A Month in Gormenghast

By the time I’m done, it will probably be closer to two months. I’m a reasonably fast reader, and I’m still only halfway through the trilogy. These books are truly epic – sweeping, all encompassing, and yet by the time the first book ends, only a year has passed and no one has gone anywhere.  And yet, by the end of the first book, the world is irrevocably changed.

I was fascinated by the Gormenghast Trilogy when I was younger. I picked them up from the library multiple times, and made several attempts at reading them, but never get past the first few chapters. The books are considered classics, and I can see why. They are also incredibly frustrating.

There are moments of absolutely gorgeous prose, but there is so much slogging required to reach them. Every detail is absorbing to the author – there are rambling tangents that go on for entire chapters about the weather, a single tree branch, a stone.  These are not books for someone looking for fast-paced action.

Almost every character is irritating, they have annoying habits, weird tics, and sometimes you just want to punch them.  At the same time, they’re strangely compelling.  It’s hard to turn away, it’s hard not to get drawn into the world.

I have a problem giving up on books anyway. I tortured myself with Russian literature classes in school, slogging through pages and pages of nothing happening for those few flashes of brilliance, those brief moments of payoff. So I’ll keep wading through Gormenghast, and it will be strangely worth it.  The books are effective, they evoke a reaction. And did I mention the gorgeous prose?  If you’re willing to put in the work – and the time – these books are recommended reading.

3 Comments

Filed under Recommended Reading

3 Responses to A Month in Gormenghast

  1. amy

    I’m not sure you’re selling it here. I’d not heard of these books, and now that I have, I’m not feeling incredibly compelled to read them. I will admit I often skip over things if they get too wordy.

    I think Elizabeth Bear is right about the amount of descriptive that I can handle. I always feel like she’s putting in a lot of basic-scene description in something that feels more plot-oriented. But it’s not quite enough to turn me off or make it feel awkward. Instead I find myself intrigued by how someone’s jeans fastened or what color the stone was.

    Actually, your writing often reminds me of hers. I couldn’t quantify how, and I’m not going to try, but there it is.

  2. amy

    p.s. people who don’t have to work today suck.

  3. Yeah, I’m actually kind of torn about the fact that I call the books recommended reading. From my personal experience of starting and stopping them several times before now, I’d say they’re an acquired taste. Even this time around, it took me a long time to warm up to them. I’m just stubborn and weird.

    And sorry about the not working. (I’m not really sorry.)

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