Monday 23 September 2013

Gormenghast trilogy by Mervyn Peake


Over their irregular roofs would fall throughout the seasons, the shadows of time-eaten buttresses, of broken and lofty turrets, and, most enormous of all, the shadow of the Tower of Flints. This tower, patched unevenly with black ivy, arose like a mutilated finger from among the fists of knuckled masonry and pointed blasphemously at heaven. At night the owls made of it an echoing throat; by day it stood voiceless and cast its long shadow.

A dusty tome languished on the shelves for many years, once dipped into but abandoned like an unwanted child, guiltily, stealthily. Then a chorus of voices called for it to return to the light, called for it to be given voice once more, demanded it be read. So read it he most assuredly did, studiously, laboriously, willingly, eventually. Such words, descriptions built upon description like a house made from massive blocks of granite like the abandoned building blocks of long dead gods. But wait, this tome is in three parts, three months assigned to its investigation. Three months were needed, as like a barium meal it is difficult to ingest but illuminating in effect. Part the first sees Titus Groan born into a family of such old and bizarre ritual that the very walls of his home and the life of the castle itself in its daily minutiae is the main character. Doctor and twins, sister and parents, servants of all stripes, and all physical types, thin and fat, old and young, and carvers of bright carvings are lesser characters, small actors upon a grand stage. All lovingly, minutely, richly, sometimes tediously detailed. A plot you ask, why yes there is the barest one but it is subsumed, servant to the description, kept in dark places and fed on worms and scraps. Part the second sees the child grown and the birds come home to roost, such birds, all manner of feathered kind, like unto the birds the countess Groan can call to her despite her carpet of cats. There is a flood, a biblical, catastrophic, all-encompassing flood which moves the second part to its denouement. This second part was the one most avidly consumed. Part the third sees Titus leave the castle and become lost in the larger world and is the weakest of the three, a product of sick bed and inadvisably abandoning the looming, brooding, ubiquitous castle. Young Groan comes close to losing his mind, is Gormenghast real? Taken together the three are less than excellent yet more than merely good but require a concerted effort to consume. The third is terribly flawed and the runt of the litter, one perhaps best left in the dark. Now that it sleeps once more upon the shelf would he recommend it, or leave it to slumber? Could he envisage another adventure within the dusty parchment in the future. All is unsure.

Withdrawn and ruinous it broods in umbra: the immemorial masonry: the towers, the tracks. Is all corroding? No. Through an avenue of spires a zephyr floats; a bird whistles; a freshet bears away from a choked river. Deep in a fist of stone a doll's hand wriggles, warm rebellious on the frozen palm. A shadow shifts its length. A spider stirs...
And darkness winds between the characters.

Overall – Like a whisper in a dream, disturbing, portentous, absorbing, infuriating, incomparable…
The tartar steppe by Dino Buzzati


Giovanni Drogo graduates from military academy and is assigned duty at Fort Bastiani on the border of the Tartar Steppe in the mountains, on the edge of a desert. It is an obscure posting and one he is not entirely happy with and one that several people try to dissuade him from. Wanting to leave immediately he is convinced to stay for 4 months by the commanding officer. This is Catch 22 as written by Magnus Mills as Drogo suffers the pointlessness of his posting, the solitude of being so far away from home, apathy combined with duty, insensitive rules poorly applied and an institutional lack of decisiveness taken to the heights of absurdity but held up as an ideal to aspire to. Highly recommended.

Overall – sparse yet beautifully told

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