Bookish Matters

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.

—Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake

Titus is seven. His confines, Gormenghast. Suckled on shadows; weaned, as it were, on webs of ritual: for his ears, echoes, for his eyes, a labyrinth of stone: and yet within his body something other--other than this umbrageous legacy. For first and foremost he is child.

is the second book in the same-titled trilogy. It is a fantasy of manners published in 1950, written by Mervyn Peake. Ah, Mervyn Peake. His work is like nothing else I've ever read, simply incomparable. His prose is florid but beautiful. His characters are so unique and exaggerated that they are more caricatures. My favorite is Dr. Prunesquallor, "with his hyena laugh, his bizarre and elegant body, his celluloid face...His cardinal virtue? An undamaged brain."
Sometimes Peake's purple prose and long-windedness get in the way of the story, and his punctuation is atrocious, but sometimes words like "genius" come to mind while reading. This second book contains a soiree that shows Peake at the height of his comic powers, as well as a flood of epic proportions that turns Gormenghast Castle into an intricate and eerie aqueous playground. Or should I say battleground?

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