Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Book: Mervyn Peake - The Gormenghast Novels
Titus Groan (1946)
Titus Alone (1959)
Mervyn Peake is not so much a writer, but more a painter. A painter of scenes and he uses words instead of paint. In broad lines he sketches a room, scrutinizes it from a distance, advances like a predator with his fingers raised high to strike upon his paralyzed keyboard, but when he reaches the keys he puts a few well-chosen words where they belong with a loving touch and a twinkle in his eye. Such are his chapters built up.
His chapters are sometimes not more than a single scene, or a single conversation. You can imagine that the Gormenghast novels do have an elaborate plot because there is simply no time and space for it. The book is already thick as it is. But it does not matter, for it is the atmosphere that matters. The tale is set almost entirely within a claustrophobic castle of enormous proportions, Gormenghast, with its mysterious shadows and creaks from old age, howling drafts, twisting alleys and stairs. The characters are near caricatures, grotesque but compelling.
Mervyn Peake created something wholly original by plunging the darkest chasms of his imagination and painted a surrealistic, macabre masterwork that somehow connects to deep roots of the subconscious. Gormenghast paved the way for gothic subcultures and its influence is clearly to be found in the Harry Potter novels. Some consider it to be one of the greatest works of the English language.
Reading Gormenghast is not easy. I cannot read for long stretches because the mood and darkness of the place becomes too oppressive, but I cannot stay away from it for too long because Peake’s descriptions have enveloped my mind. I have never been so fully immersed in another world.
No book can prepare you for the Gormenghast novels, because they are unlike anything ever written.
“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. At night the owls made of it an echoing throat; by day it stood voiceless and cast its long shadow.”