Cover Image: Beowulf

Beowulf

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I was so excited to read this and really took the time to enjoy it properly, reading it out loud to my cats! I saved the introduction until afterwards, a lesson I learnt when reading Emily Wilson's Odyssey. It's interesting to think that Grendel's mother is Headley's character of interest yet that section I found less powerful. I was surprised by how engaged I was with the fireside chats and the political histories, sometimes this can feel like filler or in-jokes for long dead societies, but that wasn't the case here. I love the lack of physical descriptions of Grendel and his mother, allowing imaginations to run free. The lad/bro interpretation was clever, Beowulf as a selfish leader made that appropriate and it brought out a lot of the humour.
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DNF @ 28% - I found the language choices of the translation so jarring that I couldn’t continue reading it. Every modern word used took me out of the narrative and made it difficult to connect with the story. I think I could have liked it, but the language choices just didn’t work for me. This would be great for anyone who struggles with older language translations.
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From the startling first word (“Bro!”) this translation is joyous, full of energy, and makes reading this ancient poem a treat. The language is a mix of the archaic and contemporary that somehow makes it feel timeless. I think it will reward rereading too.
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"Bro, Fate can fuck you up"

A fantastic new translation by Maria Dahvana Headley. The language trips easily off the tongue as the story flows. The modern slang adds clarity and emphasis to the translation, as well as reinforcing the feel of drunken storytelling (with plenty of manly boasts!). 

I also found the foreword interesting - Headley is clearly passionate about the poem, and compelling in the arguments she makes for certain translation choices - Grendel's mother is a 'warrior-woman' rather than the whore or monster of some translations.

I suspect the slang will become dated in years to come, however right now this is a very enjoyable read, and a good introduction to Beowulf. I highly recommend it.
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I loved this translation, but I also did not finish reading this translation. That sounds contradictory, but let me explain.

Before I dive into the actual review itself, there is something you must know about me. I am intimitately familiar with Beowulf. I studied English at university, and took several courses on Old English. I have read Beowulf before, I have had to translate passages of Beowulf and I have had to justify the translations I made. Moreover, I wrote my Bachelor Thesis on Beowulf. So to say I know Beowulf would be a bit of an understatement. 

Now, why am I telling you this before I tell you my thoughts on Headley's translation? Because I did not finish reading this translation. I made it about 52% of the way through the translation. For now, I have made the decision to put this on the backburner. I can always return to it at a later time.

But, that is not to say it is not an excellent translation, because it is. I am just terrible at reading things that I already know. And I know Beowulf. So while the translation itself is, of course, fresh, and new, and exciting, the story is still the same. And because I am terrible at re-reading things, this translation lost my interest despite it being excellent.

Headley's translator note prefaces the translation, and it is a delightful note. I usually skip over these notes, but I felt compelled to read this one and I am glad I did. The note starts with an explanation of Headley's love for Beowulf and how it started. But what I loved most of all is how her observations about the poem. She states: "Beowulf is not a quiet poem".

Headley states that she wanted to create a translation that "reflects access to the entirety of the English word-hoard". And this she does, as she uses a beautiful combination of archaic words and modern words, and words which have new connotations in the modern day. 

The translation is in verse, and you really get a sense of influence from slam poetry and rap music in this translation. Headley has kept a lot of the internal rhyme, like the original has, but also incorporates new rhythms. Moreover, Headley has kept, but modernised, quite a lot of the compound nouns. Compound nouns are nouns created from two separate nouns, which together form a new meaning. A famous example is a whale-road, meaning the sea or the ocean.

The translation already starts of with a kicker, because she translates the famous first word (hwæt) as "Bro", a word -- Headley explains in the note -- which commands attention. I just loved this choice for translation. 

Furthermore, the translation is full of these modern phrases. For example: "We all know a boy can't daddy until his daddy's dead", or "daddying for decades". Here, the usage of daddy is in the more modern sense of someone being a dominant man, and therefore the boss. There are many more examples I could pick from, but I want to keep them a surprise if you end up reading this translation.

One of my favourite things in this translation are Headley's compound nouns. She translated a lot of them in a way that make sense for a 21st century reader. She uses modern nouns to create the same ancient meanings. For example, "barstool-brother" just really tickles my fancy.

There were many, and I mean many, hilarious phrases in this translation. Headley made this old text modern, whilst managing to keep the epic proportions and feelings of the original text. An excellent effort and no small feat.

If you want to read a translation of Beowulf , and want to read a fresh, exciting, feminist, hilarious, modern-phrases-using, version of this old tale, this translation is the one for you! I fully intend on eventually finishing this translation, so perhaps this review will get an update in the future.
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A beautifully translated epic story; "Beowulf" is a complex poem, and a bit intimidating, yet reads like modern fantasy.
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For a foundational English text which has already seen masterful translations from the likes of Seamus Heaney, revitalising 'Beowulf' may seem at first like a thankless task. The story is riveting, of course, but how to bring a text which is so familiar into the 21st Century, and how, indeed, do we find humour in a book which has been pondered over repeatedly for hundreds of years?
Maria Dahvana Headley's version of 'Beowulf' achieves the impossible it seems. 'Bro!' it begins. 'Tell me we still know how to talk with kings.'
Such an undertaking (i.e. infusing something so ancient with social media slang and feminist discourse) might well have seemed frivolous in less capable hands, but Headley is an accomplished novelist and scholar, and has in many ways been building towards a project of this magnitude for some time now.
Brave, potentially controversial, sometimes incendiary, this is the translation of 'Beowulf' to get if you want your bratty teenager to love literature.
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Thank you NetGalley for this ARC! 

I never saw the appeal of Beowulf, especially after I read the Collins Classics translation; I despised it. But Maria Bahvana Headley does a much better job of taking something and making it much more readable, while also preserving the beauty of her language. However, the variation in her language also made Beowulf sound like a dude-bro (which I lowkey love).

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

"Fire comes from the same family as famine. It can feast unfulfilled forever"
"Any season is a season for blood, if you look at it in the right light."

And this quote which I will include everywhere I can for the rest of my life because it is iconic:

"daddying for decades after his own daddy died."


But I'll be honest with you, I've tried two versions of Beowulf now, and, while this was much better (and was so much easier to read and to follow and understand what was happening) I won't go back. Do I know a friend who would love this, absolutely! 

If you like Beowfulf, you'll probably love this translation.
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I have not read any of the multitude of translations of this epic poem. My rudimentary knowledge of the narrative comes from the film that was made about 15 years ago. I seem to remember Neil Gaiman’s name in the credits for writing and producing, but I may be wrong it was so long ago.

Whether he had anything to do with the screenplay or not I remember enjoying it immensely.

Without having read the original, I cannot compare this version to it, but the author, in a wonderful introduction, explains her intentions and reasons for how she has written this contemporary translation.

A quick word or two about the poem.

Hrothgar, king of the Danes has built this wonderful mead hall, in which he and all his warriors and kinsman, can get rolling drunk, reliving there halcyon years. However, before they can enjoy this wonderful mead hall, which seems to be known about far and wide, a huge troll like creature named Grendel turns up uninvited and proceeds to eat anybody he can get his hands on, stuffing the rest into a sack to save for later.

Hrothgar and his men try but fail to slay this monstrous beast, and Hrothgar is forced to close the mead hall, despairingly boarding up the main entrance.

This brings the hero of the poem, Beowulf, from across the sea, I told you that the mead hall had a reputation known far and wide. Beowulf and his trusty band of warriors promise to slay Grendel for Hrothgar. Beowulf in true heroic fashion defeats and slays Grendel with his bare hands.

However just when you think all is well, along comes Grendel’s mother seething for vengeance. Grendel’s mother is every bit equal to Beowulf in the martial department and a truly epic battle between the two ensues.

In a nutshell this is the story, there is a little more involving a dragon, but I do not want to spoil it for anybody, like me, who does not know the story.

The poem itself is beautifully written. It flows along swiftly, and the author’s use of alliteration is phenomenal. Hearing this read aloud from a skilled orator would be magic.

Maria Dahvana Headley has done a magnificent job of translating an epic poem written in Old English, giving it a cotemporary spin, and bringing it to everyday readers. Writing it in a beautiful style, that is a joy to read, even for those who very rarely read poetry. I know nothing about poetry and verse, but I do know that this is such an enjoyable read. As I said I cannot compare this to the original poem, I have a strong feeling I would struggle to even understand the first lines, but this translation is a wonderful read for everybody. 4 stars!

One thing that did surprise me is that it is marketed as a feminist translation. But to me it still comes across as a very masculine poem. Not that there is anything wrong with this, I just struggled to find feminist undertones. I thought that perhaps we might find Grendel’s mother more humanized and grieving for her son. Very hard to tell with no knowledge of the original.

Another point is that the language uses swearing, which I believe ties into the contemporary male braggadocio and adds a great deal to the tone that Headley is trying to achieve. Still if you are not a fan of “bad language” it may be an issue.
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"And yet.
Possessions bring no peace. So many wars, so many kingdoms, so much calamity.”

So says Maria Dahvana Headley in the foreword of her translation of Beowulf . And she is correct. To strive to have more possessions takes effort. To retain them, even more so. Ms. Headley’s introduction to the history of this epic poem is brilliant. There is no other way to describe it. If her knowledge and passion for this poem and the background to it don’t inspire you to at least consider reading it (whether or not you do), I don’t know what will. Her enthusiasm reminded me of some great teachers that I had in highschool. Particularly my Year 12 English teacher, Mr. Davidson. People that make it a joy to learn, a pleasure. To grow, to go back in time and be awed by what went before us.

I have to admit to being a lazy reader. While I know of many books which can be classed as “classics”, and have at least a basic knowledge of them, in all honesty I can count the number that I’ve read on one hand. Same for the writers who inform us of times long past, such as Tacitus and Aeschylus. The unknown author of the original Beowulf. We’ve not crossed paths since high school.

So why Beowulf and why now? Quite simply, I read Mieke’s review (on Goodreads) a few months ago and enjoyed it very much. I’ve been looking for “shorter” reads to kickstart my 2021 reading, and I remembered this book and her review and thought, hmmmmm...interesting. Maybe. Why not. Let’s do this. Time to expand my horizons.

”Privilege is the way men prime power, the world over.”

I couldn’t help but be caught up in the cadence and rhythm of the writing. It begs to be read out loud. This would be a great work of performance art. A short, snappy piece that would easily catch the audience’s attention. I was swept along like by a giant wave reading this.

The translation is fresh and written in modern language, with plenty of colloquialisms. I enjoyed that touch. It gave it an immediacy and an urgency. Parts of it made me smile with the use of urban terms. It shouldn’t, but it works. This is a very blokey poem, testosterone filled. It’s practically dripping off the pages. Parts are bloody and brutal. Visceral. There's liberal use of the word "bro". There are swear words. Many swear words. But fate is always spelt with a capital F.

”...yes, yes, bro!”
”Unlucky, fucked by Fate.”
”There’s a dress code! You’re denied. I’m the Danes’ doorman; this is my lord’s door... No! You’re not on the guest list.”
”...made sashimi of some sea monsters.”
”The hostess was impressed by Beowulf’s boasts. Brass balls, if nothing else.”
”I’m the strongest and the boldest, and the bravest and the best.”
”Bro, Fate can fuck you up.”
(My personal favourite. I can see t-shirts printed with this slogan. Cutoff versions being worn at the gym)

I don’t know that I understood it all. I cannot pretend that I did. The myriad of names confused me. But this didn’t lessen my enjoyment. The scenes were vivid and descriptive. It was the perfect accompaniment to the raging storm which hit Sydney late this arvo.

I cannot compare this to any other translation of Beowulf, so I’ve no idea if this version pleases the purists. It’s clear to me that it was a mammoth task to undertake this interpretation, and that it was done with care and love. I have to say that I’m perfectly happy to have read this, and that I’ve no need to seek out any other variants. For me, this was a fun, raucous ride. 3.5 🌟pulsing stars. And a flagon of mead.

PUBLICATION DATE: 05.Jan.2021

”Boy, enjoy the feast. Take your place in the tale of my heroes and their hopes.”

Many thanks to NetGalley, the publisher Scribe UK and the author Maria Dahvana Headley for the opportunity to read this advance copy.

My review has also been posted on Goodreads. Please drop by for a visit!
https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/3745476925?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1

#Beowulf #NetGalley
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A fresh and invigorating rendition of Beowulf, Headley drags the infamous tale from the Scandinavian mead halls of 1000 years ago to our dingy bars of the 21st century.

I have read a number of Beowulf translations (for university as well as for my own interests) and was curious to see what else could be done with it. With every new translation of the infamous Beowulf comes new interpretations and characterisations. Particularly, the choice of how to start the tale is one that varies between translators: some go for a casual but still demanding “Hey”, some for a more historic-sounding “Hark”. This version has opted for the apt – and hilarious – ‘Bro” and so this version starts as it means to go on. We are listening to this story from our own storytellers in our own drinking establishments (an old man perched precariously on a barstool, fifth drink in hand, all-too-willing to share a story. We’ve all met him.).

Instead of a direct translation, Headley goes more for a reimagining and invites a new generation of readers into the Beowulf canon. (Every main translation choice is detailed and given context in the excellent and illuminating Introduction). Most of these choices do work: “Bro, lemme say how fucked they were” is a particular favourite but on one or two occasions it does go too far. “Hashtag: blessed” is such an example.

Grendel’s unnamed mother is also rendered anew here: she is not a fanged and terrifying monster but instead a traditionally-armed and terrifying warrior. Any deviation from the traditional Beowulf depictions still makes sense, yet casts the story in a new and interesting light.
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“Bro! Tell me we still know how to talk about kings! In the old days, everyone knew what men were: brave, bold, glory-bound. Only stories now, but I’ll sound the Spear-Danes’ song, hoarded for hungry times.” - opening lines of ‘Beowulf’, 2021.

My thanks to Scribe U.K. for an eARC via of NetGalley of ‘Beowulf: a new translation’ by Maria Dahvana Headley in exchange for an honest review.

This was my first direct experience of the Old English epic poem, ‘Beowulf’ though was aware of its influence on writers such as J.R.R. Tolkien, whose own translation was published posthumously. I found Headley’s storytelling excellent and her use of modern language, including slang, refreshing and accessible. I felt that she embraced the spirit of the epic, bringing it vividly to life. I was especially taken with Beowulf’s encounter with the dragon.

In her Introduction Maria Dahvana Headley writes of her long love affair with ‘Beowulf’ that began when she came across an illustration of Grendel’s mother in a compendium of monsters. She eventually wrote a contemporary adaptation of ‘Beowulf’ - ‘The Mere-Wife’, with Grendel’s mother as its protagonist. It was nominated for the 2019 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel. 

In her research for that novel she read many translations and friends encouraged her to work on her own. This is the result. 

Will this very modern translation encourage newcomers to read other translations or adaptations of the epic? Well, I certainly feel more confident about doing so after reading it.

Headley’s Introduction also provides background on earlier translations and notes books that may be of interest to those seeking a deeper appreciation. In this respect I would expect that this book would appeal to educators and librarians as well as to general readers such as myself. 

I likely will buy the audiobook edition of ‘Beowulf: a new translation’ if it becomes available as I find hearing poetry a powerful experience and I plan to also seek out ‘The Mere-Wife’. 

4.5 stars rounded up to 5.
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This was a translation I wanted to like more than I did. It wasn't the feminism that alienated, but the modern language. It felt so cringey, so desperate to be different. Which is a perfectly reasonable aim, but it separated me from the text in a way that surprised me. I loved the sympathy for the monsters but that was it. I'm not sure I could recommend it.
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Emily Wilson gave new life to the Odyssey in 2017. Now it is time for Beowulf to meet his match in Maria Dahvana Headley. Like Wilson, Headley brims with modern word-play and lights the torch of gender equality. Which in literature simply means making the feminine humane. Once again, one is amazed at what a re-reading of the stories we think we know can offer, when told by new voices.

If you thought Beowulf was a bore anyway – perhaps you recall a dull english teacher – then fear not, because you are mistaken. The story is action-packed adventure with epic sword-play and decorous creatures of myth, which Headley’s talents are well suited to enriching. The Old English verse of alliterative ornamentation is here shaken up allowing for free verse and the odd rhyme scheme. Technicalities are not a burden. What shines through is a distilled poetic voice that has a tremendous clarity of world-vision. Some examples of exquisitely-lit scenes follow:

“Water reflects trees like tangled teeth, a gaping maw that, at night, is lit with flames in the flood.”

“The sun springs out of Heaven, leaving the celestial dome dark.”

“The sky sipped the smoke and smiled.”

Then there’s the witty irreverent aspect of Headley’s voice. Descriptively – The sashimi made of sea monsters – narratively – the use “Bro!” as an intonation based on hwæt – the use of expletives, especially in relation to wyrd – and the eccentric toying with compounds, which the OE is famous for – Life-lord, Earth-shaker, woe-walker, slaughter-slinger, and so on.

Yet perhaps more bold still, and whilst this isn’t a retelling but a translation, is how Headley interprets the feminine. This is given full force in her introduction, which I need not repeat here. But markedly, the dragon becomes a she, and Grendel’s mother takes on formidable characteristics; she is no longer just a “Monstrous hell-bride … swamp-thing from hell”, as Seamus Heaney put it in his version from 1999.

Come in from the cold and re-read the story you think you know. Change your status from onlooker to warrior, no longer fear the blast but instead be suicidal, run head-first in an emotional outburst and scar the dragon. Live out the poetry as if you were crowded around a bar listening to your pals shake the earth with their new lyrics. That much may be asked of us in this electric, possibly eccentric, yet certainly visionary new translation.

New readers welcome. And for those already Beowulf-versed, the more the better.
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I didn't get on with this at all, and I guess I might be too oldschool for this translation. 
The use of modern slang in there felt jarring and threw me out of the flow every single time - for example the shout "bro!" or the use of daddy/ daddying to describe a father. It felt forced, shoehorned in to make this appealing to a young audience.

I am not saying you need to use archaism if you're translating a medieval text.
I am saying that maybe I am just not the right kind of reader for this - and I am a linguist. This was not written for me. If this new translation gets new readers to this tale, and makes them enjoy it, it has a place in this world. It doesn't need to be liked by every reader.

If you're considering to read this, maybe see if you can get hold of a sample first.
The arc was provided by the publisher.
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As Maria Dahvana Headley states in the introduction to this book, there have been a lot of translations of Beowulf, the Old English epic poem about a warrior fighting monsters. This is a new translation, focusing on updating the verse rather than preserving its antiquity and giving some of the female figures—particularly Grendel's mother—a somewhat better treatment. Perhaps most notably, this version of Beowulf focuses a lot on the modern parallel of oral storytelling and frames the poem like some guy is telling you it in a bar (the poem's opening word, 'hwæt', becomes 'bro!').

I've studied Beowulf both in translation at secondary school and in the original during my undergrad English degree, so the story and general feel of the poem are very familiar, but this translation brings something else to the poem. Possibly it's the clash of old and new—modern slang like 'Hashtag: blessed' and archaisms like 'wyrm'—and the use of swearing and colloquial phrases to get across the meaning of certain lines and phrases which feels quite different to the Beowulf people might be used to. Occasionally the use of 'bro' throughout gets a bit grating, but it's interesting to see which parts could be translated into something much more modern and which stay sounding older.

There's probably some clever things to be said about some of the translation choices and the way this translation is framed, though it's too long since I've actually read another version of it for me to think of anything. I liked the fact that the repetitive nature of the storytelling in Beowulf is foregrounded by giving it the feel of some guy telling you a boring story, only the story is about fighting Grendel and his mother and a dragon.

As someone who loved Emily Wilson's translation of the Odyssey, it was enjoyable to get another modern translation that focuses on updating the language and making the concepts reverberate through time, rather than something that is a reimagining or retelling. This is a readable Beowulf in verse and one that really makes you think about why these warrior men spend so much time sitting around telling heroic stories to one another. I'm not sure what it would be like as an introduction to Beowulf but it's fun if you already know it and can imagine rolling your eyes as some guy tries to tell you the story.
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We all know a boy can't daddy until his daddy's dead.

I'll admit this is my first time reading a translation of Beowulf, but I think I picked a good one to start with. This reads like a labour of love from Maria Dahvana Headley, and a lot of thought had been put into the translation and how the story is presented to the reader. 

In the introduction, Headley states that Beowulf is a poem between brothers, commrades and close friends all trying to outdo each other with tales of daring over many, many pints. It's a poem that shouts from the rooftops, mixing every emotion possible within its verses - and I think Headley goes a great job at showcasing this. It uses a mix of contemporary slang (never did I expect to find phrases like 'hashtag blessed' and 'brass balls' in a classics translation) and classic phrases and literary methods to maintain the feel of the story and it's setting, yet making it accessible and fresh. The use of alliteration that is repeated throughout is especially clever, helping the text to flow and linking the story together. I also love the way Headley has interpreted Grendel's mother as the true warrior single mother she is. She's easily a match for Beowulf. He just had luck in his side. 

I will say that the story itself isn't amazing, and there's a lot of repetition as we hear a story once and then it's repeated again to another group of people. However, I can appreciate this for the important text it is, and the seeds of influence it's had on other classic fantasy stories. This is a fantastic translation for those new to the story of Beowulf, and opens the door to a text that might otherwise feel intimidating.
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I've never read Beowulf so i went into this new translation blind. I did like how it was written and the way the changes were made to this. The story was exciting and thrilling and kept the old world feeling that the original had.
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You know those books that you finish and immediately want to read again? That, for me, was The Kingdoms. And, yes, I did go back and reread it a day later. And, no, I still don’t know how I’m supposed to review this book.

I’m almost certain I said, after reading The Lost Future of Pepperharrow in February, that that was my favourite Natasha Pulley book. I’m fairly certain I said similar after finishing The Bedlam Stacks previously. So, this statement may not stand the test of time but I’ll say it anyway: The Kingdoms is my favourite Natasha Pulley book.

I definitely believe that it’s her best book yet, at least. It has an added punch to it that the others did not, as much as I did still love them. In part, I think that was the setting. In part, it was a lot more visceral and raw than previous books. Those had a gentleness to them that, while it wasn’t lacking here, it was less prevalent. I don’t know if I’m phrasing this in at all an understandable way — I just have a lot of feelings about this book and not many words.

Where Pulley’s other books are somewhat fabulist, this is solidly more on the science fiction end of things, involving time travel, changing the course of history, and other such things. We follow Joe, a man who, at the start of the book, has had a sudden onset of amnesia, who doesn’t know anything beyond his name and the moment he is currently living in. Then he receives a postcard that has been held for him for over 90 years, showing a picture of a lighthouse up in the Outer Hebrides. When, a few years later, the opportunity arises for him to travel to that lighthouse, he does so. Which is when strange things start to happen.

I think one of my favourite things about this book is the slow unspooling of the plot, which is typical of Pulley’s books, but works all the better here. Joe doesn’t know who he is, although Kite and Agatha seem to, so you don’t know who he is (although you have your suspicions. Actually one of the best things about rereading it was seeing the clues to the reveal all laid out, once you knew where to look). And when you get to the reveal, you think back and you think oh and it makes total sense (and also becomes about a thousand times more painful).

And, as ever, it’s a very character-driven novel. Possibly the balance is a little shifted, so that there is more plot driving it too, but it’s still very much focused on the characters. It definitely then helps that I loved the characters (okay, well, loved the characters I was supposed to love, because you aren’t catching me feeling the slightest bit positive about Lord Lawrence any time soon!), most notably Joe and Kite. I think it definitely helps though, with the latter, that you do get chapters in his POV. At times, on the first read, before I knew everything, he frustrated me, but those chapters helped (and the reveal… going back and re-evaluating it all).

I think, then, overall this is a book that, if you already loved Natasha Pulley, you will love this one. If this is your first introduction to Natasha Pulley, I think it’s an excellent one to start with.





Earlier this year, I read Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf and, in all honesty, it didn’t really stick with me. Maria Dahvana Headley’s, however, absolutely did, and even made me laugh out loud once or twice.

To be honest, my favourite part of any translation, particularly translations of classics, is the translator’s note. Maybe it’s an extension of my linguistics degree, but I love hearing just how the translator went about the translation, where and how they decided to deviate from previous translations, and why, and just discussions of choices of words. And here, I genuinely would have read a whole book-long translator’s note (similarly when I read Emily Wilson’s Odyssey translation a few months ago).

So, bearing in mind that I have only read the two translations of Beowulf, what I loved in this one was that it modernised the text, while staying true to it. Headley talks about this in the introduction, specifically her choice to use “bro” instead of something like “hark”, but I think that’s the primary reason I connected more with the story this time around. Modernising the text makes it a whole lot more accessible, and you don’t feel like you’re trogging through it at all. It’s a whole lot more fun to read.

So really, all I have to say more is that, if you want to pick up Beowulf and you don’t know which translation to start with, do yourself a favour and skip straight to this one.
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Headley has crafted a translation of Beowulf that is dynamic, fast-moving (in the first 60% or so, but the slowing down is the original poem, not the translator's effect), thrilling in places and which has some glorious renderings of Old English into a contemporary language that still contains rhythm, alliteration (so hard, that!) and a balance to the metre: 'He hurled the sword: / useless hoard-gilt. Let it shatter in the silt. / He'd fight like a man, and take her hand to hand, / his fingertips blueprinting her skin.' 

But I'm not sure what renders this a 'feminist' translation as blurbed? Headley is certainly aware of the gendered nature of this heroic tale but surely that's nothing new? She humanises Grendel's mother and makes her a warrior woman rather than a monster which works well but as a character, she doesn't get more than, at a guess, a few hundred lines at most in the poem. Headley does draw attention to the wiping out of women as individuals in some history and literature: 'And I hear he hand-clasped his daughter / (her name's a blur) to Onela' - that blurred name a sharp contrast to the heroic naming of Grendel and Beowulf himself. And the dragon becomes female. But is that all it takes to make this 'feminist'?

More prominent is the masculinised language of the text to foreground the way in which the world of the poem is ideologically founded on male homosociality - again, surely not a new insight? 'Bro!' is the opening word and, personally, I found this a bit too obvious especially since it is spoken by the bard or poet-narrator who thus becomes assimilated to the warrior-brotherhood of the characters. It also might be perceived as alienating female readers: where do we place ourselves in this world if even the teller of the heroic tale can only envisage a masculine audience for his words?

Some of the other word choices didn't work for me: the switching of registers from, for example, 'Dude, this was what they call a blood feud' (though love that dude/feud rhyme!), or 'Anyone who fucks with the Geats? Bro, they have to fuck with me' (great for a school classroom?), or 'Meanwhile, Beowulf gave zero shits' to the more formal tones of 'Grendel was the name of this woe-walker' or 'war was the wife Hrothgar wed first' (see, great alliteration) felt jarring to my ear. And, unfortunately, I couldn't help giggling at 'Beowulf knew he was a goner'... On the other hand, I loved the sly mischief of the dragon sleeping on her bed which is 'a treasure: a pile of preciouses' - wonderful!

Despite some misgivings, then, solely around some of the word choices, overall I'd say this is an engaging, accessible and wonderfully readable translation that thrusts us through the story, and it's particularly one which I'd recommend for schools or general readers - and if it sends more people back to Beowulf, then brilliant!
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