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Return To Gormenghast?

It seems that Amazon.com can now officially read my mind, as it pops up uncannily accurate book suggestions for me whenever I visit the site.  I was really surprised to see this title staring back at me tonight when I was looking up a book.  I originally bought Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy back in the 1960s, long before Amazon was a twinkle in anyone’s eye, so I’m not sure how they/it (i.e. some Amazon web server at some mysterious location) knew that I would be interested in this book.  I knew that Peake had written a couple pages of Titus Awakes, the planned 4th Gormenghast novel, and I have read those pages.  Sadly Peake succumbed to a degenerative neurological disease at an early age, and had to stop writing.  It turns out the book was completed by his widow Maeve Gilmore, and, in what is a recurring theme in posthumous publication, the manuscript was discovered in an attic by Peake’s granddaughter.  So it is not really Peake’s work at all, but should be interesting nevertheless when it is published later this year.  If you are unfamiliar with the castle Gormenghast, Titus Groan, Fuschia, Steerpike, Dr. Prunesquallor et al., the books are Titus Groan, Gormenghast, and Titus Alone.  The first two books form a whole, the third was written when Peake was in the throes of his disease and is less interesting, mostly because Titus has left Gormenghast and is in the outside world.  From the point of view of the first two books, there is no outside world beyond the outskirts of the giant castle.  These books are  unique, strange, beautiful, gothic, and weird.  They are hard to describe.  What are they about?  Difficult to answer. They are about characters as odd and eccentric as their names (Swelter the Cook, Irma Prunesquallor, Mr.Flay, and so forth).    The plot centers around the rise of power of the kitchen urchin Steerpike, whose ruthless, amoral behavior and thirst for power threatens the foundations of the castle.  The main character of the book though is the castle itself, huge, brooding, incalculably ancient, of unknown origin, and of the equally ancient and senseless rituals which run the day to day life of the castle and in particular of young Titus, the new Earl of Groan.  The reader tends to side with the ponderous rituals of the castle against the iconoclast Steerpike, but not without some mixed feelings, for there is something to admire in Steerpike’s rebellion and something to loathe in the pointless castle rituals that consume Titus’ life.  The imagery of the books is unique as well.  There are scenes from the books which are still burnt into my mind’s eye, 40 years after reading them.  Peake was an artist as well as a writer, and his descriptions are very vivid, sometimes nightmarish.  This new book will not be Mervyn Peake, but certainly I will be curious to read it and return to the the world of Gormenghast.

By mannd

I am a retired cardiac electrophysiologist who has worked both in private practice in Louisville, Kentucky and as a Professor of Medicine at the University of Colorado in Denver. I am interested not only in medicine, but also in computer programming, music, science fiction, fantasy, 30s pulp literature, and a whole lot more.

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