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Mervyn Peake and Mannerpunk

Posted: Mon Jan 29, 2007 11:12 pm
by sanscardinality
I'll throw in a couple favorites, starting with Mervyn Peake. If you've not read the Gormenghast Trilogy it's certainly worth a perusal. He was a playwrite in the middle 20th century who explored a compelling gothic world while he was fighting in WWII, though his use of language can be a bit of a barrier.

The official web site:


The Gormenghast trilogy

Posted: Mon Jan 29, 2007 11:21 pm
by Windwalker
The Gormenghast trilogy is tremendous, although I think the first two books are better than the third. I loved the atmospherics, the language, the characters, especially Titus' doomed sister. And it contains one of my favorite lines in all of literature:

"For lust is an arrogant and haughty beast, and far from subtle."


Posted: Wed Mar 14, 2007 11:31 pm
by Windwalker
It turns out that Mervyn Peake is considered the first practitioner of mannerpunk (aka fantasy of manners). Mannerpunk is witty and swashbuckling, full of intrigue, always happens in an urban setting within an elaborate society and never involves large-scale war or apocalyptic events. It has no magic, it's really alternative-universe historical fiction.

The quintessential mannerpunk works are Ellen Kushner's three intricate, layered novels (Swordspoint, The Fall of Kings, The Privilege of the Sword). I read the first two and ordered the third. I will write a review when I've read it.

On a separate issue, it's interesting how many minute subgenres can be created within a genre.

Posted: Mon Mar 19, 2007 2:39 pm
by intrigued_scribe
Windwalker wrote:
On a separate issue, it's interesting how many minute subgenres can be created within a genre.
I agree, it is interesting, indeed. And I'll definitely have to consider picking up the works of Peake and Kushner. *glances at steadily growing stack of books yet to be read*


Posted: Mon Mar 19, 2007 4:54 pm
by sanscardinality
If anyone intends to read Peake, give yourself a clear reading calendar for a couple months. He cannot be read quickly and be appreciated in my opinion.

Absinthe in small (or medium) doses is appropriate, and will help with pacing if you normally read rapidly. I highly recommend staring through a dirty window at fallen leaves in a graveyard between paragraphs as well. Therefore, September is a good month to start for the sake of the leaves falling at an appropriate time in the story, and waiting till then will give you an opportunity to find a window overlooking a graveyard and a source of Absinthe.

Mannerpunk... Hmmm - sounds kinda oxymoronic to me, but I see what they mean. One of my favorite aspects of his work was the cracked eggshell of social mores and taboos covering a sea of violence and passion. That, and I liked the idea of constantly being surrounded by ancient, deteriorating, semi-identifiable artifacts that others have discarded. I forget who said that civilization boils down to having manners. Peake parodies the English culture of his time by showing that having manners does not mean one is civilized.

I've not read the other books you mention, but perhaps at some point I'll check them out. I've been restricting myself to nonfiction lately, though I'm not sure why exactly...


Ellen Kushner's Riverside world

Posted: Thu Mar 22, 2007 11:56 pm
by Windwalker
Having read The Privilege of the Sword, I can now opine on Kushner's Riverside tales, which consist of three novels (Swordspoint, The Privilege of the Sword and The Fall of the Kings) and three short stories.

The work is a seamless fusion of Alexandre Dumas and Jane Austen: witty, swashbuckling, glittering, sensual, worldly. It is also a tad self-conscious and smug, and the influence of Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond Chronicles is obvious in the tortured, ambiguous, charismatic male protagonists.

The Privilege of the Sword is the least of the three, despite (or because of?) the fact that its protagonist is a woman: Kushner's heart seems to be with her homosexual or reluctantly bisexual male characters. Nevertheless, the novels are beautifully wrought and linger in the mind and the senses.