Saturday, November 19, 2005

Another opinion revised

I am clever enough to know I am clever. -- Steerpike

Just finished re-reading the three "Gormenghast" novels of Mervyn Peake (Titus Groan, Gormenghast, Titus Alone). I had last read them in high school, liking the strangeness of the impossible architecture of Gormenghast Castle and taking great pleasure in Peake's names: Dr. Prunesquallor, Barquentine, Opus Fluke, Muzzlehatch. But I did not carry much else out of the experience. Now, too many years later, I am completely taken in by the profound melancholy described by Peake's mixture of detail and nonsense as well as the ethical (for lack of a better word) force of the parallel stories of the kitchen boy Steerpike's rise and defeat and the heir to Gormenghast Titus's education and exile. The central narrative is much clearer than I had recalled, yet it still challenged all of my reading habits much in the same way that experimental literature (e.g. Harry Mathews or Walter Abish) does. Peake's trilogy is truly in a genre of its own, gothic-but-not-that-gothic, mannered-but-not-those-manners, and not at all to be mistaken for a work of fantasy or pseudo-epic.

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