Gormenghast

blissblogger

Well-known member
Anyone into the Mervyn Peake trilogy?

I had a second-hand Penguin copy of the first one for about 25 years - it was already yellowing when I picked it up, and it just got browner and browner and less appealing to handle. Eventually I chucked it out, unread.

But then this summer I saw the whole trilogy in a Penguin box set in an Oxfam - when I say 'box set' I mean a flimsy cubicle of scuffed cardboard into which the paperbacks are shunted. Something about the daftness of buying all three books when I'd failed to read even the first appealed to me. And then I found myself with three browny-yellowing paperbacks balefully challenging me from the shelf.

So I took the plunge finally.... and I'm loving it. I may actually finish Titus Groan this time, and then it'll be on to the other two.

The things that stand out are Peake's abnormally developed and intricate powers of visual description - his sense of space and architecture.

And then the pungency of the characterisation.

I'm enjoying the unsettled blend of fantasy and realism. The concreteness of the description ensures that nothing feels fanciful. As of yet there's no supernatural or mystical element I can discern. It's a cut above Tolkien in that regard. It's "Medieval" but modern at the same time. Everything is grotty and decrepit and corrupt.

I wonder if (c.f. Orwell writing 1984 as a kind of version of 1948) that's because it's a literary osmosis of the grot and decrepitude of Britain during WW2 and the immediate post-war years.

It's tempting to divine a political allegory in the Gormenghast world, but that feels reductive.
 
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subvert47

I don't fight, I run away
Anyone into the Mervyn Peake trilogy?

Yes :)

As gothic fantasy I think it's unparalleled. And the writing.... he chooses each word with the precision of a poet.

The first book is the best though. The second is more plot driven. The third, well, see what you think of the third. Peake was already struggling with his health by then.

The four-part BBC series (2000) is also very much worth watching. Not least for the casting, which is inspired.

I love the theme tune as well...

 

okzharp

Well-known member
The things that stand out are Peake's abnormally developed and intricate powers of visual description - his sense of space and architecture.

And then the pungency of the characterisation.

I'm enjoying the unsettled blend of fantasy and realism. The concreteness of the description ensures that nothing feels fanciful. As of yet there's no supernatural or mystical element I can discern. It's a cut above Tolkien in that regard. It's "Medieval" but modern at the same time. Everything is grotty and decrepit and corrupt.

Yes. This is it.

re his sense of space/architecture. I always liked this bit on the castle... so much that I had it copied into a googledoc of cool bits.

"Over their irregular roofs would fall throughout the seasons, the shadows of time-eaten buttresses, of broken and lofty turrets, and, most enormous of all, the shadow of the Tower of Flints. This tower, patched unevenly with black ivy, arose like a mutilated finger from among the fists of knuckled masonry and pointed blasphemously at heaven."

His sentences often feel gutsy and ornate and rich and delicious and a little decrepit. Steak tartare served on cracked bone china.
 

jenks

thread death
This almost made me want to read them
 

IdleRich

IdleRich
Thought we already had a thread on this? Whatever... when I was a kid I think I got the audio book read by Sting for my birthday... turned out I couldn't concentrate whole listening but I was intrigued so I bought the books and read em.
 

blissblogger

Well-known member
Yes :)

As gothic fantasy I think it's unparalleled. And the writing.... he chooses each word with the precision of a poet.

The first book is the best though. The second is more plot driven. The third, well, see what you think of the third. Peake was already struggling with his health by then.

The four-part BBC series (2000) is also very much worth watching. Not least for the casting, which is inspired.

Yes I'd heard that it's dwindling by the third installment. The second one is considered almost as good as the first, right?

Was wondering if the TV series could possibly be any good. I will give it a go once I've got through all three of the books.
 

blissblogger

Well-known member
Yes. This is it.

re his sense of space/architecture. I always liked this bit on the castle... so much that I had it copied into a googledoc of cool bits.

"Over their irregular roofs would fall throughout the seasons, the shadows of time-eaten buttresses, of broken and lofty turrets, and, most enormous of all, the shadow of the Tower of Flints. This tower, patched unevenly with black ivy, arose like a mutilated finger from among the fists of knuckled masonry and pointed blasphemously at heaven."

His envisioning of the Field of Stones is breathtaking.

> His sentences often feel gutsy and ornate and rich and delicious and a little decrepit. Steak tartare served on cracked bone china.

Was wondering whether there is a Decrepit Nobility continuum.... Sir Henry at Rawlinson End, the audio-book / records and the film, would be a more recent addition.... are there precursors?
 

IdleRich

IdleRich
Yes I'd heard that it's dwindling by the third installment. The second one is considered almost as good as the first, right?

Was wondering if the TV series could possibly be any good. I will give it a go once I've got through all three of the books.

I think I gave up on the third, he leaves the castle which was in a sense the best character.

Are there four books though? I didn't know that. Was one later or unfinished or something?
 

IdleRich

IdleRich
Yes I'd heard that it's dwindling by the third installment. The second one is considered almost as good as the first, right?

Was wondering if the TV series could possibly be any good. I will give it a go once I've got through all three of the books.

I remember it had quite a lot of hype when it came out. Think I was at uni. Jonathan Rhys-Myers was Steerpike. I watched it with friends who had never read the books and I think they were confused. Honestly can't recall how good it was, I'm thinking not great not terrible.
 

IdleRich

IdleRich
His envisioning of the Field of Stones is breathtaking.

> His sentences often feel gutsy and ornate and rich and delicious and a little decrepit. Steak tartare served on cracked bone china.

Was wondering whether there is a Decrepit Nobility continuum.... Sir Henry at Rawlinson End, the audio-book / records and the film, would be a more recent addition.... are there precursors?

M John Harrison wrote that strange series of books on Virconium or whatever it's called. Strange cos in every book the world is different, the characters are the same people but change completely. Anyway, in one of the books there is a bit that really stood out to me where they visit this faded nobleman living in poverty in his collapsing tower, he serves terrible food on posh plates. It stuck in my head more than the rest of the book - books even - which are long forgotten. That bit had a real sadness to it whereas most of the rest of it struggled to penetrate the cleverness of the games he was playing and actually touch the reader.

There is a film called Narcissus and Psyche which at time feels like an elegy to the nobility of Europe... dying out alone in their castle retreats with staff reduced to a bare bones.

I think it's a theme that is touched on in many books and films but I'm struggling a little to think of things where it's the main focus. Must be some though if I put my mind to it.
 

IdleRich

IdleRich
There is a film called Narcissus and Psyche which at time feels like an elegy to the nobility of Europe... dying out alone in their castle retreats with staff reduced to a bare bones.

I think that the gist of it is that the two titular characters are somehow ageless and they have this recurring love/hate relationship as they meet again and again over a period of 150 years or so. The full version is about four and a half hours long.

 

subvert47

I don't fight, I run away
Are there four books though? I didn't know that. Was one later or unfinished or something?

There are actually five. A little one, Boy In Darkness, which is about Titus in Gormenghast. And a manuscript fragment, Titus Awakes, which his wife later turned into a story using his notes.
 

IdleRich

IdleRich
It was Titus Awakes which I saw mentioned and was unaware of, that explains why. Although it seems I was even more unaware of Boy in Darkness for some reason.
 

IdleRich

IdleRich
There seems to be a suspicion of a slight dead horse flogging element creeping in here... what else did Peake write? Has anyone read any of his non-Gormenghast stuff?
 

subvert47

I don't fight, I run away
There seems to be a suspicion of a slight dead horse flogging element creeping in here... what else did Peake write? Has anyone read any of his non-Gormenghast stuff?

He wrote a lot of nonsense verse (if you like that sort of thing). Plus another story, Mr Pye, which is rather fun. It's about a man whose struggle between good and evil manifests in physical attributes (wings vs. horns).

I also have a very nice version of Alice in Wonderland with his illustrations 🥰
 

IdleRich

IdleRich
He wrote a lot of nonsense verse (if you like that sort of thing). Plus another story, Mr Pye, which is rather fun. It's about a man whose struggle between good and evil manifests in physical attributes (wings vs. horns).

I also have a very nice version of Alice in Wonderland with his illustrations 🥰
I can stomach that sort of thing yeah. I guess.
 
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