A Cruel Man Delighting in Flowers

...the mildness to which men ... had yielded was only half of the intoxication of beauty, while the other half ... was of such surpassing and terrible cruelty—the most cruel of men delights himself with a flower—that beauty ... failed quickly of its effect... 

Hermann BrochThe Death of Virgil


Jeremy Davies is made of ink, but don’t dip a feather in him. It tickles. He once painted a fingernail black and no one really noticed. He was disappointed. He’s also an editor, a religious atheist, a liker of strong coffees, a Shakespeare-lover, a political anarchist and someone who rarely has a pen when he needs one. He has been a PhD candidate, a personal trainer, a life model, a bouncer, an infantry soldier and someone who rarely had a pen when he needed one. He has had words published in a variety of places, in a variety of publications, in a variety of forms, in a variety of moments: Canada, Wet Ink, SMS and twelve minutes past three in the afternoon being some of these. His first novel, 'Missing Presumed Undead', will be re-published by Satalyte Publishing in February 2014. A second is on its way.

The Illustrated Gormenghast Trilogy - Sebastian Peake, China Miéville, Mervyn Peake 'Titus Groan':

'The moon slid inexorably into its zenith, the shadows shrivelling to the feet of all that cast them, and as Rantel approached the hollow at the hem of the Twisted Woods he was treading in a pool of his own midnight.'

I shall read the other two stories in this volume in due course, but for now, shall leave the shadows of Gormenghast, the deathly halls with their noises dark as shrinking pupils, and those people, heavy, flinching and lost between those marvelous walls...

There is much to love here. Peake writes in a visual way, very different to any other writer who I have described as being visual. Usually this means a kind of filmic-manner, like Elmore Leonard, so you can read it like you're watching it. But this is almost the opposite. You read this as if you're absorbing it. Like on a gallery wall, or perhaps on the side of a broken building, some genuine street-artist been at work.

The novel could easily be described as narrative-poetry. There are passages that you want to read over and over again, like the one above. There is a thickness to the style, as if Peake is varying his brushstroke for a purpose and an effect. When he is heavy, though, the pages start to feel lighter and want to be turned...

You can call it fantasy, but there's nothing overtly 'fantastic', other than what can be fantastic. The characters are vividly drawn to the point of hurting your eyes, making them feel like bleeding instead of tearing. The inclusion of occasional sparse illustrations add further edge. You do not love any of them, but you pity them all. They are all dark and mean and 'bad', but the degree of harm they are willing to do differs, so I enjoy the moral ontology Peake plays with.

As some reviewers here have complained, it can be slow-going. I admit to considering throwing in the towel. On several occasions, picking up the tome did feel close to a chore, but after sitting down, being sat on by a cat (not a white one...) and having a glass of Shiraz at hand in my favourite reading chair, and after the first few paragraphs, you need to go further.

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