who loved to talk about the Sagas. They would talk haltingly in mixed Old Norse and modern Icelandic, close enough for communication. Helga was amazing, mostly self educated, literate in several languages, and completely unpretentious. Helga's house was just packed with books, and a wonderland when I was a kid. God, I miss her. She died about ten years ago at close to a hundred.


message 20: by Drew (new)

Drew Where did your mother go to school, that she learned Old Norse? Presumably nowhere in the States. Did you grow up in Norway?


message 21: by [deleted user] (last edited Feb 19, 2012 08:54PM) (new)

No, no, it was for her PhD which she received here in the states, in Ohio. Her side isn't Scandinavian at all, so it was funny to marry into a family where it might ever be something that would come up. I grew up in Minneapolis.


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Helga sounds badass. Sorry to hear she's no longer around.


message 23: by [deleted user] (new)

She was badass. And really tall. Her last name was Thorson, which is the coolest.

My husband got to meet her right before she died, and he's a tall red headed dude. She was adamant that he must be Icelandic somehow, and flirted with him outrageously. It was pretty great.

What was in the box from the uncle, the one you got right after he died?


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Also, on the subject of literary/intellectual qualities within bloodlines: it's non-existent. All you'll find are Bible-thumping/self-help books throughout the shelves of my immediate and extended families, with the small exception of my grandfather on my mom's side, who instilled a love of nature in me as a biology teacher. He's been pretty ravaged by dementia and is currently in the hospital on life support. Living and dying is no joke. Tough stuff. I spent all weekend teary-eyed in a hospital thinking about death more than usual.


message 25: by [deleted user] (new)

Oh, man, I am so sorry to hear about your grandfather.


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Thanks, C. Sorry to make the thread a little 'too real' all of a sudden. I guess the topics just swung me over in that direction.


karen oh, sorry - mofo. i was going to comment with something typically inappropriate, but now i will wait for the thread to move away from the serious....




message 28: by Drew (new)

Drew Me too. I'm pretty close with my maternal grandfather as well, and he's 80. I live across the country from him and he's gotten all morbid lately, and last time I was home he said he wanted to through-hike the Appalachian Trail with me this summer. He's had both his knees replaced, though, and hasn't walked more than 2 miles in a day since the Korean War, as far as I know. So I had to tell him there was no way I could do that with him, and it was heartbreaking. But nothing compared to dealing with dementia, I imagine.

Ceridwen, I think there were about ten books in the box; let's see how many I can remember. One was Dispatches, which I just read recently and am probably going to put a review up tomorrow. One was a big dusty tome called Plagues and Peoples, which I don't see on GR. Another was a book of creepy little stories by E.L. Doctorow. 3 out of 10 ain't great, but I can't remember any of the others at the moment; I'd have to look in my shelves back in Rochester.


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio karen wrote: "oh, sorry - mofo. i was going to comment with something typically inappropriate, but now i will wait for the thread to move away from the serious...."

No no no. Gimme the dirrrrty. I regret bringing up the serious in this forum.


message 30: by s.penkevich (new)

s.penkevich Oh man, I had forgotten about this book. Great job here, it really captured me.


karen no! you only get animals from me for now.




message 32: by [deleted user] (new)

I know I should go for cute animals too, but I'm going to go for laughing at mortality.

Grendel lies bleeding out, and his mother points and laughs, saying lol.

Okay, cute animals too:

[image error]


message 33: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Feb 20, 2012 07:00AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio s.pen - Thanks.

karen - Awwwwww.

Ceridwen - LOLAwwwwww.


Miriam Sorry to hear about your grandfather, Josh. That can be hard -- sometimes harder than we know at the time.


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio I appreciate the kind words. I just feel kinda bad about suddenly bringing up something like this as if I'm fishing for sympathy or something or exploiting personal family sadness for attention. It's really one of those things that's really hard to talk about but at the same time talking about it feels like what I want to do, despite my reservations. I've thought myself into confused loops of pain about this stuff. It seems like something better left unsaid, just grieve and deal with it, without all the thinky thoughts.


Miriam Yeah, there are disadvantages to being a person who thinks. But would you want to be a person who doesn't think? That seems to awfully empty...

I just feel kinda bad about suddenly bringing up something like this as if I'm fishing for sympathy or something or exploiting personal family sadness for attention. It's really one of those things that's really hard to talk about but at the same time talking about it feels like what I want to do

I tend to feel that way, too, but I don't think it seems that way when you're not the person doing the sharing. I think it is natural for it to be central to your thoughts right now, and healthy to talk about it. And at a glance this thread is doesn't have any strangers who just came by the talk about Gardner and are now edging for the door.


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio I appreciate your points. Thanks.


Miriam I was 8 when I read this, by the way. My rating really just indicates disappointment that it was not what I expected after having finished Beowulf. Should I try it again, or is there something else by Gardner you would recommend instead?


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio I can't begin to imagine what I would've thought about this at age 8...

This is the only Gardner I've read. I think it might be interesting for you to read again and then compare to your 8 year old memory.


Miriam Right after that I tried Freddy's Book, but gave it up when I realized there wasn't an actual monster in it.


message 41: by Ian (new)

Ian [Paganus de] Graye I don't know this book, but I get the impression that the review would have been radically different if the kitchen fridge was stocked full of beers. Or semillon.


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio The character does dabble in distilled spirits. I think they stopped working properly at this point.


message 43: by Ian (new)

Ian [Paganus de] Graye Hmmm. Mine always work propellory.


Miriam Ian, what semillon do you like? I have never had one that was better than well-if-its-the-only-alcohol-available.


message 45: by Ian (new)

Ian [Paganus de] Graye Hi, Miriam. I don't drink a lot of them any more (I mean I spill more than I drink), but my favourite was Brokenwood:

http://www.brokenwood.com.au/wines/pr...

In 1993 I met one of the winemakers (a really talented and well trained woman). I don't think she's there any more.

I used to like Cullens, but I think they blend with sav blanc now:

http://cullenwines.com.au/whites.htm

I think I've mentioned before that there is something in the wood in most Chardonnays that aggravates my stomach and you don't see a lot of pure semillons away from the Chardonnay blends.

I can handle an unoaked Chardonnay, but I don't really go looking for them.


Miriam I don't think I've had an Australian semillon yet. I don't ever buy semillon on purpose. But I generally prefer your sauv blanc to ours so maybe I'll try it sometime. We do a 10% semillon sauv blanc blend where I work, it is popular with asian restaurants.

Does red wine (almost always oaked) also bother your stomach? For a long time I thought it was the oak that made me not like chards, but it's actually the malolactic fermentation. It doesn't make me feel unwell, though, I just don't care for the texture or taste.


message 47: by Ian (new)

Ian [Paganus de] Graye I've never had a problem with reds, although very occasionally I might react adversely 2XS.


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