Book Review for the Week: Gormenghast

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Gormenghast.

Withdrawn and ruinous it broods in umbra: the immemorial masonry: the towers, the tracts. Is all corroding? No. Through an avenue of spires a zephyr floats; a bird whistles; a freshet bears away from a choked river. Deep in a fist of stone a doll’s hand wriggles, warm rebelllious on the frozen palm. A shadow shifts its length. A spider stirs….

—Gormenghast, p.07

As he stared at the twin hummocks under the carpet he did not realize that something very peculiar and unprecedented was happenig. Cora, in her warren-like seclusion, crouched in the ignominous darkness had conceived an idea. Where it came from she did not trouble to inquire herself, nor why it shoud have come for Steerpike, their benefactor, was a kind of god to her, as he was to Clarice. But the idea had suddenly flowered in her brain unbidden. It was that she would very much like to kill him. Directly she had conceived the idea, she felt frightened, and her fear was hardly lessened by a flat voice in the darkness saying with empty deliberation: ‘So…would…I. We could do it together, couldn’t we? We could do it together.’

—Gormenghast, p.48

Is that chilling or what? Brr…

Gormenghast is a stunning work by Mervyn Peake whose skillful vivid prose challenges the macabre writing of Edgar Allan Poe. This is the second part of the Gormenghast trilogy which follows the path of 7 year old Titus, heir of of an empire and a legacy he loathes and the unique cast of characters that populate Gormenghast.

Why I recommend this book: If anybody is looking for a good imaginative, grotesque and fantastic type of story that is set in the romantic past, is skillfully written, intelligent and critically acclaimed at the same time, this is it. This novel stands on its own. I don’t even want to put it beside the mainstream fantasy and horror works. It just exceeds them in scope, stylistics, plot and characterization.

Peake’s words are both tantalizingly grotesque and seductive, filling you to the brim with psychological and grim horror. Surprisingly, there are many comic moments as well where a chuckle and a guffaw would escape your lips. It is also sorrowful and innocent as some events are seen with childlike wonder through the eyes of the young Titus. Tension is built slowly leading into the rapid at-the-edge-of-your-seats-gripping events that will erupt into the monumental earth-shaking climax that is the highlight of the book.

It would take patience to go through the first many pages of the book with its slow build-up but as many of those who had read it including me would claim, it is worth it. One would not miss this one of a kind novel.

My favorite character: Steerpike – the youth who ascended from the ranks of kitchen boy to the assistant of the Master of Ritual by devious means. Blonde, red-eyed, manipulative, cunning and so very deliciously evil.

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3 thoughts on “Book Review for the Week: Gormenghast

  1. jaytomio says:

    In my mind, the standard and model for relevant and quality fantastic fiction. Peake is the ultimate stylist, displaying art is in the method not just he outcome.

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