Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Book 52: The Gormenghast Novels by Mervyn Peake

Title: The Gormenghast Novels by Mervyne Peake

Pages: 1023.

How it was obtained: I bought it on for about five bucks.

Time spent on the "to read" shelf: 2 years.

Days spent reading it: 2 months.

Why I read it: I ran across a copy of the book at Barnes and Noble, looked it over, thought it might be interesting.

Brief review: Reading The Gormenghast Novels was a unique experience. I had never heard of them before I stumbled onto them in a Barnes and Noble one day.  Peake is a combination of Dickens and Tolkien.  He has elements of high fantasy like Tolkien, but his writing style is more like Dickens. Peake pays a great deal of attention to details. Gormenghast castle comes alive in his hands. Peake has a great way with words. He can be difficult to adjust to, but once I got rolling I enjoyed reading the first two novels in this collection. The first two novels—Titus Groan and Gormenghast—are wonderful. These two novels are very similar in tone, pace, language, character and plot. They are slow, descriptive, and sometime rambling works of literature. You feel Gormenghast castle as if it is a character. It lives and breathes. And in Titus Groan, Peake introduces one of my new favorite "villains"—the very cunning, ambitious, and intelligent Steerpike. He is a fantastic character, and I wish there was more of him.

Which leads me to Titus Alone, the third novel in this collection. All I can say is "What the Heck?!?" Titus Alone is the odd man out. In it Titus leaves Gormenghast, and as Titus leaves Gormenghast Peake leaves that which is comforting to the reader. This book is such an abrupt departure from the other two novels, I wonder what Peake was thinking. The scenes become much shorter (for instance there are about 80 chapters in the 400 page Gormenghast, and there are 122 chapters in the 220 page Titus Alone). I had no idea what was happening most of the time. We flit from scene to scene. Introduce random new characters and then move along. It is so disconnected and bizarre. Peake was beginning to show signs of Parkinson's as he wrote this last Gormenghast work, but I do not believe that can excuse the complete divergence embodied by this work. It was such a change of style and direction it is hard to explain.

To finish up I would say this, if you can get into the slow paced Titus Groan, and you enjoy it, you will enjoy Gormenghast as well. They are great literature. But I suggest you should just skip Titus Alone. It just is not worth it.

Favorite quotes: From Titus Groan: "The others were involved with counting the portentous minutes before their own particular clouds broke over them, yet at the back of their personal troubles, hopes and fears, this less immediate trepidation grew, this intangible suggestion of change, that most unforgivable of all heresies.

Two from Gormenghast: Who else is there of the direct blood-line? Only the vacant Aunts, Cora and Clarice, the identical twins and sisters of Sepulchrave. So limp of brain that for them to conceive an idea is to risk a haemorrhage.

There is nothing frightened or querulous about young Steerpike. If ever he had harboured a conscience in his tough narrow breast he had by now dug out and flung away the awkward thing—flung it so far away that were he ever to need it again he could never find it.

From Titus Alone: Cold love's the loveliest love of all. So clear, so crisp, so empty. In short, so civilized.

Stars: 4 out of 5 for Titus Groan and Gormenghast. 2 out of 5 for Titus Alone.

Final Word: Dickensian.

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