(previously: x x x) oh, gormenghast. i have pressed it into the hands of so many friends i have raved about it drunk and sober i have written academic essays about it let me tell you about this book
how do i describe gormenghast—it’s a story about family and tradition and power and freedom and class and madness and darkness and beauty. it’s a gothic bildungsroman and a comedy of manners and a political chessgame and a tale of revolution. it’s about two fascinating anti-heroes: steerpike is corrupt and half-repulsive, treacherous and machiavellian and magnificent, with vicious ideas above his station; titus groan is dark and hungry and mercurial, clawing himself out of the choking pall of nobility and ritual and tradition. it’s about pleasure, because the prose is rich and decadent and fullblooded, and no other novel is so intensely visible, painting canvases of lush roiling gloom and characters in sharp mordant detail. you’re seduced, surrounded, then swallowed.
and castle gormenghast is a character in its own right, a feral baroque labyrinth of stone, an infinite castle-city without centre, an ancient affront to reason, scarved in black ivy. it’s sublime and grotesque, sprawling and proliferate: dripping misshapes of stalactite tallow-wax and plaster cracked in cobwebs and sweltering infernal kitchens and cellars and catacombs and warping staircases and numberless towers and bastions and quadrangles. brooding in umbra, slumping and ruinous. ruled by obscure and stagnant law and tradition and ritual. time-gnawed, yet out of time.
titus groan, the first book, is the best, but gormenghast, the second, is almost as brilliant. the third, titus alone, lacks something vital but has flashes of genius. the last, titus awakes, was salvaged and pieced together from fragments by peake’s wife four years ago, and doesn’t come near to the original trilogy, but it’s a poignant tribute to his creation; to him.
as a whole, it’s powerfully weird and melodramatic and swollen with dread as ripe as thunder. it unfolds slowly and meanders through intricacies. it demands long and devoted attention. there’s nothing supernatural in it, but it will haunt you. it’s full of ruin and decay, but what you’ll remember is how much life there is in it: menacing and exuberant and tragic and comic and cruel and beautiful and demanding—howling—to be felt.