In 1939 Mervyn Peake inveigled his wife-to-be, Maeve Gilmore, to his room in Battersea. It was a damp, run-down place on the first floor with few facilities. But it had a bed, which was the important thing. In the middle of the night, however, they were woken by noises from beneath, and when they lit the candle they saw the floorboards were moving. Peake leapt up, and threw back the rug to reveal a trapdoor. He threw that back too. While they were asleep a circus had moved into the ground floor, and an elephant was scratching its back against the beams. For the rest of the night they fed it buns.
That’s from Fergus Fleming in the July issue of the Literary Review. As most fans of the Gormenghast trilogy know, 2011 is Mervyn Peake’s centenary year: he was born on 9 July 1911. There is a massive reissue programme with new editions of Gormenghast, Mr Pye and Letters from a Lost Uncle; the Complete Nonsense includes more than 30 newly discovered poems. Peake was an artist as well as a poet and novelist: Fleming reports that:
The British Library are publishing Peake’s Progress: Selected Writings and Drawings of Mervyn Peake (£25), as well as mounting an exhibition devoted to Peake (The Worlds of Mervyn Peake, 5 July-18 September), while there is also a deluxe ten-volume Complete Works featuring Peake’s manuscript illustrations, limited to 150 sets and available at an eye-watering price from Queen Anne Press.
And then there are two new books: the long-anticipated Gormenghast sequel, Titus Awakes (Vintage 288pp £7.99); and his daughter Clare’s memoir, Under a Canvas Sky (Constable 224pp £14.99).
Fleming’s very positive review of these two books is here. More on Peake at the Mervyn Peake Estate’s excellent website and blog, which are run by Sebastian Peake (that’s him on his father’s shoulder in 1940, above).
Chris Bell, another Peake fan, writes a thoughtful appreciation on his wordsSHIFTminds blog here.