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Book Club - Christopher Andrew
by Harriet Dodd on Jan 30, 2013 at 00:01
A critic once wrote about Gormenghast that 'To speak of these novels as being 'about' anything is as inadequate as saying The Odyssey is about a man trying to get home to his wife.'
The novels are set in a castle and focus on the dysfunctional royal family - the Groans. However, the world that is created is without end and is infinitely more fascinating to the reader since it is almost recognisable. New areas of the castle and the world are occasionally uncovered and then closed off, allowing the reader to invent sup plots and remain always hungry for more. This book was influential in my life as, reading it as a teenager, it exploded in my imagination.
Re-reading it as an adult is no less important, but possibly for different reasons. The characters are full of human foibles and are all drawn with perfect detail, other than possibly the protagonist himself, Titus Groan, into whose shoes the reader is invited to stand.
The most wonderful villain emerges in the character of Steerpike. 'Toxically charismatic' the reader both enjoys his successes and then sickens as he turns bad, and revels his demise. However, there will be many readers who can say 'there but for the grace of god' I could have gone. And in the world of finance when we see a rogue trader or a corrupt hedge fund manager I think of Steerpike and the moment he went from acceptable to arch-villain.
Gormenghast as an entity is a living and breathing organism. Certainly the Groans are central to it - but the building and its traditions continue inexorably. This is perfectly illustrated when the first encounter occurs between a man whose job is to dust a room of wooden carvings - and who only sees another human once a year when another carving is brought to him; the reader never meets this man again and is left to wonder how many other rooms are full of such rituals.
In terms of lessons you can take from the book into professional and persona life? I guess never forget how unimportant you are in the grand scheme of things - but there is great merit and happiness to be had by living a worthwhile life in your own small bubble.
Christopher Andrew is chief executive of Clarmond House
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