Archive for January, 2010

‘Authors I’ve Read: Patrick Hamilton’

Posted in Authors I've read with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 16, 2010 by echostains

patrick hamilton

I read 3 Patrick Hamilton books last year and reviewed them all on my ‘Echostains’ blog.  I could transfer them to ‘Bookstains’, but I believe duplicate posts are missed by Google, I will put the links to my reviews here;-


I had watched ‘Twenty thousand streets under the sun’ when it came on TV, then I had to have the DVD….it was only a short step to reading the book.  My first  taste of Hamilton was underway, though it was quite a time before I got round to reading these three books.   I love the seedy underworld of bygone London.  The real life characters like Francis Bacon (my favorite artist of all time which I still haven’t wrote about – yet), Daniel Farson the journalist, my favorite photographer (and not very nice person) John Deakin, the wonderful Jeffrey Bernard (I love his dark deadpan whingeing, self depreciating humour).  There are reams of Bohemians I could write about  (and I will!) – they all inhabit the seedy side of old London.

HANGOVER SQUARE was the second  of my new Hamilton books.  Same setting – London.  The story is set in a lodging house in the war.  A good read but I found it hurtling towards the end and missing a few serious fences.  Indeed there seemed to be an actual tying up of loose ends for tying up sake.  Some good characters in this book though.

THE GORSE TRINITY  This is the book which was televised in 1987 and called ‘The Charmer’ starring Nigel Havers as Gorse.  I enjoyed this book more than the other two (but not as much as (”Twenty  Thousand Streets under the Sky’).  A wonderful page turner – apart from the end which – well baffled me and left me a bit disappointed.

This reminds me that I have yet to do a review of ‘Twenty Thousand Streets under the sky’ and I must remedy this.  I have done a review of the DVD though which I have watched many times.  This book translated well to screen – well worth watching.  The DVD review HERE


‘Titus Groan: Swelter – poetry in slow motion’

Posted in Flashback challenge, Gormenghast journey with tags , , , , , , , on January 15, 2010 by echostains

Mervyn Peake's wonderful Swelter drawing

 Deep in the bowels of the castle,  Flay looks on furtively at  the drunken revelry  going on around him.  The celebration of the birth of the heir to Gormenghast is well underway now, the kitchen has celebrated all day and it really shows.  Peake is at his most descriptive here: you can almost feel the heat raging from those open doors  as joint after joint are forced into the already bulging ovens.  The floors are littered with mixing bowls,  grease and mounds of food covered in sawdust.  The Grey Scrubbers who see to the cleansing of the kitchen are blind drunk and sleeping it off.  There are eighteen of these men.  They are deaf by birth and their faces resemble the grey slabs that they scrub.  I find them intriguing.  I always imagine them scrubbing in a line – as one body, or like one relentless wave ebbing slowly backwards as they scrub.

The big quivering mound of white flesh, holding forth with a bottle in his huge fat hand, which he swigs from is Abiatha Swelter.  What a strange Christian name Abiatha is, I must google it and see if it’s a real name.  Peake’s depiction of the fat cook is almost Dickensian.  The cook is so wordy and disgusting at the same time.  The taciturn Flay is no match for him.  I really enjoy the contrast between these two characters: one fat, the other stick thin, one verbose the other almost monosyllabic.  The only common ground they share is their loyalty to the stones and tradition of Gormenghast.  They are woven like slubs into the fabric of the place – though perhaps in Swelter’s case – a fat silk worm content in his own roomy chrysalis.

swelter-as-played-by-richard-griffiths in the BBC adaptation

The characterisation of Swelter is masterly.  For example – the cook addressing the kitchen boys;-

“Now tell me thish, my stenching cherubs.  Tell me thish and tell me extshtra quickly”

Stenching cherubs is a great description of the young scullions, coupled with description of the smells and sounds – the senses are heightened and the being immersed in the whole noisy stinking cauldron of the kitchen.

Shilence,’ roared the chef.  ‘Shilence, my fairy boys.  Silence, my belching angels.  Come closer here, come closer here, come closer with your little creamy faces and I’ll tell you who I am.”

He then proceeds to tell the rapt audience exactly who he is – Abiatha Swelter!

Best description concerning the chapter ‘Swelter’ well, one of many;-

Swelter lowered his head yet again into the hot spindrift and then held up his right hand weakly.  He made one feeble effort to heave himself away from pillar and to deliver his verses at a more imposing angle, but incapable of mustering the strength he sank back. and then, as a vast inane smile opened up the lower half of his face, and as Mr Flay watched him, his hard little mouth twisted downwards, the chef began to gradually curl in upon himself, as though folding himself up for death.  The kitchen had become as silent as a hot tomb.  At last, through the silence, a weak gurgling sound began to percolate but whether it was the first verse of the long-awaited poem, none could tell for the chef, like a galleon, lurched in his anchorage.  The great ship’s canvas sagged and crumpled and then suddenly, an enormousness foundered and sank.  There was a sound of something spreading as an area of seven flagstones became hidden from view beneath a catalyptic mass of wine-drenched blubber’.

This makes me think of a great whale being harpooned or punctured air balloon capsizing.  For Swelter to cover seven flagstones he is either a considerable size or the flagstones in Gormenghast are smaller than normal ones – and I doubt that!

Best dialogue; again, spoilt for choice;-

“I am Swelter’ it repeated, ‘the great chef Abiatha Swelter, shcook to hish Lordshipsh, boardshipsh and all sortsh of ships that shail on shlippery sheas.’  Abiafa Swelter, man and boy and girls and ribbonsh, lots of kittensh, forty years of cold and shunny, where’sh the money, thick and hairy, I’m a fairy! I’m a shongster! Lishen well, lishen well!”

It is obvious from this diatribe that Swelter is blind roaring drunk.  I couldn’t imagine what ‘shunny’ was at first.  The man is a poetry in slow motion!  Swelter is one of my favorite characters in the book, and he just seems to get better and better.

Update:  I have just Googled the name ‘Abiatha’ and it is indeed a real name.  It’s a Hebrew expression meaning ‘abundant father’  He is indeed abundant, and a ‘real’ father to those poor kitchen boys….

HERE is the wonderful website of Gormenghast

Lot’s of information about Peake and his work at Peake Studies

Handy site for finding the meaning of names HERE

‘About ‘Bookstains’

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on January 12, 2010 by echostains

The original echostains


Bookstains is the sister site of my other blog ‘Echostains’.  As Echostains is about communication through art (the stain being the art – the communication being the echo), ‘Bookstains’ is my communication with books.   When you put your hot coffee cup on a wooden surface – it will make a stain.  When you put a book down after reading it – or finding it impossible to carry on with, it will also leave a stain or an impression on you.  This impression can be positive, negative or consist of twittering blue birds.  This blog will take a more leisurely look at what I’m reading and any book challenges which I am taking.   This is the original ideology behind the blog – but this could change

‘Re Reading of ‘Titus Groan/Gormenghast’ – background information’

Posted in Flashback challenge, Gormenghast journey with tags , , , , , on January 12, 2010 by echostains

I first read these books many years ago – and loved them.  Every couple of years I would read them again, totally immersing myself in them.  It has been quite a while since I last read these books now.  I have read the third book in the trilogy about three times  – but though I have persevered, I found I could not seem to get into Titus Alone really.

It is not my intention to narrate the actual books here (there’s no point).  My intention is to track my personal journey through Gormenghast (and other books) and if it inspires anyone to read these books themselves – good!

“Flashback Challenge: Titus Groan/Gormenghast: First impressions”

Posted in Flashback challenge, Gormenghast journey with tags , , , , , , on January 12, 2010 by echostains



As soon as I read or should I say re read, the first few pages of the ‘Gormenghast’ novel, I was immediately back among the ghosts: the characters that had died.  Lord Sepulchrave among the bats, Sourdust, Clarice and Cora and others all lost in the first book Titus Groan.  I realised then that I just HAD to start from the beginning, even though ‘Gormenghast‘ is my favorite of the two books.  The level I have chosen for the ‘Flashback Challenge’ is the Literati, that’s over 6 books.   Well, I guess that  ‘Titus Groan’ will be the ‘over’.  I am going to chart my progress and review my hopefully new impressions as I go along. Originally I had planned to put this on the Echostains blog but I fear it shall take up a lot of room.  Here is what I’ve written so far.  I started reading last night (7th January 2010) 

Well I am reading the first of my books for the Flashback challenge, Titus Groan.  At the moment I am deeply ensconced in the room of Bright Carvings with a strange little fellow with a bullet shaped head, I believe his name is Rottcodd.  He is the curator of this room.  I must say he is really keeping these halls immaculate.  No sooner does a  mote  of dust fall,  it is smitten by Rottcodd.  That feather duster of his is a formidable weapon, he even sleeps with it under his arm  – I really must be careful he doesn’t see me. 

 I wonder at all these bright carvings.  These are the cream of the crop: the others are burned.  The prize? The prize awarded to the winning three carvers is  the absolute privilege of  being allowed to walk the battlements of Gormenghast castle on a certain day of alternate months, PLUS the honour of having their work displayed in this museum (which is really nothing more than a long loft).  How loudly  the little man snores in his hammock, undisturbed, forgotten by the rest of the castle.  Doesn’t he know that today is a special day?  This eighth day of the eighth month is the day a Groan is born and Lord Groan’s butler is here to bring the news.

flay the faithful retainer

  Creaky, shiny coated loyal Flay, the master’s personal servant.  How old is this man? the book doesn’t say.  He cannot be so old really because despite his creaking joints, he manages to live in the woods for some time when he gets banished.  Christopher Lee played this part in the BBC adaptation with great success – inspired casting!

Going down into the kitchen, the senses are assaulted by a steamy quagmire of broths, blood from the slaughterhouse and sweet loaves, mingled with drunken singing and revelry all celebrating the birth of the son and heir to Gormenghast, Titus Groan. 

 I love this first re encounter of the castle kitchen.  The grey scrubbers with faces all alike scrubbing away as one huge wave.   The sounds, the smells – and I haven’t even met the gigantic Swelter yet – and I am really looking forward to seeing him after a few years absence.

Best description of the kitchen (lots to choose from);- 

“On a fixed table running along a length of the wall were huge bowls capable of holding fifty portions.  The stock-pots were perpetually simmering, having boiled over, and the floor about them was a mess of sepia fluid and egg shells that had been floating in the pots for the purpose of clearing the soup.  The sawdust that was spread neatly over the floor each morning was by now kicked into heaps and soaked in the splashings of wine.  And where scattered about the floor little blobs of fat had been rolled or trodden in, the sawdust stuck to them giving them the appearence of rissoles.  Hanging along the dripping walls were rows of sticking knives and steels, boning knives, skinning knives and two-handed cleavers, and beneath them a twelve foot by nine foot chopping block, cross hatched and hollowed by decades of long wounds. 

 Rissoles – a very descriptive image, like they’ve been dipped in flour ready to fry. It is taken for granted that all these knives are razor-sharp by the idea of them giving ‘ long wounds’ 

 Best dialogue;- none in ‘The Great Kitchen’ chapter as Flay who doesn’t say much at the best of time is merely observing.  

Best dialogue from ‘The Hall of the Bright Carvings’;-  

Rottcodd flicked ash from his shoes with a feather duster and tilted his bullet head.  ‘Ah’ he said in a non-committal way.    

 ‘You say ‘ah’, said Flay, turning his back on Rottcodd and beginning to walk down the coloured avenue, ‘but I tell you, it is more than “ah”  

 “Of course,’ said Rottcodd. “Much more, I dare say.  But I fail to understand.  I am a curator.’  At this he drew his body up to full height and stood on the tips of his toes in the dust.  

 A what?’ said Flay, straggling above him for he had returned.  ‘A curator?’  

 ‘That is so’, said Rottcodd, shaking his head.  

 Flay made a hard noise in his throat.  To Rottcodd it signified a complete lack of understanding and it annoyed him that the man should invade his province.  

 ‘Curator’ said Flay, after a ghastly silence, ‘I will tell you something, I know something.  Eh?’  

‘Well?’ said Roddcodd  ‘I’ll tell you’ said Flay.  ‘But first, what day is it?  what month and what year is it? Answer me.’  Rottcodd was puzzled at this question, but he was beginning to become a little intrigued……..‘Come closer Rottcodd, I will tell you.  You don’t understand Gormenghast, what happens in Gormenghast – the things that happen – no, no.  Below you, that’s where it all is, under this north wing…..’  

 There is not a lot of dialogue in this first chapter, but from what there is you can get an impression of Rottcodd’s personality (insular and mostly disinterested in anything which invades his world or disrupts his routine) and a bit of a false impression of Flay’s.  Flay doesn’t make long speeches, this is probably the most he has said all day.  

 Gormenghast itself is a puzzle, there are many descriptions that give an impression of the castle.  I shall put these together in a separate post.