week 5: The Grotesque – Patrick McGrath


THE UNRELIABLE NARRATOR – seminar with Jonathan Barnes, 27.10.11



‘I want to know if men realise when they are insane.’  (‘The Doll’)


Reading Patrick McGrath’s new-gothic short novel, The Grotesque, I am startled by the uncanny resonances with Daphne Du Maurier’s short story, ‘The Doll’, as if perhaps one could have been inspired by the other.

Precise images seem to be almost exactly replicated from one story in another.


‘The Doll’ is the first person account of a macabre story of a man who meets and subsequently becomes obsessed with a talented and tormented violin virtuoso. The brief intense relationship, her secret and her loss will eventually madden him.


‘The feeling of urgent, cruelly blocked desire became almost unbearable.’ (The Grotesque)



The whole premise of The Grotesque and its story as recounted by its grossly unreliable narrator, Sir Hugo, could not be more accurately summed up than by the preamble to ‘The Doll’ in its own foreword,


‘Whether the wild improbabilities of the story are true, or whether the whole is but the hysterical product of a diseased mind, we shall never know.’


‘Human enough, damnably lifelike, with a foul, distinctive personality, but a doll.’ (‘The Doll’)


‘a pitiful, motionless, misshapen man’ with ‘a cataleptic fixity of posture,’ ‘severe masking’ and ‘a blank lizardlike stare’ (The Grotesque)

‘He was a machine – something worked by screws – he was not alive, not human – but terrible, ghastly.’ (‘The Doll’)



I am tempted to say that McGrath must surely be giving a knowing nod to Du Maurier. And yet, ‘The Doll’, though written in 1937 was lost for over 70years and very recently was published for the first time.


‘and by the time I arose the next morning, it was a mere ghost of itself, a stiff breeze’  (The Grotesque)



Has anyone else read this and also thought they bear startling similarities?






wordpress stats
%d bloggers like this: