Stephen's Reviews > Gormenghast
by Mervyn Peake, Quentin Crisp
Gormenghast – a word that fills the mouth, that undulates with waves of
hard and soft, that tricks the tongue into thinking it can escape with a fading
sibilance, only to be brought to heel hard fast with that final 't'. It is a
magnificent word for the sprawling thing Mervyn Peake calls a "castle"
in the book of the same name.
In the foreword, Tad Williams describes the castle as a character in-and-of
itself. He is right to do so. As a place, as a series of traditions, as the
complex sum of countless people wheeling in and out of the timeless, deathless
halls, it occupies the place of precedence for the first portion of the book.
Peake is an incredible wordsmith
– a thousand words are worth a portrait – and at times the elaborate castle and
character descriptions nearly bore me. But then along would come a moment of
whimsy too charming to abandon.
Eventually the human characters become the focus, and the castle fades
into mere setting rather than overlord. Although the tale meanders, at times, it
is all to the author's credit. In so doing, he sets the stage for the actual
protagonist's ultimate struggle for freedom: a struggle inversely personified by
a human bit in actuality with Gormenghast itself.
Nothing in the book indicates a definite time, place, or religion. Although
it clearly comes from a Western European mileu, it is not at all difficult to
imagine changing a few names and titles, thereby turning this into a novel of
Confucian rebellion in deepest China. Nevertheless, there were several points at
which the author strayed painfully into stereotypes that perhaps reveal his
era (published 1950).
This is a brilliant and highly imaginative work. It has the power to open
your eyes and turn your thinking inside-out as few books do. I look forward to
reading the two wings of this trilogy.