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Jeruba's avatar

If you've read The Gormenghast Trilogy, tell me: shall I press on?

Asked by Jeruba (51370points) October 17th, 2011

I started this series by Mervyn Peake as three volumes under one cover, but quickly gave it up because the book was too heavy to hold up and read in bed.

I could go back to the library and get it in three separate volumes, but should I? What are the indicators that I would or would not consider it worthwhile to plow all the way through this voluminous and apparently very weird set of novels?

Topics: Gormenghast, Mervyn Peake, novels, weird fiction, reading, literary taste

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8 Answers

wundayatta's avatar

I was unable to get very far in it. I didn’t understand what the big deal was. I thought it was rather pedestrian—this was many years ago, so I’m not sure I remember exactly what made me feel this way. But I wouldn’t waste my time on it. Maybe it’s because I’m really a science fiction fan. But there is a lot of fantasy I like. Just not that.

YARNLADY's avatar

If you like adjectives, then by all means do. The story itself is secondary to the writing style.

bea2345's avatar

I read it more than once and enjoyed it each time. Try and finish it, you may like it more than you think.

Haleth's avatar

(It’s been a long time since I read them, so my memory isn’t perfect.)

The novels are definitely weird- the trilogy is like nothing else I’ve ever read. Certain things about the books were very depressing and stayed with me. During the time I was reading them, I felt this kind of malaise that I couldn’t shake off.

But then again, there are some things in the book that are so striking and vivid that I’m glad I read the series. The castle itself, and the endless rules governing the lives of the people who live there, are the main reasons for my gut-level reactions to the books. The descriptions of the castle really make you feel the weight of time. Everything is empty, dusty, decaying, or falling apart.

Usually, reading is quick and effortless for me and I tear through most books. The plot of Gormenghast is slow-moving at times, but that’s not why it took me longer to read this one. Sometimes the atmosphere of the book just seemed so oppressive and stifling that it made reading an effort, and I’d have to set it down and walk away. Also,


Peake died before finishing the last book, so the series doesn’t exactly reach a conclusion. It’s still an interesting ride. There are moments that took my breath away, like Steerpike exploring the rooftops of the place, just because it’s all so vast and undiscovered.

I’d say it’s a worthwhile read, maybe just for the strangeness alone.

Jeruba's avatar

@Haleth, my first impression (about 40 pages in) was that it was (more or less) the literary equivalent of the art of Richard Dadd. Does that seem like a fair assessment?

Haleth's avatar

What a great comparison, and thank you for sharing that artist! His artwork seems to use a lot of brown and muted colors, and most of my mental images from Gormenghast were in that range. The crowded compositions and the surrealism definitely remind me of the odd, stifling atmosphere of Gormenghast. Yeah, this captures the feel of the books very well.

bea2345's avatar

That comparison did not occur to me but it is spot on. BTW, when in London in 1974, I was able to see the Dadd exhibition at the Tate (and of course, I had to see the Constables as well!) – his paintings are incredibly detailed and infinitely weird.

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