Mervyn Peake

The works of Mervyn Peake, poet, illustrator, and author of the children’s story Captain Slaughterboard Drops Anchor and the fantasy/horror Gormenghast trilogy, fall somewhere between Edward Gorey and Kafka. Like Gorey, Peake loved to create over-the-top grotesques. Unlike Gorey’s tongue-in-cheek style, though, Peake’s books feature a Kafka-esque level of genuine weirdness.

Note: Peake illustrated beautiful editions of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.

Note 2: I'm told that there is a Masterpiece Theater adaptation of Gormenghast. I look forward to seeing it.

Note 3: Peake was born in 1911 and died in 1968, just in case you’d read Gormenghast and mistakenly thought he was a contemporary of Dickens.

Gormenghast is not everybody’s Wordcandy. Brace yourself--for every five pages of actual plot development you’ll have to wade through well over a hundred pages of character and landscape description. On the other hand, this isn’t boring Tolkien-style description, we’re talking about paragraphs like this one, devoted to the description of the minor character Chef Abiatha Swelter, who is drinking to celebrate the birth of the Gormenghast heir:

“He then slid a fat hand through a slit in his white garment of office and removed from a deep pocket a bottle. Plucking out the cork with his lips, that had gripped it with an uncanny muscularity, he poured half a pint down his throat without displacing the cork, for he laid a finger at the mouth of the bottle, so dividing the rush of wine into two separate spurts that shot adroitly into either cheek, and so, making contact at the back of his mouth, down his throat in one dull gurgle to those unmentionable gulches that lay below….”

See? It’s like poetry. Only... ickier.

Limited. Try online.

Other Recommendations:
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke

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Posted by: Julia


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