Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,
Nicholas
nwhyte

Gormenghast, by Mervyn Peake

Second paragraph of third chapter:
But no. There were no scales or wings at all
When I last reread this in 2011, I wrote:
The second book of the famous trilogy, in which the evil Steerpike's plans to dominate Gormenghast Castle are resolved in vicious single combat with Titus Groan, the 77th earl. When I first read this, at least a quarter of a century ago, the two scenes that really stuck in my mind were the grotesque deaths of Deadyawn the headmaster, killed in a bizarre incident where his wheelchair intersects with a deadly schoolboy game, and of the twin aunts of Titus and Fuchsia, locked away by Steerpike to die in isolation. I was surprised on rereading by quite how early in the book both events come. For the rest of it, Peake's obsession with disability as a marker for moral iniquity is rather dubious (the 'Thing', an unspeaking girl who represents freedom, is the acme of physical and spiritual perfection, while Barquentine, Deadyawn and indeed Steerpike are mutilated and evil). But it is a gloriously baroque description of life in a very peculiar place, and it gets pretty intense in the final chapters, when the castle is flooded and the Countess and Titus stalk Steerpike through the rising waters.

As with the previous volume, and for the same reasons, a Bechdel technical pass; Fuchsia talks to her nanny again, and the demented twins burble at each other, without men necessarily being mentioned. They are all dead by the end of the book.

Note on the first book, revisited: It's slightly odd that the first volume of the trilogy is actually the one in which Titus figures least, though it bears his name.
This time around, as previously mentioned, we’ve been taking it at a chapter a day (with a break for Christmas, so almost three months; and I finished it a few weeks back). This rather brought home the odd pacing, with nothing much happening in the middle for many (mostly short) chapters. And the improbable physics of the catastrophic flood are more difficult to ignore when you don’t take it all in one go. But the final showdown between Steerpike and Titus is every bit as good as the two earlier bits, and there’s also the dramatic revelation of Steerpike’s responsibility for the death of the twins. However, it would make very little sense to a reader who has not already read the first book. You can get it here.
Tags: bookblog 2021, writer: mervyn peake
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