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"Gormenghast" Book Review - Lunchtime Lit With Mel Carriere

Somebody left this "Gormenghast" baby abandoned by the door of Mel Carriere´s postal vehicle, and now he has been forced to adopt it.

Somebody left this "Gormenghast" baby abandoned by the door of Mel Carriere´s postal vehicle, and now he has been forced to adopt it.

Books That Drop in Uninvited

Books that drop in uninvited are like guests that drop in uninvited. At first, you feel annoyed and somewhat restless by the intrusion—maybe they have come over without warning to swim in the pool, drink your beer, or both. But after a while you accommodate yourself to the fact that they are not going anywhere anytime soon, so you really do break out the beer (not the good stuff, mind you), and soon you are all laughing and having a good time. Then, as your spouse shoots you the evil eye, before you know it you´re inviting them to stay for dinner.

Books can be like that too, swinging by without warning. Readers plan their books carefully, in advance. There is a bucket list of must-reads that we have to attend to, one by one, in order. The list is single-spaced and written in very tiny font, so there is no room on it for the ugly red marks of edits. Get in line, take a number you darn books, don´t push, we will get to you one by one, we say out loud to them, like the bored bureaucrat at the DMV fighting back the herd of license applicants. After that, we flee for our cubicle, which in my case is the driver´s compartment of a Postal Vehicle, where we leave the applicants grumbling outside while we slowly read through the inventory.

Gormenghast, by Mervyn Peake, was one of those books, or should I say series of books, that dropped into my life uninvited. It is one thing when one guest appears unannounced, it is quite another when they bring their friends. Gormenghast was actually one of the friends, but it turned out to be better company than the first of Peake's books to darken my doorstep, a volume that was somewhat stuffy and monotone, overly verbose at times.

I met Mr. Gormenghast on Wikipedia, where I was reading an article about Sting, formerly of a rock band called the Police. Why was I reading about Sting, you ask? I don´t know. I can´t remember. He is but a casual acquaintance of mine, somebody I give a ride to work from time to time. Sting—please don´t call him Gordon—rides shotgun, while his coworkers Andy and Stewart sit in the back. This does not happen often, because most of the time I have talk radio on, and the trio gets a lift elsewhere. Nobody wants to endure stale talk radio, even for a free ride.

At any rate, my casual acquaintance Sting introduced me to a business partner of his, one Mr. Gormenghast, who then became a casual acquaintance of mine. Since then I would say Mr. Gormenghast and I have become friends, but it was not easy getting over the hump from acquaintance to friend after that time he rang my doorbell without calling first, the day he set out to redecorate my reading bucket list.

Lunchtime Lit Year to Date Recap * ** ***

BookPagesWord CountDate StartedDate FinishedLunchtimes Consumed

The Slynx






The Master and Margarita






Blood Meridian






Infinite Jest






Wuthering Heights






Red Sorghum












*Fourteen other titles, with a total estimated word count of 3,286,908 and 445 lunchtimes consumed, have been reviewed under the guidelines of this series.

**Word counts are estimated by hand-counting a statistically significant 23 pages, then extrapolating this average page count across the entire book. When the book is available on a word count website, I rely on that total, for better or for worse.

***If the dates are lagging, it is because I am still slogging along, trying to catch up after a prolonged sabbatical from reviewing. Five more books and I will be whole again.

In addition to his extreme literary skills, Mervyn Peake is also a superb artist.  He illustrates his own work.

In addition to his extreme literary skills, Mervyn Peake is also a superb artist. He illustrates his own work.

Lunchtime Lit Rules

Lunchtime Lit book reviews are subject to a series of rules so dogmatically inflexible that even the wearisome ritual of Castle Gormenghast cannot match them. According to these austere strictures, all Lunchtime Lit books must be read only on Mel Carriere´s 30 minute lunch break, never smuggled out of the stark postal fortress to be used as pillows at home—items that, due to the exhausting nature of Mel´s paying job, they invariably become.

Like many other of Mel Carriere´s Lunchtime Lit authors, Mervyn Peake met a sad end.  But we will get to that in a later review.

Like many other of Mel Carriere´s Lunchtime Lit authors, Mervyn Peake met a sad end. But we will get to that in a later review.

Where, When, and What is Gormenghast?

Although the Gormenghast series of novels has been labeled fantasy, it is not what we call fantasy in the accepted sense of the word. There are no magicians or sorcerers, no magical creatures like elves or hobbits or orcs or talking trees, no magic wands or cruciatus curses. Everything that happens in the realm of Gormenghast seems subject to the normal laws of physics and biology, but I suppose they call it fantasy is because the earldom is not politically or geographically connected to the ¨real¨ world.

No living person knows where Gormenghast is on the map of the Earth, or even whether it is on our planet at all. Unlike the Lord of The Ring´s Middle-Earth, where JRR Tolkien left behind voluminous notes, highly developed mythologies, and even languages that detailed the landscape, Mervyn Peake left us practically nothing. He died before he could finish the Gormenghast series, and he took most of its secrets with him. I will be writing more on his tragic demise in a future edition of Lunchtime Lit because, as I said, it is a series, and I don´t like repeating myself.

When is Gormenghast? That is another thing impossible to tell without reanimating Mr. Peake, now decades in the tomb. At times the series is futuristic, but on most occasions, it is strictly horse and buggy.

Book One of the Gormenghast series, entitled Titus Groan, begins with the birth of the 77th Earl of Gormenghast, the selfsame Titus Groan who gives the novel its title. In spite of having his name in star billing on the cover, Titus remains a babe throughout that book and hardly figures into the plot. Here, however, we become familiar with the other actors who cast shadows across the tale, heroes and villains alike, plus a few rather gloomy characters who are just there, dwelling in the massively somber, dreary confines of Gormenghast castle. This fastness is a bleak, colorless place, where all activity is governed by the tedium of ancient ritual.

I am pained to report that lead-off hitter Titus Groan matches the dullness of its setting. I cannot tell you more than that, because I read the first installment at home, disqualifying the book from Lunchtime Lit review. Just as Gormenghast is subject to rigidly fastidious rules, so is LL, and the slightest deviation from the strict lunchtime-only policy ostracizes a book from this exclusive community.

It could very well be that reading Titus Groan at home, a place where its beautifully constructed but attention-demanding prose could safely rock me to sleep, caused me to not enjoy it as much as I did Gormenghast, part two. As such I decided to take Gormenghast off to work with me, hoping that the Lunchtime Lit practice of consuming a hearty meal in small bites would vindicate it.

I was not disappointed. The fact that I loved Gormenghast so much, whereas Titus Groan made me groan with boredom in places, causes me to wonder how the setting and circumstances in which we read a book influence our impression of it. Since my literary attention span is obviously limited to a half-hour, will any reading period exceeding this brief time span result in a negative reaction to a given novel? Unfortunately, there seems no way to test this theory in a laboratory, so the answer will remain purely hypothetical.

In Gormenghast, the young Earl Titus Groan reaches the age of realization and begins to spread his wings. He concludes he cannot live in such a dull, regimented world and hatches plans to escape the unbearable boredom of the duties that have been thrust upon him, by accident of birth. But before he can flee his fate, he must first deal with the evil Steerpike, a heartless fiend who is plotting to wrest control of the castle from the Groans. Thusly, Gormenghast is an interior struggle for the young Earl, wrestling with the obligations of his upbringing, and an exterior one, where Titus literally wrestles with the slippery Steerpike. The result is pleasantly captivating, especially in half-hour chunks.

Book cover art for Mervyn Peake's "Gormenghast."

Book cover art for Mervyn Peake's "Gormenghast."

Gormenghast Goes Hollywood?

I mentioned that my occasional carpool companion Sting is a business associate of Mr. Gormenghast. This is because Sting liked the Gormenghast series so much that he bought the film rights. In fact, Sting was so fond of the story that he may have named his daughter after one of its principal female characters. Why else would you put such a lodestone around your child's neck, the name of Fuchsia, unless you really, really admired someone with that name? Thing is, the poor girl has to go through life with the name of Fuchsia and Sting still isn't going to let her or any of his children inherit his money because "riches are albatrosses around their necks." Personally, I would rather wear an albatross in public than a name like Fuchsia.

Any wonder Sting won't carpool with me anymore? I question his parenting and I also pester him for details about his Gormenghast movies, which I don't think will ever be made. Mervyn Peake was a brilliant artist and writer, but he practically gave his work away while alive, and I don't think his family's fortune will be revived by any Gormenghast blockbusters, like when the Tolkien family won the lottery about thirty years after their illustrious forebear's demise.

Gormenghast is just too gloomy a place, and perhaps there is not enough wattage in Hollywood to light up that set. Such a somber setting may be fine in England, where it rains all the time, but here in America, we like our movies with a little sunshine. America, indeed, is the other half of the hurdle this story is going to have to leap if it is ever going to make it to the big screen because, besides me, nobody in the US has ever heard of it. I was ignorant of the series until Sting took my reading bucket list out of my glove compartment and started scribbling the odd names of these books on it. "Hey what are you doing," I told him. "That's my stuff, leave it alone." But he persisted. What could I do? I couldn't stop his unauthorized edits, I had my hands on the wheel.

At least the Gormenghast saga has been adapted for radio already, in 1983 by the Aussies and in 1984 by the Brits. Apparently, broadcast TV never took off in those places. My mother recalls sitting in front of a radio to listen to her stories, but by the time Mel emerged into the world, America was already hooked on TV, though black and white, mind you.

Black and white would be a perfect medium for Gormenghast, a la Roma, but will it ever get filmed? Well, maybe Hollywood won't touch it, but in 2017 Neil Gaiman of American Gods fame announced he would be adapting the chronicle into a TV series. Fine, but please just try not to make it too much like American Gods, which is a snoozer. Gormenghast is already ponderous enough, without any help.

Despite the plodding nature of its predecessor, Gormenghast was good enough to resurrect the series onto my Lunchtime Lit reading rotation. Meanwhile, its author Mr. Peake rolls in his premature tomb, wondering if they are going to adapt his epic into some unrecognizable monstrosity. But I won't talk about Mervyn's sad, early demise just yet, I'll save that for three reviews down the road, when I explore Titus Alone, book three.

My reading list has been permanently altered, and it looks like the party-crashers from Castle Gormenghast will be sleeping on my couch for a while.


Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on September 18, 2019:

Thank you Mills. I am steadily making progress against my Lunchtime Lit book deficit. I disappeared from Hub Pages for about a year but I kept reading in the meantime, so I accumulated quite a backlog of books. Now I am seeing light at the end of the tunnel. I appreciate you dropping in.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on September 18, 2019:

Thank you Devika. Your words are always very encouraging.

Pat Mills from East Chicago, Indiana on September 15, 2019:

I hope your couch can take your new house guests, and I look forward to hearing more about Titus Goran and his realm. Thanks for sharing, as always.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on September 11, 2019:

I haven't read this series and you review encourages me to read it. An excellent review and a must read.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on September 11, 2019:

Turgid is a great word Road Monkey. I would like to borrow it, but I don't think Americans are licensed to use that word. Please try to dumb it down for the home town crowd!

Just kidding. I am surprised to find a couple Gormenghast readers here. Anyhow, I really appreciate you dropping in!

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on September 11, 2019:

Linda it is indeed worth reading, if just for the quality of the prose alone. Mr. Peake paints pictures with words. He sets a mood with language unlike few I have read. Had he set out to write "serious" literature, not fantasy, he would have won a Nobel prize, which he probably would have then sold for ten cents on the dollar - such was his sad life.

Thanks for dropping in!

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on September 11, 2019:

Bill this might not be the place to start reading again, unless you have a pillow nearby. As Road Monkey up there says, the prose is a bit "turgid." Thanks for dropping in!

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on September 11, 2019:

Sting has lost his sting Eric. He was once a rebel, but now he looks and acts like his parents. When I have him on a ride along I call him Stung - past tense. That really pisses him off and he gets out and takes the bus.

Thanks for representing the Sprung Valley in our little forum here.

RoadMonkey on September 11, 2019:

I have actually read this series. I thought the last book was a bit unfinished but the author's demise might excuse that. I did find them a bit turgid to read, though I think they were made into a tv series in the uk, which is probably where I heard of the books.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on September 11, 2019:

I like the sound of this book. I enjoy reading some fantasy stories. I think Gormenghast might be one of them. I've never heard of the book or the author before, but the story sounds like it's worth reading. Thanks for the review, Mel.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on September 11, 2019:

Thank you Besarien I was just the opposite of you, I liked books 2 and 3 but not so much book 1. I guess the reason I do not like the name Fuchsia is because it sounds too much like Fuchila, which in Spanish means that something smells. A stone's throw from Tijuana here such a name would not fly. I appreciate you dropping in!

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on September 11, 2019:

Give it a shot John you might find you like it. This seems to go over better in the commonwealth countries than in the US. I appreciate you dropping in!

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on September 11, 2019:

Thank you Pamela. This is more like King Arthur type fantasy, no hocus pocus going on here. All the same it can be a difficult read. I appreciate you dropping in!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on September 11, 2019:

I really do have to get back into reading. This might be one place to start,so I thank you for the review.

Carry on my friend

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on September 11, 2019:

Yuk - just the type of book not form me. thanks for the warning.

I surely do like this series. A Fairy Book Mother maybe in your choices.

I get all confused - I thought Sting was formerly known as Prince.

Besarien from South Florida on September 11, 2019:

One of my favorite books! I liked Titus Groan too, though. I didn't care for Titus Alone. I guess I wasn't that into Titus. I never read anything else by Peakes.

I wouldn't name a child Fuchsia, though I liked the character. I loved Steerpike! I wouldn't name a child after him either though. I might name a goat after him if I ever get another goat. Nothing could possibly go wrong with that.

John Hansen from Australia (Gondwana Land) on September 11, 2019:

Another interesting Lunchtime Lit review, Mel. I do like a good fantasy novel or trilogy etc...but unless the first volume really captures my imagination I probably wouldn't persist. Maybe you have a point about the half-hour reading window preventing you from getting bored. I do like when an author also illustrates their book. Thank you for sharing this.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on September 10, 2019:

I always enjoy reading your lunchtime readings. I don't know if I would like this series however. I am not big on fantasy books, and I know many popular movies are fantasy type stories now, but they are not my cup of tea either. Maybe I am too set in my ways! I do appreciate all your detailed information on the books you read, so keep up to good work.