Books similar to Peake/Gormenghast?
April 18, 2008 10:02 PM   Subscribe

My fiance loves Mervyn Peake. Can you suggest some other authors/books that are similar in style to Gormenghast?

My fiance wrote his masters thesis on Gormenghast, and he's pretty familiar with anything that's similar in the gothic genre (ie. Castle of Otranto, Melmoth the Wanderer, etc.). I'm wondering if there's anything more contemporary that's in a similar vein?
posted by supercrayon to Writing & Language (16 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Whilst not exactly "gothic", China Mieville has acknowledged that his Perdido Street Station was very much inspired by Mervyn Peake (and in particular Gormenghast).

I've enjoyed both authors immensely.
posted by lych at 10:37 PM on April 18, 2008

Sorry that "acknowledged" link should have been

posted by lych at 10:39 PM on April 18, 2008

Gloriana, by Michael Moorcock, is very Gormenghast-influenced.
posted by Bigfoot Mandala at 11:20 PM on April 18, 2008

Gloriana sits next to Gormenghast on my bookshelves, so definitely seconding that. I wasn't a fan of Perdido street station, (thought it was too long).

I'm not sure if these are strictly similar, but The Iron Dragon's Daughter by Michael Swanwick and A Glastonbury Romance by John Cowper-Powys are also near Gormenghast in my book-filing system :)
posted by cardamine at 1:01 AM on April 19, 2008

City of Saints and Madmen Vandermeer, I seem to remember features a city called Ambergris with lots of strange things going on.
posted by cardamine at 1:07 AM on April 19, 2008

Peake is much more of an influence in British science fiction than on UK mainstream lit. That may seem an odd thing to write, but it's true - he's much harder to emulate in a novel about a middle aged writer having an affair in Hampstead, than he is in a novel about personal relations between cyborgs in a kilometer long starship nearing Tau_Ceti. He's all about ordinary people dealing with the conflict between the new and the ancient.

Anyway - there's going to be lots of SF answers to this question - for good reason. Following are some non-SF suggestions.

Usually for questions like this the issue is whether your fiance likes the style or the subject matter. With Peake the two are inseparable and there is literally no-one like him. So here are some books that sort of feel like Peake at times:

Anthony Burgess had a theory about the Titus books being an allegory of how WW2 required the over-throw of the ancient hierarchies by the new - and the inevitable failure of that revolution. AB was a bit of an idiot at times, but many of his novels were heavily influenced by MP. Hard to know where to start really.

"Darkness Visible" by William Golding always had the feel of the darker parts of Peake to me. Not a very nice book at all though.

The Claudius books by Robert Graves have the same feel of a vast history weighing down on someone incapable of deaing with it.

Angus Wilson has a similar feel at times, especially "The Old Men at the Zoo". A great champion of Peake when he was alive.

I could try and make a case for Gore Vidal. His historical novels especially.

Really, there is no-one at all like Peake. I was convinced for a year after reading "Titus Groan" for the first time that the book was illustrated - I could see the finely drawn black pen on white paper images. It wasn't illustrated at all of course. He just wrote like that.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 1:25 AM on April 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

The so-called New Weird guys all claim to be heavily influenced by Peake. China Mieville, M. John Harrison, Jeff VanderMeer (Ambergris), K.J. Bishop (excellent book, btw). Mostly about gothic cities / places as major characters of the stories.

There is a new anthology out by VanderMeer and company that is on my TBR pile. It's been reviewed favorably on the interwebs.

But if he hasn't read Mieville yet, start there. Perdido Street Station is a really really good read. That's the first of his Crobuzon series.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 5:31 AM on April 19, 2008

When I read Gormenghast it put me in mind of E. R. Eddison's Zimiamvia trilogy more than anything else--Eddison has similarly extensive descriptions, as well as a writing style that some love to pieces and others call overwrought.

Eddison's not well known these days (even though, if I remember correctly, he associated with both C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien), so copies of his work are hard to find. If you can't find the trilogy in an omnibus, the three individual books are Mistress of Mistresses (1935), A Fish Dinner in Memison (1941), and The Mezentian Gate (which was unfinished at the time of Eddison's death and published posthumously, in 1958).
posted by Prospero at 7:42 AM on April 19, 2008

(even though, if I remember correctly, he associated with both C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien)

Are you maybe thinking of Charles Williams?

I'll certainly throw in a second for Eddison, and add that probably his most famous work is The Worm Ouroboros, which is full of strange rituals and tons of betrayals, though it doesn't have Gormenghast's claustrophobic feeling.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 8:16 AM on April 19, 2008

Are you maybe thinking of Charles Williams?

Though I had to check, I got it right, sort of (they weren't nearly as close as I remembered them being):

Eric Rücker Eddison [...] was an Eton and Cambridge man, a decorated civil servant and was associated with the Inklings, the Oxford-based literary circle that included his two most famous admirers, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Though denying any influence, Tolkien wrote in a 1957 letter, "I still think of him as the greatest and most convincing writer of 'invented worlds' that I have read."

Tolkien met Eddison only once, hearing him read a work in progress "of undiminished power and felicity of expression"; Lewis, encountering Eddison's work in middle age, had an even more revelatory experience: "Here was a new literary species, a new rhetoric, a new climate of the imagination."

I'd never heard of Charles Williams before now, but thanks for introducing me to someone new. The plot synopses on the Wikipedia page sound in-freakin'-credible.
posted by Prospero at 10:07 AM on April 19, 2008

Another vote for China Mieville. Perdido Street Station is excellent.
posted by nihraguk at 12:07 PM on April 19, 2008

I'm the aforementioned fiance - thanks for all the recommendations, everyone. I have a cold right now, and supercrayon's trying to track down some reading material.

I've read quite a few of the suggestions already (Perdido Street Station, Gloriana, The Worm Ouroboros, M. John Harrison, Gore Vidal) or seen the mini-series (Claudius) and very much enjoyed them (although I found Perdido too didactic). I've always meant to find some work by Charles Williams, even if his influence on That Hideous Strength was less than positive. Haven't heard of the others, so I'll definitely be tracking them down. Thank you!
posted by Paragon at 1:01 PM on April 19, 2008

I think the fever-dream visual intensity of Peake's prose, and its atmospherics, are matched by A Game of Thrones, and every castle in that book seemed like a variation on the theme of Gormenghast to me, but your fiancee may not enjoy the perpetual sensation of going over a waterfall in a rowboat he may experience reading Martin after becoming accustomed to the leisurely contemplative circling in one eddy pool of plot after another I remember from reading Peake's trilogy as an impatient teenager.

I would also recommend Henry Treece's great historical re-imagining of one of Holinshed's stories, one which also inspired Shakespeare (not to be coy, but I hope he may experience a little gust of pleasure such as I had when I realized everything Treece was braiding together, if he reads it) The Green Man. It's dark, brutal, and disturbing, but very beautifully written and vivid, and arguably belongs in a Welsh School of Fantasy along with Peake and others.

I can't resist plumping for another of my favorite Great Neglected Works of Fantasy, Cherry Wilder's The Rulers of Hylor series: A Princess of the Chameln (1984); Yorath the Wolf (1984); and The Summer's King (1986).
posted by jamjam at 1:08 PM on April 19, 2008

I would like to nominate Gene Wolfe's wonderful The Book of the New Sun, a novel (usually published in four volumes, but definitely a single novel) that is as baroque, alien and beautifully written as anything that Peake wrote. Thousands of years into the future, world, now known as Urth, has crumbled away under a slowly dying sun; technology is only used, and then not even fully understood, by the genetically modified elite, and most of civilization lives in a sort of medieval darkness. Enter Severian, cocky young apprentice torturer and terrifically unreliable narrator, who roams the corridors of the ancient Citadel until he one day falls in love with one of his victims. Wolfe's elegant, old-fashioned and flowery prose is a joy to read, and he shares Peake's allegorical approach to architecture and history.
posted by gentle at 4:26 PM on April 19, 2008

Oh, and there is also John Crowley's Little, Big: or, The Fairies' Parliament, a charming and complex fantasy about a guy who marries into a family who lives in a house in upstate New York that may just be the doorway to the realm of the faeries. Crowley is an accomplished stylist, and his descriptions of the architecture of Edgewood are beautiful, and the story has a sort of Lewis Carrolly otherwordly playfulness to it.
posted by gentle at 4:36 PM on April 19, 2008

Another one I always like to recommend is Edward Whittemore. His Jerusalem Quartet knocked my socks off. Here's Jeff VanderMeer's essay on it. Another favorite of the New Weird crew. It'll be tough to find in-print copies. Old Earth Books put them out again a few years back (fortunately I got these) before they let them go out-of-print again. Best books most folks have never heard of.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 7:21 PM on April 19, 2008

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