Things are going pretty well for the boy in this third instalment of the Gormenghast readalong, hosted by Jackie at Farm Lane Books. If we remember that only a short while ago he was a ragged escapee from Swelter’s kitchen and now he has manipulated his way into the lives of Cora and Clarice, is seen as a hero for having rescued the family from the burning library and has had a piece of luck in seeing Flay, not one of his greatest fans, banished from the castle by Countess Groan. Yet, it’s just not enough for him and he is already, I suspect, beginning to insinuate himself into Earl Groan’s favours by promising to sort everything out for the Breakfast as he and Prunesquallor are dismissed from Sepulchrave’s bedchamber.
It’s not going all his way, though. The sisters are making rumbling noises about getting their prize for having burned the library, Prunesquallor is suspicious and I have a feeling we will be seeing more of Flay, despite his banishment. More importantly, he has failed to anticipate the inevitable influence of tradition in the appointment of Barquentine to succeed his father, Sourdust, as Master of Ceremonies. The theme of tradition and ritual runs through Titus Groan, as seen in the frequent mentions of some pointless ritual, its meaning forgotten but its performance prescribed. Steerpike is an agent of change and revolution, an upstart breaking the bounds of precedent in the castle, but I wonder how he is going to continue his rise when the higher he goes, the stronger the weight of tradition and inheritance.
Steerpike is beginning to exercise a malign fascination for me, rather like the hypnotic sway of a rearing cobra. He is ruthless, manipulative and deceitful. And those are just his good points. He is extremely dislikeable but you can’t help but watch him.
There is something ominous starting to happen between him and Fuchsia. I am starting to feel quite paternal towards her. She is starved of affection from her family with only Prunesquallor and the frankly deranged Nannie Slagg showing her any love and it is becoming increasingly clear that she is yearning to be loved. I found that the scenes where she starts to connect with Sepulchrave through the shadow of his growing madness were touching and herein lies the danger. Fuchsia is a romantic and I fear that, in this instalment, we are witnessing the first stirrings of love. I am worried that she is starting to fall for the loathsome Steerpike. He is adventurous, energetic, ambitious and “different”. It’s Bad Boy Syndrome. For his part, Steerpike is going out of his way to establish a relationship with her. I want to shout, “No!! He’s only going to hurt you!” Not that it would do any good. The omens are not looking good for Fuchsia I fear.
I am now completely hooked on this book, although the density of language lends itself to reading by instalment rather than ploughing through large chunks of it. I still find Keda and her wretched suitors pointless and distracting, although I can dimly see how she, at any rate, may become significant. We have found out from her encounter with the Old Man that she is pregnant. Her child, when he or she is born will be a natural counterpoint to young Titus, whom Keda wet-nursed. Maybe, there is some significance here that will give Keda’s fictional existence some reason.
I am torn between wanting to see Steerpike get his comeuppance and wanting to see how he manages to acquire more power in the castle. We can, I think, also look forward to seeing more of the Flay-Swelter grudge match and the continuing descent of Sepulchrave into madness. Maybe he will hurl himself off a battlement, thinking he is an owl? My only worry is that Fuchsia will not be able to see through Steerpike. We shall see.
Further thoughts on this week’s instalment can be found by:
1. Jackie at Farm Lane Books; and
2. Bellezza at Dolce Bellezza.