Gormenghast

Mary Ann Dimand amaebi at iwon.com
Sat May 27 16:06:56 EDT 2000


Tarja Rainio said:

> I saw last night the BBC tv-production of the first two books in the
> Gormenghast trilogy by Mervyn Peake. I liked series very much and found it
> extremely well done.
>
> I have not read the books, and was wondering if I would like them? Have
any of
> you read these books and could you comment something on them.

I'd love to see that dramatization! I haven't yet seen the Archer's Goon
video, but I think that Gormenghast offers somewhat similar opportunities--
though with much less Rollick.

I have read the Gormenghast trilogy several times with great pleasure. I
found that my first reading required an investment in patience. Peake starts
right in the midst of action in a very puzzling place, and his prose is a
bit baroque. (The manners of speech of a number of his characters are yet
more so.) I understand that I am far from alone in feeling this effort, and
that quite a few people don't bother or resent it. Personally, I feel that
it's well worth the effort, and that Peake's style is completely appropriate
for his matter.

The first two books offer a fantastic array of strong and highly
differentiated characters, drama, and very pictorial prose. (This last may
not be surprising, I suppose, as Peake was a graphic artist as well as a
writer.) Readers who dislike bizarre events won't care for them, but I
shouldn't think this would be a problem for DWJ afficionados. :D

The third volume, Titus Alone, is quite differentiate in tone, structure and
matter from the first two. It's picaresque and much looser than the deeply
knotted Titus Groan and Gormenghast. (The room of roots is quite an
appropriate metaphor for all of Gormenghast, and for the novels!) Titus
leaves Gormenghast and wanders around exploiting the universe, as I recall.
(I don't remember it nearly as well as the first book, and I only recall one
character apart from Titus. Very unlike the first two books.) It is my
understanding that Mervin Peake was suffering from the illness who killed
him as he wrote Titus Alone, and that this accounts for its differences,
which I feel are relative weaknesses. (And again, I'm not alone. What, my
original? Heck, no!) While I own a biography of Peake I haven't yet read it,
so I can't say more about this!

It would seem that few or no other DWJ list folks have read the Gormenghast
books, so I'll just say that Peake offers (I'm trying to avoid spoilers, and
it's unnatural to me-- sorry!):
an earl who becomes obsessed with owls
an osseous manservant and an unctuous cook bitterly embittered
against each other
a countess with birdsnests in her hair
one of the most compelling self-made characters ever, Steerpike
two minute twin sisters who have opposite-side strokes together
(they're very proud of them) and now do needlework
together, each supplying one arm
many other fascinating characters I can't summarize readily

Mary Ann

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