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3.69  ·  Rating details ·  33,180 ratings  ·  2,091 reviews
The first and most terrifying monster in English literature, from the great early epic Beowulf, tells his side of the story in a book William Gass called "one of the finest of our contemporary fictions." ...more
Paperback, 174 pages
Published June 2nd 2010 by Random House Vintage Books (first published August 12th 1971)
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Andrea Gabriel I don't even need to write my memoir now. John Gardner has already done it.
I don't even need to write my memoir now. John Gardner has already done it.
Cricket Muse Grendel can be read without knowing about Beowulf; however, Beowulf is so intertwined with Grendel that it seems to shortchange Grendel’s story not kn…moreGrendel can be read without knowing about Beowulf; however, Beowulf is so intertwined with Grendel that it seems to shortchange Grendel’s story not knowing how Beowulf is the game changer, and in fact his appearance is anti-climatic if nothing is known about him. So, I strongly suggest reading at least a summary of Beowulf before taking on Grendel.(less)

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Average rating 3.69  · 
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this review may or may not contain spoilers. i assume that most bookish people are familiar with the basic plot elements of beowulf, either through high school required reading or that video-game-looking movie, or cocktails at the heaney's. if not - this could ruin everything! but it won't. ah, existentialism... when i was a young lass with my fontanelle as yet unfused; when i still liked the doors and books about manson, i dabbled briefly and emotionally in existentialism. "l'enfer c'est les au ...more

If I could ADOPT that big, lug of a monster, I would be signing the papers right now because Grendel really, really needs a friend something awful. That lonely, melancholy maneater gave my soul a migraine and his final "haunting" words spent me like loose change from the sofa. I can't tell you (though I'm still gonna try) how much I loved this book. It is definitely being added to my list of ALL TIME FAVORITES.

I have rarely fallen so completely into a narrative as I did from the very first
Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽
Grendel, the famous monster from Beowulf, tells his side of the story here. Philosophies clash, along with monsters and men.

This story of Grendel, told from his point of view, is an unusual amalgamation of Grendel's stream-of-consciousness thought (which becomes more clear and organized as Grendel grows and develops) about his loneliness and self-centeredness, his attempts to make sense of the world, and his cruelty and hatred toward men, while being drawn to them at the same time. Grendel watc
Heidi The Reader
Oct 09, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: classics, fiction
Grendel is the ill-fated monster from the ancient story, Beowulf. This is his tale.

There are very few details shared about Grendel in Beowulf. I thought that this story would be an opportunity for the reader to get to know him.

Unfortunately, we spend most of the time in Grendel's mind, circling endlessly around the ideas of time, brutality, nature and the meaninglessness of existence.

I wanted to know more about Grendel's mother, but there was very little about her.

John Gardner wrote her as some
Arianne Thompson
Aug 05, 2012 rated it liked it
Look, I'll be honest: I'm never going to win a triathlon. Yes, scrubbing floors and wrestling dogs keeps me stronger than your average sedentary librivore, but my ecological niche is definitely chair-shaped.

Even so, I was surprised at how challenging this book was. Take this sentence, for example:

I am aware in my chest of tuberstirrings in the blacksweet duff of the forest overhead.

The first time is pretty much "bwah?"

The second time, your brain starts to adjust to higher-altitude reading. You
Dec 04, 2007 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: lit nerds
I feel a little ambivalent about this book. It was definitely intellectually appealing, and the conversation that Grendel had with the dragon was very well done. But Grendel didn't really do what I expect novels to do: it didn't make me care about anything. Part of that may be because it's only a meager 174 pages - probably technically a novella - but I think even in 174 pages Gardner could have engaged the reader more.

While I was able to scrape away a few enjoyable bits from this book out of sh
Joshua Nomen-Mutatio
Oct 11, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Joshua Nomen-Mutatio by: karen
Shelves: fiction
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 specif ...more
Timothy Urges
Oct 20, 2018 rated it liked it
We know Grendel’s ending, but what of his beginning? Who cares, life is meaningless.

Grendel follows the nihilistic ramblings of the self-proclaimed monster, and it turns out he’s a sad boy with an attitude.

The existential philosophies are compelling in the context of the novel, but I’ve seen humans far more vile and far less intelligent than Grendel. It would be interesting to explore his mind further. I want either more philosophy or more story from Grendel. I’m left with the feeling that som
Jul 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018-odyssey, library
An existential crisis told from the monster's point of view. Grendel tells of everything before Beowulf, a prequel. This was far more abstract and philosophical than I expected incorporating Grendel's arc from fumbling child learning his environment to elder bored with existence.

"I understood the world was nothing: a mechanical chaos of casual, brute enmity on which we stupidly impose our hopes and fears."

"Then the wars began, and the war songs, and the weapon making. If the songs were true,
Oct 20, 2019 rated it liked it
This is a clever little novel, letting the monster in Beowulf tell his own story.

Truthfully, I hadn't thought about Beowulf since world lit class in high school, so I had to Google a quick recap of the poem. I did appreciate reading about Grendel's loneliness and angst, but I think I would have enjoyed this book more had I spent more time reading Beowulf first.

Recommended for those who like literary perspectives.

Favorite Passage
[the dragon's advice to Grendel]
"You improve them, my boy! Can't
Aug 09, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Rob
Every once in a while a book comes along that is so beautifully written it shames me to think I should ever consider putting verse to paper. This is one such book.
Mar 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
Unusual. Simple and straightforward at first. Then ... philosophical when Grendel met the dragon. Then, I guess, unusual for the latter half. Interesting, in any case!
John Farebrother
Jul 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A curious yet compelling read. It tells the story of Beowulf, but from the perspective of the monster, Grendel. Grendel, whose only companion is his taciturn mother, is a lonely creature, and each chapter is an excerpt from his solitary musings as he attempts to make sense of the world and his place in it. As such he is psychotic, but he is also very young, an adolescent, which elicits a reluctant sympathy in the reader. He is fascinated by the world of men, with their coordinated purposeful act ...more
This smallish book, published in 1972, is an interesting exercise in examining a well-known story from an unexpected viewpoint – in this case it's Beowulf retold by the monster Grendel. It could have been a bit naff, like one of those awful ‘reinventions’ that certain novelists seem to knock off every couple of months, like Hamlet narrated by Ophelia. And actually I didn't really like it at first, for exactly the reason that it seemed a bit gimmicky. But by the end (and it's not a long book), it ...more
Oct 26, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012
Beowulf is a an 11c heroic epic poem, written in England, in old English, by newly Christianised monks, but set in Scandinavia. If one can’t handle the Nowell Codex, the film does a pretty good raconteur job.

Grendel (1971), of course, precedes both the film and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974) which subsequently utilises similar techniques: interweaving highly theoretical discourse with quotidian and utilitarian undertakings.

Effectively, Gardner takes up Beowulf a millennium post
Jan 16, 2009 rated it it was amazing
After reading "Beowulf" in my Brit Lit class, I was turned onto "Grendel", by my English teacher. I truly love this book, and the way that John Gardner plays with the character Grendel, and the humor within the writing. After all Grendel was just a misunderstood pagan monster. What's a monster to do? : ) ...more
I'm not sure of what to think of this book. The style shifts a lot, and clearly Gardner put a lot of work and thought both to its narrative construction and to the themes he was covering in the book. That being said, I was more aware of how the book was written rather than why. The words and the construction of the narrative got very much in the way; I was too aware of them. It seemed very skeletal, not a whole lot of flesh or life to it. There is a lot of philosophy, and its introduction seems ...more
Feb 09, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
(my thanks to Rich for the Christmas gift)

It's sort of weird that I've never read this book before. Having grown up with an English teacher for a father, I've known the story of Beowulf ever since I watched an 8mm film project one of his students made, the chief special effect of which involved flushing a yearbook photo of the boy who played Beowulf down the toilet in order to simulate the hero's diving into the haunted mere. I've known about John Gardner's retelling of the story from the monste
Connie G
Sep 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
"Grendel" is a retelling of the epic poem "Beowulf" from the point of view of the monster, Grendel. The poem was written in Old English sometime between the 8th and 11th Century. The monster had been attacking the Scyldings in the mead hall of Hrothgar, the king of the Danes. The hero Beowulf, a Geat, destroyed Grendel. Although the poem "Beowulf" also tells of further adventures of the hero, the retelling ends with the death of Grendel.

In "Grandel" the narrator-monster has been living in a cave
Apr 04, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: fantasy, hated
Grendel can't settle on a single idea or voice. Whiny, self-involved and "tediously poetic," this retelling of the epic Beowulf from the monster's point of view is full of existentialist pity-parties (the dragon gives a tiresome lecture on the brevity of the universe) and anachronistic outbursts (Grendel suddenly gives the empty sky an upraised middle finger). Eventually the rapidly shifting topics and themes blurs together into an unholy literary drone. Blah blah blah nihilism blah blah blah my ...more
Sep 28, 2017 rated it liked it
John Gardner's Grendel dives head first into the world of existentialism and attempts to answer the age old question of what is the meaning of life. Readers are taken on a journey to seek this answer through the epitome of an outcast, the monstrous Grendel, who wrestles with grasping his own identity in the world. The struggle between nihilism and the existence of a meaningful purpose in life is clearly on display through the trials and tribulations of Grendel's life. While the premise of Grende ...more
Dec 09, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: american-fiction
The early chapters of this are great. Gardner just perfectly nails down this caustic, inhumanly sophisticated perspective that's weaving through a lonely, pagan world where human conquest is just starting to take shape.

But then he wrecks that setup by injecting a laundry list of 'experimental' flourishes and techniques that he half-asses so badly, they just bog everything down and make the whole book lose focus. There are lame attempts to play around with different literary forms that add nothin
Peter Watson
Sep 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Grendel is John Gardner’s endeavor to squeeze as many schools of thought (nihilism, existentialism, solipsism, you name it) into 174 short pages. The result is an intense and quirky philosophical treatise on beauty, evil, culture, love, and humanity’s search for meaning (or meaninglessness) that raises several uncomfortable questions — why do I feel compassion and empathy for a bloodthirsty monster? Why are some people “good” and others “evil”? What makes an action or character moral or immoral? ...more
Alex O'Brien
Oct 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
'Grendel' is a brilliant retelling of the Old English poem 'Beowulf' from the perspective of the monster. Immediately, Gardner's first person voice enticed me into the story, and his lyrical prose, poetic sensibility, and articulate language kept me reading, as did his breath-taking existential meditations on the nature of good and evil, the power of art and story-telling, our constructions of religion and heroism, and the meaning of life. This short book has jumped onto my list of favourites, a ...more
Mr.Peepers#Crazy Peep Kid
Oct 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
We were all assigned to read this in my English four class, and I've found it quite interesting. It is based off the story of Beowulf except it is being told by the monster's perspective. Even though Grendel is a malevolent creature and has heinous ways of killing things, I do have a bit of sympathy for him. ...more
Sep 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book was one of great self discovery. John Gardner takes us through the “highs” and lows of a beings life that has been forsaken by society. Taking philosophical ideas as a guideline, Grendel struggles with the thought of existence and meaning in his life. With two different kinds of influences pulling at him from both directions, Grendel must find the side where he belongs the most. I think the book could relate to people’s own struggles with meaning and that even though the book was writt ...more
Brian Symons
Oct 02, 2017 rated it liked it
John Gardner’s Grendel takes readers on a journey for meaning. Grendel, the protagonist, uses the plot of the novel to find a purpose in a world that has left him alone and isolated. However, Grendel is not alone, Gardner teaches readers that everyone has trouble finding meaning in a sometimes-cruel world. It’s not only the low-life (Grendel), it’s also the elites (Hrothulf). Gardner leaves readers with the same question, what is our purpose in life? Why are we here? In all, Grendel is a compell ...more
Sophie Mcintyre
Sep 28, 2017 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Arun Divakar
Apr 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
History could very well be interpreted as a stream of stories penned by victors. There have been battles,coups and epoch changing events and almost all of which have been stories told by those left alive or those left on the winning pedestals. Did anyone tell us much about Ravana's thoughts as his entire kingdom was ground to dust by a man and his army of simians ? What of Ernst Blofeld whose plans were doused in hot water by a dapper Brit ? I could go on but the point I want to convey is that e ...more
Nicholas Kaufmann
Dec 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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 mer ...more
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John Champlin Gardner was a well-known and controversial American novelist and university professor, best known for his novel Grendel, a retelling of the Beowulf myth.

Gardner was born in Batavia, New York. His father was a lay preacher and dairy farmer, and his mother taught English at a local school. Both parents were fond of Shakespeare and often recited literature together. As a child, Gardner

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