Saturday 9 July 2011


Mervyn Peake's books are actual additions to life; they give, like certain rare dreams, sensations we never had before, and enlarge our conception of the range of possible experience.
— C S Lewis

Today is the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Mervyn Peake (caricatured right by Dunlap-Shol).

Peake, as I keep banging on about on this blog, was the author of that extraordinary trio of novels, Titus Groan, Gormenghast and Titus Alone, as well as being a brilliant artist and one of the greatest book illustrators of the 20th Century.

Today also sees the official publication of Titus Awakes, a fourth novel about the 77th Earl of Gormenghast written by Peake's widow, the late Maeve Gilmore, that – until last year – had lain forgotten among the family papers since her death in 1983.

Having been given the privilege by Maeve, thirty years ago, of reading the book when it was still in manuscript, I was proud to now be asked to write an introduction to this fascinating literary 'discovery'.

More than that, I have been able to incorporate elements of Maeve's work into my cycle of six one-hour radio plays, The History of Titus Groan which commences on BBC Radio 4 tomorrow, Sunday, at 15:00.

You can read more about the genesis and development of the serialisation from its producer, Jeremy Mortimer, on the BBC's Radio 4 & 4 Extra Blog.

BBC publicity for this (apologies for bragging) landmark series has been at an all-time low. Not one of today's broadsheets managed a preview. So for Mervyn's sake (on his birthday) please blog, tweet, chat and – however you can – spread the word!

Several critics have harshly reviewed Maeve's book, condemning it for not having the same brilliance of invention and character as is found in her husband's writing. True, the publisher's hyperbolic tag 'The Lost Book of Gormenghast' is, frankly, misleading, but – as I am at pains to point out in the introduction – Maeve did not write her book with a view to publication. However, it is, I believe, worth reading for the light which it sheds on the relationship between her and Mervyn and for its unexpected and utterly poignant portrayal of her husband as a character in Titus' world.

If you know the world of Gormenghast and have read Titus Groan's earlier peregrinations, then you may be interested in Maeve's speculation of what happened to him next in Titus Awakes

Also just published: a one-volume edition of the three Titus novels with over a hundred illustrations (many published for the first time) taken from Mervyn Peake's manuscripts and a new introduction by one of today's leading fantasy writers, China Mieville. This edition is sold as The Illustrated Gormenghast Trilogy

Peake fans (or those who'd like to find out about why some of us make so much fuss about him!) can discover more at the British Library exhibition, The Worlds of Mervyn Peake which remains on show until 18 September.

Caricature of Mervyn Peake by Dunlap-Shol

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