“A rather bizarre incident occurred.”
The narrator of The Grotesque is Sir Hugo Coal–the rather unpleasant, self-important, domineering owner of Crook Manor. Sir Hugo–now wheelchair-bound and unable to communicate–narrates the events that took place at the manor a few months previously beginning with his daughter Cleo’s engagement to the effete Sidney Giblet, Giblet’s subsequent disappearance, and the police investigation conducted by the rather ineffectual Inspector Limp. Sir Hugo obsesses about his new butler, Fledge, and he is convinced not only that Fledge intends to usurp his place at the manor, but also that Fledge has managed to awaken the long-dead passionate longings of Lady Harriet Crook. To Sir Hugo, the sly and sneaky Fledge is the evil cause of all the mysterious occurrences at Crook Manor.
Patrick McGrath’s characters are all well-developed and original. The butler, Fledge, glides silently and efficiently from room to room, while his wife, Doris (the object of Sir Hugo’s odd fantasies), swigs from the bottle as often as she can manage. Sir Hugo had my interest from page one of this novel with his consistent nastiness–beginning with his glee over the death of Rupert Brooke, and his insistence on forcing the servants to feed his pet toad, Herbert (named after his father-in-law) maggots on the dining room table. Obviously, Sir Hugo is odd, and McGrath skillfully unravels his tale of murder through the mind of his egotistical, bizarre, protagonist. The novel lost some interest for me towards the end, and its strength was in the characters.