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Vast Alchemies: The Life and Work of Mervyn Peake
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Vast Alchemies: The Life and Work of Mervyn Peake

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  37 Ratings  ·  8 Reviews
Interest in Mervyn Peake, author of Titus Groan and many other modern fantasy classics, has never been greater than it is now. With the imminent BBC adaptation and showing of the acclaimed Gormenghast Trilogy in England, and its showing in the U.S. this summer (on the Discovery channel), and with the re-issuing of his books, this completely new reassessment of the life and ...more
Hardcover, 270 pages
Published December 1st 1999 by Peter Owen Publishers
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Comparing Biographies of Peake

This is a fascinating, passionate, exhaustively researched, illustrated - but eminently readable - biography of Peake, focusing on how his life affected his works (both written and drawn/painted). He is best known for the Titus Groan/Gormenghast books, but his works are far more diverse than that.

Of the four other biographies I've read, this is the one that is best for understanding his oeuvre. It has two forewords, acknowledgements, a preface, a bibliography and d
Paul Bryant
He was a perpetual motion machine, if he wasn’t writing a story or a novel, he was making notes for five new plays, or finishing off a commission for a new edition of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, or springing out of a cupboard to startle his children, or making a shilling disappear in front of your very eyes, but most probably he was drawing, endlessly, drawing everyone he met and then all the creatures and people he met only in his mind. Everyone pretty much loved Mervyn Peake, but still, h ...more
Sep 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing
(NB: a review of the older, unillustrated and non-'definitive' edition)

This is not a definitive biography of Peake -- Winnington's inability (due to the Peake Estate) to illustrate his text with direct quotes and images prevents it from being that -- but it is very, very good. There is a wealth of detail about the conditions under which Peake produced his work, the people with whom he interacted, and a sympathetic rendering of the man himself. My next return to Gormenghast will be much enhanced
Jan 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry, art
This is one of a number of books by Winnington about Mervyn Peake. It lacks the illustrations in the beautiful "Mervyn Peake: The Man and His Art" and, if forced to choose, I would suggest that book is to be preferred, since it includes adequate biographical details alongside the all important visual images.

Then again, who is forcing us to choose? Vast Alchemies, which takes its title from a line in the poem Coloured Money, provides a much more thorough b
Kyle Burley
3.5 stars
Solid biography of the criminally, underappreciated writer and artist, Mervyn Peake . If you're a fan of fantasy, Gothic, or any other form of imaginative literature, and you've never heard of him, do yourself a favour, put aside the Tolkien and the Harry Potter for a while and read "Titus Groan" and "Gormenghast". You'll be doing yourself a great service.
Jeff Bursey
Jun 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
From my Amazon review:

G. Peter Winnington, in this new, enjoyable biography of Mervyn Peake, faced the challenge, as he states in the preface, of writing without the benefit of much estate permission. This normally would be a drawback, but the book rises above the constrictions the Peake family imposed.

It should not be thought Vast Alchemies was meant to be a scandalous expose of Peake's life. When it does discuss the sundry affairs of this relatively little-known artist's life, it does so econo
Cooper Renner
Jan 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Not 5 stars in the grand sense of world literature, but rather for its field: it's a fine biography, with lots of illustrations, of the writer and artist Mervyn Peake (Gormenghast, etc.) Peake's life contained a fair share of tragedy in his later years, but his earlier life was--not exactly blessed with commercial success--full of fine work and interesting contacts in his fields (including Augustus John and Graham Greene).
Stephen Palmer
Jan 15, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very much enjoyed this superbly researched, well written and intimate biography of the author of the Gormenghast books (and more). The author takes the story of his subject from early days in China, through world war and into post-war Britain, where fame, success and then illness take hold. Any Mervyn Peake fan will love this. An excellent read.
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