I couldn't make it all the way through the first time. I had to set it down for a while and come back to it later, when I was better prepared for its pretensions. I mean, sure, it's a retelling of Beowulf, but not like Michael Chrichton's Eaters of the Dead or even Zemeckis's movie, which seeks to add a new and exciting dimension on an old tale. And sure, it's from Grendel's point of view, but it doesn't seek to give us any psychological insight into Grendel, the character.
It just uses all of this --Grendel, his mother, the dragon, attacking Hrothgar's meadhall, Beowulf-- as a means to engage in a very opaque philosophical discussion.
It's not a novel about Grendel the monster.
It's a prose poem about the very nature of our universe, sung in the key of Grendel.
When I got to the end, the very last sentence, it dawned on me that I had just read perhaps one of the best last sentences in literature. It was certainly the best last sentence that I've read in a long time. I'm sure there have been others, with all the books I've read, but there was just something perfect about this one.
It's the last few moments of Grendel's life. He has just been humiliated and mutilated by Beowulf. Grendel is dying. His last words:
“Poor Grendel’s had an accident,” I whisper. “So may you all.”Now would be a good time to resist the urge to ask, "So what does it all mean?" In the context of the story, and the nihilistic vein throbbing throughout Gardner's prose, I think it speaks for itself.
After reading it I wondered where it would fit on the list of top last lines, as if some esteemed person had reviewed the whole of literature and ranked the last lines on some kind of merit. Surely this one would be on that list, at least, if not in the top 20.
I was right about at least some of that. It is on the list, but it's listed at 50.