In books I read spookily close together, two authors I love (Mike Carey and China Mieville) both happened to mention being influenced by Mervyn Peake (one in a post-book interview, one actually dedicated the book to Peake). I had never heard of this interestingly-named person, but I figured the universe was giving me a sign. I inter-library-loaned an intimidatingly large book that turned out to be three novels in one: The Gormenghast trilogy.
It’s easy to see why Mike and China like the writing, which is lovely. The first book, Titus Groan, takes place in the castle Gormenghast, detailing (and I do mean deeeeeetailing) the lives of the Groans, who have lived and ruled there for centuries. A baby boy has been born and the bloodline is secured for another generation. This book covers the first year of baby Titus’s life.
It goes way, way, WAY in depth in the lives of the servants, the castle doctor, the teenage princess, the “Mud Dwellers” who live outside the castle walls, the nanny, the seriously unsettling kitchen boy with delusions of grandeur, and the Earl and Lady Groan. Everybody’s pretty awful. They all seem to hate each other and themselves, but have a fierce loyalty to the castle and the family. Bad things are afoot, but nobody seems to notice because they’re too wrapped up in their own melancholy and overall weirdness.
There are lots of different pieces of things going on, and it seems like they should all braid nicely together by the end, but they don’t. And I’m not sure I care enough about these people to read the other two books and see if it all successfully blends by the end. I skipped a lot of long passages about the castle itself, and I got frustrated by chapters that go into a character’s backstory, or event or place in the castle, and then that person/place/thing/noun is never seen again.
So I cheated! I went to wikipedia to see what happens next and if it would be worth wading through another 700 pages for, and it turns out my favorite (well, least-not-favorite) character dies in the second book, and then Mervyn himself died before completing the third book! So if there’s no end to all this, I’m done. I’m glad I tried it, and I might check out his books of nonsense poetry wikipedia mentioned, but I’m afraid I’m not going to read the next 20 years of Titus Groan’s life.
Some bits I thought could easily have been inspirational to the Careys and Mievilles of the world:
“Swelter’s eyes meet those of his enemy, and never was there held between four globes of gristle so sinister a hell of hatred.”
“She lifted him, but no one looked at the exhibit except Dr. Prunesquallor, who nearly engulfed Nannie, baby and all, with a smile so devouring, so dental, as to cause Nannie to raise her shoulder against it and snatch Titus back to her little flat chest.”
“He stared mirthlessly to right and left and then advanced, his long spidery legs cracking as he shouldered his way through a heaving group of menials.”
“I hate things! I hate all things! I hate and hate every single tiniest thing. I hate the world,” said Fuschia aloud. (This is the teen princess. She’s delightfully angsty and angry and fiendish.)