Grendel’s Mother

Written by Susan Signe Morrison
Review by Theresa Tomlinson

The inspiration for this novel comes from Beowulf, the first great epic poem in the Old English language. I admit to having something of a bias, as this time period is of special interest to me, and I have felt some sympathy for the character of Grendel’s mother, usually portrayed as a monster.  Grendel’s Mother is a stunning, imaginative response to the many questions the iconic poem leaves unanswered. The writer’s deep knowledge of the Norse Sagas and the world of Beowulf spills from every page.

A recently bereaved mother raises a baby girl found who was floating in the sea in a basket. Brimhild grows up to be intelligent, strong and perceptive. She learns healing skills from her wise-woman aunt and, as she matures into womanhood, she catches the eye of King Hrothgar. Brimhild becomes his queen, and it is her influence that brings about the creation of the magnificent hall named Heorot.

All seems set for happiness when Brimhild gives birth to her son, Grendel, but the creeping menace and darkness of the original poem develops here, too, and in a most human, believable manner. This is the hidden story of the women behind the Beowulf saga. The author does not flinch from the horror and violence that is there in the original version, nor does she stray far from the initial narrative, recreating traditional rhythms and alliteration, whilst still offering us a clear and accessible tale. The conclusion is both satisfying and uplifting, neatly linking the narrative to our present worldview.

I recommend this story to any reader who has an interest in the Anglo-Saxon world.