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The Gormenghast Novels (1995)

The Gormenghast Novels (1995)

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3.97 of 5 Votes: 5
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0879516283 (ISBN13: 9780879516284)
overlook press

About book The Gormenghast Novels (1995)

I know of no author in all of the English language who is like Peake, or who could aspire to be like him. His voice is as unique as that of Milton, Bierce, Conrad, Blake, Donne, or Eliot, and as fully-realized. I am a hard and critical man, cynical and not easily moved, but there are passages in the Gormenghast series which so shocked me by the force of their beauty that I snap the book shut, overwhelmed with wonderment, and take a moment to catch my breath.I would drop my head. My eyes would search the air; as if I could find, there, the conclusion I was seeking. My brow would crease--in something like despondency or desperation--and then, of its own accord, a smile would break across my face, and I would shake my head, slowly, and laugh, and sigh. And laugh.Peake's writing is not easy fare. I often needed room to breathe and time for contemplation, but he is not inaccessible, nor arduous. He does not, like Joyce or Eliot, require the reader to know the history of western literature in order to understand him. His story is deceptively simple; it is the world in which he sets it that can be so overwhelming.Peake writes with a painter's eye, which is natural enough, as he is more famous as an illustrator than a writer (the only self-portrait in the National Portrait Gallery). He paints each scene, each moment, in such careful, loving, playful detail that it can only be described by the original definition of 'sublime': a vista which is so grand and beautiful that it dwarfs our humanity, evoking a wonder akin to fear.But Peake's writing is not so entirely alienating; on the contrary: he is vividly concerned with life. Gormenghast is the story of a life starting at birth, though our hero only got as far as the cusp of manhood before Peake was seized by malady and death. Each character is brightly and grotesquely alive. The 'fantasy' of this book is not, like so many epics, magic signifying moral conflict. The magic of Peake's world is the absurdly perfect figures that people it.They are stylized and symbolic, but like Gogol, Peake is working off of his own system of symbology instead of relying on the staid, familiar archetypes of literature. Unusual as they may be, there is a recognizable verisimilitude in the madness imbued in each. Their obsessions, quirks, and unpredictability feel all too human. They are frail, mad, and surprising.Like the wild characters of his sketches, Peake writes in exaggerated strokes, but somehow, that makes them more recognizable, realistic, and memorable than the unadorned reality of post-modernists. Since truth is stranger than fiction, only off-kilter, unhinged worlds will seem real--as Peake's does. This focus on fantastical characters instead of fantastical powers has been wryly dubbed 'Mannerpunk' or a 'Fantasy of Manners'. It is a much more enveloping and convincing type of fantasy, since it engages the mind directly with visceral artistic techniques instead of relying on a threadbare language of symbolic power. Peake does not want to explain the world, but paint it.Tolkien can certainly be impressive, in his way, but after reading Peake, it is difficult to call him fantastical. His archetypal characters, age-old moral conflict, and epic plot all seem so hidebound against the wild bulwark of Peake's imagination. The world of Gormenghast is magical and dreamlike, without even needing to resort to the parlor tricks of spells, wizards, and monsters.Peake's people are more fantastical than dragons because their beings are instilled with a shifting and scintillating transience. Most dragons, fearsome as they may be on the outside, are inwardly little more than plot movers. Their fearful might is drawn from a recognizable tradition, and I question how fantastical something can really be when its form and behavior are so familiar to us.Likewise Peake's world, though made up of things recognizable, is twisted, enchanted, and made uncanny without ever needing to stretch our disbelief. We have all experienced wonder, confusion, and revelation at the world, so why do authors think that making it less real will make it more wonderful? What is truly fantastical is to find magic in our own world, and in our own lives.But then, it is not an easy thing to do. Authors write in forms, cliches, archetypes, and moral arguments because it gives them something to work with; a place to start, and a way to measure their progress, lest they lose themselves. To write unfettered is vastly more difficult, and requires either great boldness, or great naivete.Peake is ever bold. You will never catch him flat-footed; his pen is ever moving. He drives on in sallies and skirmishes, teasing, prodding, suggesting, and always, in the end, he is a quantum presence, evading our cumbersome attempts to catch him in any one place. Each sentence bears a thought, a purpose, a consciousness. The only thing keeping the book moving is the restless joy of Peake's wit, his love and passion for his book, its places, characters, and story.He also has a love for writing, and for the word, which is clear on every page. A dabbler in poetry, his careful sense of meter is masterful, as precise as Bierce. And unlike most fantasists, Peake's poetry is often the best part of his books, instead of the least palatable. Even absent his amusing characterization and palpable world, his pure language is a thing to behold.In the introduction, Quentin Crisp tells us about the nature of the iconoclast: that being different is not a matter of avoiding and rejecting what others do--that is merely contrariness, not creativity. To be original means finding an inspiration that is your own and following it through to the bitter end.Peake does that, here, maintaining a depth, pace, and quality that is almost unbelievable. He makes the book his own, and each time he succeeds in lulling us into familiarity, we can be sure that it is a playful ruse, and soon he will shake free again.Alas, not all readers will be able to keep up with him. Those desiring repetition, comfort, and predictability will instead receive shock, betrayal, and confusion. However, for those who love words, who seek beauty, who relish the unexpected, and who find the most stirring sensation to be the evocation of wonder, I have no finer book to suggest. No other fantasist is more fantastical--or more fundamentally human.My Fantasy Book Suggestions

As of late, whenever it is cold and inhospitable outside, preferably raining or snowing, I become a wanderer of long corridors and twisted stairwells, of crumbling roofs and jutting turrets, of cobwebbed dungeons and cavernous cloisters. I descend into the fathomless depths of the imagination with author Mervyn Peake. One of the fathers of the modern Fantasy genre, Peake is little known outside literary circles. His masterpiece, The Gormenghast Trilogy, was published around the time of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. In the wake of his contemporary’s success, Peake’s work has been undeservedly neglected. The Gormenghast Trilogy, Gothic and Dickensian in style, tells the life of the heir to an ancient, vast, and crumbling castle and the intrigue, treachery, and murder therein. I have recently delved into the trilogy, and though I am at times exhausted by its dense prose, I always emerge from its unique world in awe of Peake. His descriptive talent is singular. Through intricate, wonderfully crafted descriptions, Peake creates memorable, wonderfully eccentric, characters. His work is filled with his own pencil expressive sketches of the characters. The face of the servant, Flay, for example, is described as follows: “It did not look as though such a bony face as his could give normal utterance, but rather that instead of sounds, something more brittle, more ancient, something dryer would emerge, something perhaps more in the nature of a splinter or a fragment of stone.”Peake conveys his deep insight into the human condition through character development. His psychologically rich and complex characters have allowed me to experience previously unexplored depths of human emotion. The way he describes melancholy, for example, left me feeling emptier than I had ever felt before. Written at a time of great suffering because of the failure of his previous work, The Gormenghast Trilogy is inundated in a deep sense of woe that encompasses both the setting and the characters; however, rather than merely weighing me down, Peake has shown me the deeper and darker chasms of the human soul. I will never forget the character of Lord Sepulchrave, the very personification of melancholy, as he sits alone in his vast castle library in the dark of the night. Peake, however, also vividly captures romanticism in the character of Fuchsia, Lord Sepulchrave’s daughter. Naively awaiting her knight in shining armor, Fuchsia spends most of her childhood fantasizing and sulking on long walks and in secret attic rooms. Surprisingly, the trilogy can be very humorous as well. The local physician, Doctor Prunesquallor, an eccentric fellow with a high-pitched laugh, is one of the funniest characters I have ever met in literature. C. S. Lewis’ words on Peake poignantly summarize his genius: “[Peake's works] are actual additions to life; they give, like certain rare dreams, sensations we never had before, and enlarge our conception of the range of possible experience.” The Gormenghast Trilogy has without doubt done so for me.

Do You like book The Gormenghast Novels (1995)?

Wow! This might be my favorite. Now I just keep thinking of authors that would be delightful additions to the thread: Lewis Carroll, H.P. Lovecraft, Dr. Seuss, Homer...This could end up being the most epic fantasy writers showdown in the history of the world. Of course, if it were actually China Mieville instead of Chinal, he would win. http://couldtheybeatupchinamieville.w...

Mervyn Peake’s The Gormenghast Trilogy (Titus Groan, Gormenghast, and Titus Alone), published between 1946-1959, was originally conceived as a four or five book series, but the author died after the publication of only the first two books, the third having been reconstructed after his death from his notebooks. In this work, Peake created a locale and story almost hallucinogenic in atmosphere, internally consistent but sufficiently phantasmagoric as to seem dreamlike, fantastic, twisted and bizarre. Titus is the seventy-seventh Earl of Gormenghast, a realm located who knows where, in a time who knows when. Most obviously, Gormenshast is a huge and deteriorating castle, miles in extent, much of it uninhabited for hundreds of years and even unknown to and unexplored by its current inhabitants. The pervasive mood is one of dissolution, decay, deterioration, mindless remaining ritual and tradition without residual meaning; Gormenghast as a physical structure is falling apart, most of its primary inhabitants are in varying states of decline, and perpetuation of what has always been seems its only motivation. Peake uses language and images to create an archaic sense of gloom and unease, and his characterizations are unique and striking. “No eye may see dispassionately…(W)hat haunts the heart will, when it is found, leap foremost, blinding the eye and leaving the main of Life in darkness.” “Their faces …were quite expressionless, as though they were the preliminary lay-outs for faces and were waiting for sentience to be injected.” “Seven clouds like a group of naked cherubs or sucking-pigs, floated their plump pink bodies across a sky of slate.” “She appeared rather to inhabit, than to wear her clothes.” He uses leitmotivs, almost as in a Wagner opera, to evoke personages again and again: “high, narrow shoulders and pale full forehead” always evoking Steerpike; identical purple dresses and reedy voices, the ancient twins; goggling eyes behind thick glasses, the doctor; spindly knees cracking like broken sticks, Flay. His vocabulary, with words like “hierophantic,” “marcid,” “adumbrate,” “planked” (as a verb), further fostered for me a sense of the outré, the strange.The story begins with Titus’s birth and continues into his young adulthood. Drama is provided by Peake’s setting up dyads and triads of antipathies in his characters, conflicts intensifying and almost always resulting in the deaths of one of his primary personages, the intrigue and tension building throughout the first two books, which are very much of a unified pair themselves, and always highlighting the development of the character of Titus as the accelerating claustrophobia of his own life deepens his self-understanding.The third book, Titus Alone, was reconstructed posthumously from Peake’s notebooks and has an ambiance all its own; it is almost as if the story starts anew, for now Titus has left Gormenshast on a quest primarily to escape the constricting demands and expectations of his hereditary role. The world in this book is modern, even postmodern, and frankly dystopic. All other characters from the first two books have been left behind, and an entirely new realm opens. At first, even the writing seemed disappointingly different, and I wondered if this was the result of clumsiness in the utilization of Peake’s notebooks; but gradually both language and plot became fascinating in their own right and more consistent with the first two books, providing a rich and rewarding reading experience, even if one that at the end seemed truncated and inconclusive, consistent with Peake’s original plan to continue the saga further.So what is this work about, anyway? Is it a critique of our civilization, its ambivalent relationships to tradition and progress? Is it primarily the story of the psychological journey from childhood to adulthood? Something else entirely? Any of these interpretations, and others, is possible. Suffice it to say that Peake has created a unique and enthralling story and atmosphere, one that pulls the reader into a world strange and haunting, one that I would not have wanted to have missed.

I've only read the first novel, Titus Groan, and I certainly understand why these books have such rabid fans, but I doubt I'll ever be one of them. The writing is admirable. Rarely has a world been so vivid in my mind, and in such a distinctive style. Reading this, I saw the story unfold like an animated movie created with jagged quill pen drawings. This vivid style also applies to the characters, who are as distinctive as Dick Tracy villains. Mervyn Peake is a genius when it comes to naming his creations. It's hard not to love monikers like Prunesquallor, Swelter and Mr Flay. My favorite of all is Steerpike, who is one of the most sinister villains I've ever read.But for all that praise, I simply could never get into this book. The pacing is excruciatingly slow. This is very deliberate, but I found it too painful. This became most abundantly clear when I was stuck in traffic on a Greyhound bus. All I had with me was Gormenghast, and I swear that dreary castle was nearly as bad as the reality of rush hour on I-95.I unashamedly love escapism. It sucks when the fantasy I am escaping into is more boring than commuting. No wonder I liked the villain so much, as he was practically the only person making this world move at all.I will hold onto this book and maybe return to the other novels when I've gained a bit more patience, or I'm in the mood for something particularly saturnine.......well, we'll see about that. Ok, I'm going to go watch a Die Hard movie.

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