I first read Mervyn Peake’s astonishing Gormenghast trilogy years ago, shortly after I discovered the eponymous 4-part BBC miniseries, shown back-to-back one late night on Canada’s SPACE channel.
It was a case of instant love. The book is one of my all-time favorites.
Now I re-read the trilogy, in all its glorious 1000+ pages. Gormenghast is a unique book, genre-defying. It is a Gothic novel without ghosts or much by the way of horror. It also turns into a genuine science-fiction story, but in which the futuristic background is just that, a background, a vehicle for storytelling, nothing more. It has humor and tragedy, even macabre comedy in unexpected places. It is also surreal; the castle Gormenghast may be on this Earth but it probably isn’t, it may exist in the present but it probably doesn’t. In fact, at one point I began wondering if it actually may be hiding somewhere in the near infinite landscape of Larry Niven’s Ringworld. Its monsters are thoroughly human and its heroes are flawed. Its language is very rich… indeed, from time to time, I paused occasionally and re-read a sentence or two (or three or four) aloud, just enjoying the words.
Somewhere I once read that Gormenghast is The Lord of the Rings for adults, and there is some truth to that, although Gormenghast is not really a fantasy story at all.
The saddest part is that Gormenghast is unfinished. The author was already struggling with a debilitating case of Parkinson’s disease while writing the third novel; the fourth was never written, only some barely legible scraps remain, written in shaky, undecipherable handwriting.
But now, the fourth book (a version of it anyway) is out there after all. It was Peake’s widow (who worked closely with his husband throughout the writing of the trilogy) who took it upon herself to finish the novel. Sadly, she also died but her notebooks were found, and the family decided to publish the result. I just ordered the soon to be available paperback version. I don’t know what to expect… posthumous sequels are often disappointing, but there are exceptions.