by Mervyn Peake

A Review by Scott finished Aug. 4, 2012

In one sentence: Once accustomed to the style and expectations, reading Gormenghast is an absolute pleasure.

This review will contain spoilers!

In many sentences:

Much like Titus Groan, Gormenghast is a beautifully written book that shines through its interesting characters, bizarre setting, and vivid descriptions. There are certainly slow points in the plot (less so in this book than the first, though. Or perhaps I was more prepared for them and so they affected me less), but even during the slowest moments, Peake is so clever with his descriptions and wit, that I never felt like I was wanting for entertainment.

From the very beginning, when Peake reintroduces all the characters from the first (and allows us to welcome the new professors), he does a great job of setting the scene and bringing the characters to life. In particular, I really liked Fuchsia's reintroduction: "Sensitive as was her father without his intellect, Fuchsia tosses her black flag of hair, bites at her childish underlip, scowls, laughs, broods, is tender, is intemperate, suspicious, and credulous all in a day" (p. 1).

Another moment I enjoyed early on, during these reintroductions, was the way he transitioned from one character to the next. Here is the switch from Steerpike to the Countess "The echoes died. The silence was like a stretched sheet. Steerpike descended rapidly to the room below and made to the east. The Countess walked with her head bowed a little and her arms akimbo."

The wooing of Irma by Bellgrove was extremely funny. Peake's ability to take the absurd relationship, and present it with so much sincerity made for a wonderful moment. Here are two of my favorite quotes: "Woman. Was her name Irma? Her name was Irma." "How long did they remain thus? How many times had the earth moved round the sun? How many times had the great blue whales of the northern waters risen to spurt their fountains at the sky? How many reed-bucks had fallen to the claws of how many leopards, while that sublime unit of two-figure statuary remained motionless? It is fruitless to ask. The clocks of the world stood still or should have done."

Peake's offers a great summary for the growth and change in Titus at the end of the book: "For Titus had discovered himself. The 'Thing', when she had died in the storm had killed his boyhood. The death of Flay had seasoned him. The drowning of Fuchsia had left a crater beneath his ribs. His victory over Steerpike had given him a kind of touchstone to his own courage." P. 549

I don't have an complaints about the book, as a matter of fact. Reading it, once accustomed to the style and expectations of it, was an absolute pleasure. The imagery of the flood, the fight between Titus and Steerpike, the shock of the death of the Thing and Fuchsia, all of these moments were amazing and something that I wish more people would experience. It's too bad this series no longer seems to get the recognition it deserves, as it's really becoming a favorite for me, and something that would definitely benefit from multiple readings (and having someone else to talk with about it).

First Line

"Titus is seven."

Mervyn Peake the First Line of Gormenghast

Favorite Quote

"Seconds are so small. One – two – three – four – seconds are so huge."

Mervyn Peake in Gormenghast

Last Line

"And so, exulting as the moonlit rocks fled by him, exulting as the tears streamed over his face – with his eyes fixed excitedly upon the blurred horizon and the battering of the hoof-beats loud in his ears, Titus rode out of his world."

Mervyn Peake the Last Line of in Gormenghast

Originally Published Jan. 1, 1950

Digital edition:

555 pages - Nov. 30, 2007

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