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Baker's Dozen

The Count Of 13: Ramsey Campbell's Weird Selection
Sean Kitching , May 6th, 2020 09:26

In a Baker's Dozen diversion, writer Ramsey Campbell guides Sean Kitching through 13 favourite pieces of weird culture, from film to opera and literature, via David Lynch, Arthur Machen and more


Mervyn Peake - Gormenghast
It’s set in the castle of Gormenghast, which appears to be infinite, which you may take as symbolic if you wish. It’s an absolute gem of storytelling and I found it to be one of the most unputdownable books. There’s a few - Ira Levin’s A Kiss Before Dying is one, The Flight From the Enchanter is another, but I think possibly the first two Gormenghast books even more still. They’re big fat things but they compel you onward just by the sheer power of the story. If we agree that there’s a gothic impulse in Dickens, which I think there is in something like Bleak House in particular, in a way Peake is further on from Dickens, not least in the naming of characters and the way that they’re not quite caricatures but they’re larger than life. There’s a tremendous energy and inventiveness, clarity of style. The third novel is kind of a shock. It’s significantly shorter than the other two. It’s much more pared down, and very considerably bleaker, which appears to reflect Peake’s wartime experiences, not least the fact that he was confronted with the concentration camps. His vision has darkened very considerably and one gets the sense that perhaps this book was very much more difficult to write. It was supposedly meant to be a quartet and not a trilogy but what we have is remarkable and to my mind is one of the great, utterly English 20th century novels, or three of them if you like.