Thursday, January 10, 2008

Book Review: Beowulf

Beowulf by Caitlin R Kiernan

I had only heard of Beowulf, but had no clue about who or what Beowulf was. Two reasons I picked up this book at Landmark, Bangalore, were: the film by Warner Bros. (which I haven't yet watched) and that the novel was written based on Neil Gaiman's screenplay.

I stood in Landmark and read Gaiman's introduction. He says he's glad Caitlin R Kiernan has written the novel and that:

"she told a tale that pounds in your head, a mead and blood-scented saga that should be chanted at midnight in swamps and on lonely hilltops.

She tells a tale of heros, and firelight and gold, punctuated with love and secrets and moments of extreme violence. It's an old tale, one that deserves to be retold as long as people care about heroes and monsters and the dark. It's a story for each of us.

We all have our demons.

Beowulf thought his was Grendel..."

I had decided not to buy any more books for months. But after such an introduction by one of my favourite writers, I took it straight to Billing.

Well, now I've read it and here's what I think. The story itself is awe-inspiring, chilling, thrilling, but I didn't care much for Kiernan's telling of it.

She has a slightly forced way of trying to make the story old and epic-like. She has not immersed herself in it and told the story. She lays emphasis on everything, and uses "and" several times in each sentence. It got to me. She starts paragraphs with it, almost every paragraph. That, and "some" - "some long-forgotten thing that had been birthed in the dark waters of..." (this is mine, not hers, just to show her style of writing) - you get the picture. "Some," "thing," "birthed," and the like are used to create an old saga sort of voice. But it wasn't done well.

Too late, at the end, I read that Tolkien has written on Beowulf. Now that should be worth reading. Some readers swear by the old poem, say nothing comes close to that.

I look forward to seeing the movie. I want to see Grendel and his mother, and of course, Beowulf and the other interesting, hard-to-forget characters that live in this tale.

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