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The Grotesque by Patrick McGrath
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The Grotesque (1989)

by Patrick McGrath

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Showing 5 of 5
Failure to adapt = extinction. Fine!!! I’ll seat on the freaking new chairs but that don’t mean I have to like em!!! ( )
  Alfonso809 | Apr 3, 2013 |
Not up to McGrath's usual work, but an enjoyable book none-the-less. The first chapter sets up intense foreboding and import. The creepiness factor is high. I love how throughout the course of the narrative, Sir Hugo keeps telling us that he's a "scientist" and that his empirical sensibility has been tested, but not bested. Even without his spasms of superstition - Unreliable Narrator alert! Still, I can't help but love the guy. Here's what he thinks of the popular press -

"I was much relieved when, after a few days of rabid excitement, they [reporters] lost interest in us, having fresh rubbish with which to titillate their readers. And mass literacy, they tell me, is a boon." p. 64

OMG, what would he say in the face of the media now? Reality TV? The internet? Oy. Poor Hugo.

As much as I love McGrath and savor his books, I can't rate this one very highly in comparison with his others. I kept waiting for the magical moments of madness. None came. Sir Hugo's irascibility and humorous asides were terrific, but sane. And I also kept waiting for the illusion to come down, for Fledge or someone else to come fully into the light and make us realize our assumptions were wrong. Usually in McGrath's books the narrator's unreliability is finally shown in piteously harsh light, but not so in this one. George's death and Fledge's flaunting are interesting and stir up our emotions, but Sir Hugo is helpless and there isn't so much likable about either man to stir pity. Still, it's a rich character study and a voyeuristic look inside a dysfunctional household. ( )
  Bookmarque | Nov 11, 2012 |
I keep wondering why Patrick McGrath is not a more popular author. Of the four books of his I've now read, three of them have simply blown me away.

In The Grotesque, I found all the elements that I truly love in a novel. There are but a few characters, but all are deeply interesting. The setting is a bit spooky. Best of all, though, is that this book is a pyschological thriller with a story that kept me guessing what was to come and spurring me on to turn its pages faster and faster. Even by the story's end, I had much about which to think.

Sir Hugo Coal is a paleontologist who is trying to prove that the dinosaur bones, which he brought back from Africa and has currently set up in his barn, prove that the his specimen is bird-related. However, at this time in his life, he sits in a wheelchair unable to communicate because of an "accident" that lead to his "vegetative" state. Nevertheless, he tells us his story because he wants us to know how evil his butler is. In fact, he is sure that his butler, named Fledge (there's also a neurosurgeon named Walter Dendrite in this book!), had something to do with the disappearance of his daughter Cleo's fiance. Just listen to what he tells us...

Enjoy this book, folks, it's a good one! ( )
  SqueakyChu | Oct 20, 2011 |
Sir Hugo Coal, gentleman paleontologist and embittered master of his small family, watches his life collapse around him in his mansion, isolated in the marshes of the English countryside. His new butler, Fledge, seems to have designs on his wife, while Fledge's own wife has designs on his liquor cabinet. His paleontology work is ignored by the paleontological establishment. His daughter's fiance disappears, and his only friend is more aloof than ever. And-- worst luck of all-- Sir Hugo must narrate these events from his wheelchair, having been paralyzed by a stroke.

The Grotesque is a short novel and it reads quickly, but doesn't leave behind much of an impression. The plot is very thin, and doesn't generate enough interest to support the length. The writing is fine, but it hardly sparkles. The atmosphere is too familiar to provide much interest, either (a decaying manor in the marsh, a sinister butler, lots of firelight and rain). All that's left to set the novel apart from a buttoned-down, boring, novel-length treatment of a Poe short story is its gleeful sense of humor.

The humor mostly comes in two forms. Hugo Coal, the narrator, tends to react to things with a spluttering outrage that McGrath effectively mines for laughs. Right at the beginning, Hugo describes his daughter's effete boyfriend. Coal says, "He smoked a little pipe with a slender reddish rosewood stem and a petite bowl that took no more than a pinch or two of delicately scented herb tobacco-- I am not making this up, he smoked herb tobacco!"

The second vein of humor that runs throughout is Coal's transparent unreliability as narrator. McGrath uses Coal's unreliability to set up a kind of dramatic irony that is consistently amusing. The downside of this technique, though, is that it undermines the suspense/mystery structure of the novel. The structure suggests that readers should be surprised by the ending, but this isn't possible, because we see through Sir Hugo Coal in the first few pages of the book.

In the end, it's a book I neither regret nor recommend. It has a few amusing moments, spread over far longer a length than the material warrants. ( )
  goodmanbrown | Oct 15, 2008 |
I read "The Grotesque" over the festive season, and its delicious gruesomeness and gothic atmosphere made it quite suitable reading.

It's 1949. Our narrator is Sir Hugo Coal, curmudgeon, former amateur palaentologist and owner of the crumbling stately home of Crook, now wheelchair bound and paralysed. Coal recalls the arrival at Crook of Fledge the butler and his wife while he is working on a talk for the Royal Society about his great discovery, the dinosaur Phlegmosaurus carbonensis.

Sir Hugo immediately suspects Fledge is up to no good, even more so when Sidney Giblet, Coal's daughter's fiancé, disappears.

McGrath's main achievement in the book is the character of Sir Hugo, a splendidly curmudgeonly creation. It's fairly easy to see his unreliability as a narrator and I'd like to have perhaps needed to work a little more to see through the web Sir Hugo spun during his narrative. Consequently, I guessed the ending well before I got there.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book; McGrath isn't an author you'd read for great plotting IMO, his appeal relies on characterization and atmosphere. This isn't his finest hour (of the novels of his I've read, that would be "Spider"), but it's not bad at all and laced with wonderfully dark humour. ( )
  Grammath | Jan 2, 2008 |
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Patrick McGrathprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Schuchart, MaxTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
La natura è un tempio ove pilastri viventi emettono talvolta parole confuse. L'uomo la attraversa tra foreste di simboli, che lo osservano con sguardi familiari. CHARLES BAUDELAIRE. Les Fleurs du Mal
Nature is a temple in which living columns sometimes emit confused words. Man approaches it through forests of symbols, which observe him with familiar glances.
-- BAUDELAIRE
Dedication
A Orsolya
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(for Orsolya)
First words
Ho avuto molto tempo libero, negli ultimi mesi, per riflettere sul mio primo incontro con Fledge e sul perchè egli abbia sviluppato nei miei confronti un'antipatia così immediata e intensa.
I have had much leisure in the past months to reflect on my first encounter with Fledge, and why he formed such an immediate and intense antipathy toward me. Butlers, I think, are born, not made...
Quotations
I do not enter lightly into the foibles and whimsicalities of others, I do not suffer fools gladly, I seem able, in conversation, only to needle or be needled.
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Book description
Something is rotten at Crook, the decaying English manor house that is the setting for McGrath's exuberantly spooky novel. Fledge, the butler, is getting intimate with the mistress. Fledge's wife is getting intimate with the claret. Sidney Giblet, the master's prospective son-in-law, has disappeared. And the master himself - the one-time gentleman naturalist Sir Hugo Coal - is watching it all in a state of helpless fury, since he is paralyzed in a wheelchair, unable to move or speak.

How did Sir Hugo end up as a fuming grotesque? What happened to poor Sidney, whose bones soon turn up in a nearby marsh? And how reliable is Sir Hugo's conviction that the sleek, insinuating Fledge is behind it all?
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679776214, Paperback)

This exuberantly spooky novel, in which horror, repressed eroticism, and sulfurous social comedy intertwine like the vines in an overgrown English garden, is now a major motion picture, starring Alan Bates, Sting, and Theresa Russell.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:24:21 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

The set-up is macabre: a distinguished paleontologist is brain-damaged and slowly turning into a vegetable. He cannot speak, but narrates an interior monologue of all he sees and hears: a lot of sexual shenanigans and a particularly grisly murder, all centered around "Fledge," the butler, who has ambitions. The stylistic joke is that all these horrors take place in a quaint, genteel English country setting, where the village is "Pock-on-the-Fling," the pub, "The Hodge and Purlet" and the barrister, "Sir Fleckley Tome." However deadly the deed, the language is always decorous and impeccably mannered.… (more)

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