Somewhere along the way, my copy of Gormenghast got rained on. I wonder if a roof leaked in some previous house, or a chimney made a nearby wall a bit damp. Whatever. I went for it a few minutes ago and the book’s pages have the wavering crispness of the once-wet. The cover is thickened around the edges, and the first few chapters have some kind of dark speckling on them advancing from one spread to the next. Some of the print is smeary.
It’s perfect, really. A perfectly damaged book. If you’d asked me what the Gormenghast books were about when I first read them in my late teens, I would have said they were about a very dangerous dishwasher. I was a dishwasher at the time, and took a certain kindred thrill in Steerpike, who moves from the kitchens of Gormenghast to…well, that would be saying too much. Now, in my forties, I would say they’re about aging, about a great mass of aging and forgetting and crumbling and ruination. Castle Gormenghast is ancient and tumbledown. I bet its own books have the wavering crispness of the once-wet. I bet there are dark speckled forms growing throughout the chambers.
I read once that Mervyn Peake’s trilogy of books was not meant to be a trilogy – and was not really meant to be about a single place. I gather it was conceived as being the life story of Titus Groan, who is present but very young for most of what survives of the Gormenghast books. There are more than three of these books, but only three are canon, and I think I remember reading that actually only the first two have arrived in the manner that Peake intended. And so Titus Groan’s story doesn’t always have that much Titus Groan in it.