Gormenghast (Gormenghast Trilogy) (英語) ペーパーバック – 2007/10/29
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Titus Groan is seven years old. Lord and heir to the crumbling castle Gormenghast. Gothic labyrinth of roofs and turrets, cloisters and corridors, stairwells and dungeons, it is also the cobwebbed kingdom of Byzantine government and age-old rituals, a world primed to implode beneath the weight of centuries of intrigue, treachery, and death. Steerpike, who began his climb across the roofs when Titus was born, is now ascending the spiral stairacse to the heart of the castle, and in his wake lie imprisonment, manipulation, and murder. Gormenghast is the second volume in Mervyn Peake's widely acclaimed trilogy, but it is much more than a sequel to Titus Groan--it is an enrichment and deepening of that book. And back in single volumes for the first time in years, a new generation of fantasy fans will grow to love this tour de force that ranks as one of the twentieth century's most remarkable feats of imaginative writing.
Mervyn Peake (1911-1968) was a playwright, painter, poet, illustrator, short story writer, and designer of theatrical costumes, as well as a novelist. Among his many books are the celebrated Gormenghast novels, Titus Groan, Gormenghast, and Titus Alone, and the posthumously published Titus Awakes, the lost book of Gormenghast finished by Peake's wife Maeve Gilmore after his death. The Gormenghast novels, as well as Peake's other writings Mr. Pye and Peake's Progress, are all available from The Overlook Press.
BUT, the only reason I gave it a rating of 4 is that -- being a successful professional writer and editor -- I have noticed several instances of typos, spacing issues, misspellings (yes, I know how the Brits spell many words differently) and even what appear to be a few wrong words. Not having a printed copy at hand for comparison purposes, I can't be sure of the latter. I don't know the technical process & editing methods Amazon uses to convert books to digital format for Kindle -- but somehow, some (though relatively few) mistakes are being made. It's not a big problem -- I'll certainly be ordering other books for my miraculous Kindle (LOVE it!) in the future. Most folks probably won't even notice such fairly minor mistakes. But some of the more literarily erudite souls among your customers will certainly find them at least mildly irksome, as I have -- or, at the other extreme, even to be an outrageous disservice to a great author.
At seven, Titus is no less recalcitrant. There is a surge of rebellion welling up inside of him, struggling to extricate him from the suffocating weight of his hereditary ritual. His mother still expresses non-existent affection or attention to him as the individual person Titus, only regarding him as the 77th Earl of the House of Groan. With the demise of his father in the first novel and an older sister Fuschia, who by a quirk of sex is excluded from inheriting any of the familial titles, all weight and expectation is placed on his shoulders as the only surviving male heir.
We are brought up to date with Steerpike’s plans to wreak havoc on the castle. He is now assistant to Barquentine, the Master of Ritual who inherited the position after his father, Sourdust, was burnt to death in the fire years earlier that Steerpike manipulated the mentally stunted Sepulchrave sisters, Cora and Clarice, into starting. He is patient and has been biding his time, which seems to be a necessary approach to anything regarding the glacially paced activities of Gormenghast. He is plotting the demise of Barquentine while romancing Fuschia, another measure requiring immense delicacy as Fuschia is mercurial and difficult to seduce. Fuschia is also, despite her chronological adulthood, still remarkably adolescent in her level of emotional maturity. The only person she loves unconditionally at this point is her younger brother Titus.
Much of the first half of the novel is taken up with the activities in the school, centering primarily among the instructors and their headmaster Bellgrove. They are as fussily eccentric, vain and grotesque as the other occupants and much space is devoted to their personal quirks. The doctor Prunesquallor’s sister Irma has determined that that her youth is slipping away and that there’s no time to lose in getting married. She has focused on the faculty of the school, inviting them to an elaborately planned party, at which she will, she feels, subtly audition them as suitors. Headmaster Bellgrove struggles between his natural urges to express emotion and his duties as a figure of authority that merits respect and must not show vulnerability. He focuses on Irma and she is only too happy to be singled out, not necessarily a point of distinction in that she, the hostess, is the only female present. Their courtship on the grounds of the estate is depicted in a comic tone, yet it beautifully dissects the varied emotions each of them are experiencing as they calculate their moves.
While this is beautifully written and razor sharp in its psychological depiction, it is a distraction from the primary thread of the story. The courtship grows into an engagement which culminates in a marriage and we see the gradual erosion of romance between them and the increased friction and mutual irritation as each other’s most annoying qualities become more apparent.
Peake’s prose is thrilling even when his action is tedious. Here are a few phrases that dance off of the page:
“jungle-headed Mr. Splint”
Tears are described by one character as “grief’s gravy.”
“Death’s icicle impales him now.”
“Suddenly he stretched his arms out on either side, the fingers splayed like starfish as though he were wakening them to a kind of hypersentience of tingling life.”
By the second half of the novel, when we return to Steerpike’s schemes on one side and Titus’ internal struggles on the other, the novel becomes engaging again. These are the two pivotal characters and their parallel struggles and inevitable conflict with each other provides the spine of the story.
Titus is at this point an alienated adolescent and has already skipped class and ridden out into the forest, where he has encountered both the exiled servant, Flay, who has surreptitiously crept into the castle a few times to observe the doings of the site of his former life, and the Thing, a wild girl, his foster sister, daughter of his nursemaid Keva, left to fend for herself as an outcast after the suicide of her mother. The Thing represents freedom to Titus and an invitation to join the world outside of the castle.
While Steerpike’s murders and ensuing pursuit has alerted the castle into action and elicited the stony Countess to rise to the occasion of being a leader in a time of crisis, Titus’s frustration has grown to the point where he has summoned the courage to tell his mother that he wants to renounce his earlship and leave Gormenghast for other lands. His mother does not express emotion or surprise but merely says, “There is nowhere else... you will only tread a circle... everything comes to Gormenghast.”
The last fifty pages or so are full of action that makes up for the inert quality of much of what has preceded it. While Steerpike is inevitably defeated tragedy strikes elsewhere and Titus is more resolute in his determination to depart. By the conclusion of the novel, the ritualistic monotony of Gormenghast has become literally lifeless and one senses that this change is inevitable. A confluence of factors has precipitated the development but what will continue in the castle can only be imagined because Titus has left for other lands and his adventures will be depicted in the final Titus novel, ‘Titus Alone’.
It's not a book for everybody but for those that might truly enjoy this book it should not be overlooked.
What I found impossible to read in Gormenghast, though, were the interminable descriptions of and interactions between the professors and headmasters of the school, possibly thanks to not having experienced the antique British education system--thank goodness. Other than skimming or skipping those sections wholesale, this is Peake still writing amazingly, for those who appreciate his slow-paced style. There is an air of inevitability about the plot with a lot of tension still thrown in, so I consider it well worth giving a try if you couldn't get enough in the first book. But, by all means, unless you are in love with grotesquerie mixed with aged schoolmasters, don't feel guilty about giving some chapters a pass.