THE GROTESQUE by Patrick McGrath
Kirkus Star


Email this review


Deliciously stylish gothic-suspense first novel by McGrath (Blood and Water, 1988)--which, though spiced with many horror-story elements, does not trade on spine-chilling sensation but rather on a fiercely controlled humor and black brilliance. The present novel is the Waughesque story of a middle-aged married paleontologist and country squire, Sir Hugo Coal, and his new butler Fledge, who may or may not be a homosexual vampire. Fledge and his alcoholic wife Doris arrive from Africa and are hired by Sir Hugo's wife Harriet. Fledge is a slim, hidden creature, at first the perfect butler; his tall, bustless wife Doris, a raven-headed shy thing, only gradually reveals her alcoholism, which finally bursts into its full glory when she serves a marvelous halibut for dinner--completely uncooked. Meanwhile, Sir Hugo has had a cerebral accident and is wheelchair-bound. No one knows that he is not really a vegetable. The novel is his stream-of-consciousness rehearsal of events that led up to his burst vessel and of what he knows or imagines is going on around him as he sits staring paralytically at his beautifully carved fireplace. Among these events is the disappearance of his daughter Cleo's nincompoop fiancÇ, Sidney Giblet. Sir Hugo has seen Fledge kissing Sidney or Sidney kissing Fledge, he's not sure which, suspects Fledge has been blackmailing Sidney or Sidney Fledge, and that Fledge has murdered Sidney. Cleo begins breaking down with an undefined mental illness. Sir Hugo, who has not had sex with Harriet for 25 years because of his all-consuming passion for dinosaur bones, watches from his wheelchair while Fledge seduces Harriet and begins step by step replacing him as lord of the manor, finally giving up his butler's uniform altogether for a smartly tailored outfit. Along the way, it appears that Sidney has not simply sunk into Ceck Marsh but has actually been chopped up and fed to Sir Hugo's pigs--which in turn have been slaughtered for Christmas hams and been eaten by all and sundry, including Sidney's fabulously well-drawn mother, Mrs. Giblet. No more should be told. . . A one-sitting read--and it would make an absolutely smashing movie.

ISBN: 671-66509-X
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online: