Monday, September 6, 2010

A Finish, Another Finish, and a Rant

First finish:  No, not that kind. This summer I gave myself the task of reading Mervyn Peake’s “Gormenghast” trilogy. I finished! The work defies classification – it’s part allegory, part fantasy, part gothic novel, part fairy tale, part dystopia and all surreal - and it’s LONG (over 1,000 pages, not that I was counting). I’ve not worked this hard on a single piece as an independent project since I read Goethe’s “Faust” about 15 years ago!
Peake’s writing style is ponderous, a real challenge. It took me, no lie, about 300 pages to “get into it.” I did find myself caught up in the tale, especially towards the end of the second book. But every step of the way I had to stop and re-read phrases (what does “an access of evil” mean?), pull out the dictionary, and repeat paragraphs aloud to try to understand the phrasing.

An example sentence, pulled at random:
"Below the cruddled underside of the unbroken cloud-roof, the air, through some peculiar trick of light,which had something of an underwater feeling about it, reflected enough of itself from the gaunt back of Gormenghast to make the herons restive as they stood and shivered on a long-abandoned pavement half in and half out of the clouds."

See what I mean? It sounds a lot better the third or fourth time you read it. BTW, look up cruddled and see what you find: it may be a colloquial bastardization of curdled (the most likely definition here I think), or it may mean to crouch in a fetal position, or to cuddle. Yuh-huh, most of my lookups resulted in answers like this.

There was a film made (by the BBC I think), but I don’t own a copy; I believe it focuses on the first two novels only; the final book of the trilogy focuses on the a different protagonist altogether.  If you have a copy of the DVD(s?) I'd love to swap for it.
Dark? Yes. Depressing? Certainly. Full of wild imagery? Oh, yes. I’d put him up there with Thomas Mann (or even Joyce, to whom he's been compared in some circles) for reading difficulty, but I’m so glad I read it all the way though; it’s a tale unlike any other in modern fiction and if you’re feeling brave and hardy, do give it a go. It will take patience and fortitude to get through it but it will feed your imagination in ways you cannot anticipate.  Peake was well-known as an illustrator and he has painted a thousand indelible images in this work. 

Second finish:  I finally finished my Asterisk quilt! 

The back - poor lighting conditions, sorry.  Simple applique strips done pick-up-sticks style.
Note to self:  black is a LINT MAGNET, don't do a whole back in black again!
And the glamour shot:
And finally, my rant: 
One of the current ubiquitous phrases that really irritates me is, “It is what it is.” I hear it anywhere from one to four times most weeks, and always with respect to something that needs correction. The phrase is universally used as an excuse not only to escape responsibility, but also culpability. Should you have checked the gas tank before firing up that equipment, and given it a tuneup? Of course you should have. Now that it has broken down and is out of gas, you say, “It is what it is.”  No, it isn’t. The worst cases are at work – I work for a company that makes a product, so the phrase is by definition meaningless:  you made the stuff, so you can change it if you care to do so. It’s an abominable act of shirking to use this phrase – by doing so you expect me not only to accept the flaws I’ve noted, but to specifically hold you free from responsibility for correcting those flaws. 

It isn’t what it is.  It is exactly what you make of it.

Whew - thanks guys, I needed to get that off my chest.


  1. The quilt - wonderful!
    The book - uhhh, I'm getting too old to torture myself for unknown benefits.
    The rant - uhhh yes, I agree - kinda like "get used to it!". I use the phrase for unimportant comments, but DO use it. Now, I'll at least think before saying it! 8-)))

  2. Hello, I just wrote a long comment that was sucked up into the stratosphere, lost forever. I lack the heart to do it over, so for now I'll just say I'm happy to find your erudite blog. Michele

  3. Ok, I read that example sentence three times before I figured it out: the air movement reflected from the over-cast skies made the birds relax. *phew!*

    Also, I like your quilt!

  4. Your whole post made me go "right on!" but I'm over the moon about your beautiful asterisk quilt - lovely

  5. Beautiful and what a great backing!