Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Sad Tale Of The Brothers Grossbart - Jesse Bullington

 It is said ' never judge a book by it's cover '. And yet for once I disagree, because the cover to The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart  is quite simply the best, coolest, most original cover to a book I've ever seen. The puny little picture I've posted here doesn't do it justice. To be honest you have to pick the book up and move it about to get the full effect.

 Like all novels in a library I just pulled it out of the shelf on a whim. And yet as soon as I saw that cover I instantly knew it was going home with me. This is Jesse Bullington's debut novel and just on the strength of this cover I also brought home his second novel The Enterprise of Death. Now be warned neither novel is for the faint hearted, easily offended or the squeamish!! Seriously these two novels are bawdy, gross, graphic, blasphemous, bloodthirsty and just sheer straight out fun!!

 If you cross Quentin Tarantino and Guillermo Del Toro with the Brothers Grimm then this is what you would get. What Jesse Bullington has done is re-imagined the Middle Ages with its inherent mythology and ignorance and turned it into a Grimm's Fairy Tale for adults. T. H .White done a similar re-imagining of the Middle ages and the Tale of King Arthur in his magisterial masterpiece The Once and Future King. But Bullington's vision is much darker and plays heavily on the ignorance of the times.

 So what's it about? In essence it is about two brothers from the region of West Germany in the mid-13th century. They are a couple of ignorant, illiterate, uneducated, uncouth, bawdy murderous swine who can't see what low lifes they are!! After they murder a young family at the start of the novel, these two grave robbers by profession decide to go south and attempt to get to Egypt, where they have grand designs on the tombs there. On the way, and in between their internecine bickering, the two brothers encounter all manner of vile creatures. All lifted straight from Middle Age ignorance and mythology of which the Brothers Grimm immortalised so well.

 There are witches, demons, fallen priests, a mermaid and that demon again! Included is copious amounts of vomiting, cursing, killing, grossness and other goings on. The first creature they met confounds the brothers and the reader isn't quite sure what it is. Suffice to say the brothers kill it but nor before one is infected by touching the creature's fur. The healthy brother carries him to a near by house which is inhabited by a witch. Well from here on the novel really opens up and throws out all stops in it gross and lewdness! The witch says to the healthy brother she will cure the sick brother only if he 'services' her! The brother confesses to being a good catholic and doesn't believe in sex before marriage. He is too embarased to admit he is a virgin in other words!

 The dumb Grossbart actually believes he and his brother are good men who have been done wrong. The witch seemingly accepts this, but tricks him into drinking a potion that makes her appear sexually desirable to him, even though her appearance is the same. What follows is a hilarious sexscapade as the brother ' services ' the ugly old hag in all sorts of ways. No orifice is left untouched and no position  untried!. At once stage he ' services ' her with his tongue and as he is doing so the potion wears off! Imagine the vomiting that occurred!! When she then offers him some food that he rejects she quite tells him he had just ' eaten ' worse!! Well if this scene puts you off then this novel is not for you and you should stay clear of it!!

 From here the dastardly brothers encounter a shape changing demon which they nearly kill. In the process it harbours a grudge against the two. It, and the father of the young murdered family, join forces and pursue the brothers all the way to Egypt, and a final confrontation. But before that the brothers pick up a fallen priest who debates theology with them. These two numb nuts honestly believe they are the height of religious fervour and consider themselves holier than the Pope! It is hilarious as the two squabble among themselves as to who is holier than the other. On the way they pick up an unusual female passenger who has a mysterious voice that lures men to the nearest water.

 Of course she is a mermaid and her ' owner ' is going south as well. On the way several men die mysteriously in very small pools of water. Later the brothers are rid of her mid-Mediterranean and eat her tail!! But before this bawdy sea faring expedition the book hits a palpable flat spot. It is my only criticism of the novel. Once the brothers hit Italy and find lodgings the book slows right down for about 5 or 6 chapters. When in Italy almost nothing happens except for a few fights and an encounter with an Arab who can't speak his own language. I slogged my way through these chapters and it really brought the otherwise swift narrative to a screaming halt. Unfortunately once the Brothers leave Italy it takes the reader a while to get back into the swing of the novel and its bawdiness. This is unfortunate because the ship bound scene is quite good but as the reader is just getting their swing back it ends.

 The brothers are now in Egypt and create all sorts of blasphemes against Islam as they seemingly mount there own two man Crusade( ably helped by their warped priest friend who has now deified the pair!! ). The novel ends with them vanquishing the disgruntled demon and father who have been pursuing them. But not before one final grave robbery which goes wrong and the brothers are entombed, but still bickering!!

 This is one of the most astonishingly original novels I have ever read! It is NOT for all tastes though! I kid you not. If you are easily offended then steer well clear of this, Jesse Bullington's debut novel. But if you are extremely open  minded and want something totally original then I recommend this no end. You will grossed out and yet laugh about it at the same time. The only let down is the way the novel comes to a screeching halt about half way through and goes off the boil. It comes back on later, but reading the chapters in between was a real chore.

 Stunning just stunning in its originality, bawdiness, and general slap in the face to political correctness. If you are open minded enough then you just cannot pass up the chance to read this novel. Bullington's next novel is just as gross and bawdy, and if anything even stronger.

 Amazon has this with 4/5 stars from 42 customer reviews. I'd agree with that and would have given it a perfect 5, if it wasn't for the slack part in the middle, which slowed the novel down.


  1. Sounds real interesting, I like a lot of lewdness and bawdiness.

  2. Well then you'll looooovvveee this!! It is so original that it is well worth getting a hold of.

  3. I read this book a couple of years ago and couldn't for the life of me remember the name or the author. After rattling my brain i managed to recall that particularly horrid scene with the old lady, did a quick search and luckily this review popped up and revealed the name for me! Fantastic review and yes I found the middle to be an utter drag, almost like it was an awful sequel dragging out their escapade with little to no enthusiasm.