Titus Alone, by Mervyn Peake

I’ve been sharing excerpts from this trilogy, called Gormenghast, by Mervyn Peake (see books 1 and 2).  He was a master of beautiful prose.  As the series progresses, it becomes increasingly dark, and the last book represents a lonely journey by the title character through an unsettling and strange land.  My friend who loaned the books to me said that Mervyn Peake was losing his mind as he wrote the last novel, and can be seen through the degradation of the clarity of his writing.

Here are my favourite excerpts, though they don’t all make sense:

The sky was smothered by planes.  Some of them, though pilotless, were bleeding.

Do you never love this ridiculous world of ours?  The wicked and the good of it?  The thieves and the angels of it?  The all of it?

There is no calm for those who are uprooted.  They are wanderers, homesick and defiant.  Love itself is helpless to heal them though the dust rises with every footfall–drifts down the corridors–settles on branch or cornice–each breath an inhalation from the past so that the lungs, like a miner’s, are dark with bygone times.  Whatever they eat, whatever they drink, is never the bread of home or the corn of their own valleys.  It is never the wine of their own vineyards.  It is a foreign brew.

Get on with life.  Eat it up.  Travel.  Make journeys in your mind.  Make journeys on your feet.

Their past which made them what they were and nothing else, moved with them, adding at each footfall a new accretion.  Two figures: two creatures: two humans: two worlds of loneliness.  Their lives up to this moment contrasted, and what was amorphous became like a heavy boulder in their breasts.

Sitting upright on the upper crown of the truant balloon was a rat.  It had climbed a tree to investigate the floating craft; and then, courage mounting, it had climbed to the shadowy top of the globe, never thinking that the mooring cord was about to snap.  But snap it did, and away it went, this small balloon, away into the wilds of the mind.  And all the while the little rat sat there, helpless in its global sovereignty.

From time to time, as they sped through the upper atmosphere, and while the world unveiled itself, valley by valley, range by range, ocean by ocean, city by city, it seemed that the earth wandered through his skull…a cosmos in the bone; a universe lit by a hundred lights and thronged by shapes and shadows; alive with endless threads of circumstance…action and event.  All futility: disordered; with no end and no beginning.


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