Well I finished Titus Groan a several weeks ago. I saw him safely come into his Kingdom and I have been propelled five years into the future. Ghosts haunt Gormenghast – but some aren’t dead. Flay is living, not roughly but quite nicely thank you. He has now acquired two caves for himself, which he has furnished sparsely. He had become a keen hunter, he cooks, he cleans, he still slips into Gormenghast from time to time, he watches and he waits – but what for, he doesn’t know. But he has survived.
So has Steerpike. he has dispensed with the Doctors dispensary and spare room and ensconced himself in a nice apartment befitting his new position – but I am getting beyond myself: far into Gormenghast. I am following on from Keda, Titus’s wet-nurse.
Sepulchrave haunts the burnt out library. He travels from shelf to shelf reciting the classics. he is joined by burnt up Barquentine – minus head. If you remember, his head had to be replaced with that of a small calf as the original had been stolen. Well, the original does turn up again, in a further chapter…
Swelter is another ghost. He has been replaced by a bow-legged chef with a mule shaped head and mouthful of metal teeth! Where do they get their staff from? I digress. Back to Titus Groan.
It is the morning of the Titus’s christening and all are preparing for the event. Even the head gardener Pentecost (where does Peake get these names from) is cutting flowers and polishing the apples in his little leather cape.
In Gormenghast violet eyes are an unfortunate disfigurement. Titus’s are mentioned quite a few times in a uncomplimentry way. It’s a good job Elizabeth Taylor wasn’t born in Gormenghast – her career would never have taken off. But I digress…..
Nannie Slagg is trying to awaken Fuschia, Sepulchrave and Sourdust are eating breakfast together. Rottcodd is still dusting and the Dr is singing away in his bath. The main action in this chapter comes from Flay and Swelter though:-
Suddenly the door opened and Flay came in. He was wearing his long black moth-eaten suit, but there had been some attempt on his part at getting rid of the major stains and clipping the more ragged edges of cuff and trouser into straight lines. Over and above these improvements he wore around his neck a heavy chain of brass. In one hand, he balanced on a tray, a bowl of water. The negative dignity of the room threw him out in relief as a positive scarecrow. Of this he was quite unconscious. He has been helping to dress Lord Sepulchrave. and had made a rapid journey with the christening bowl as his lordship stood polishing his nails by the window of his bedroom……..
I love this encounter between these old adversaries, but Flay is no match for Swelter’s dripping sarcasm..
A voice came out of the face: ‘Well. well well,’ it said, ‘may I be boiled to a frazzle if it isn’t Mr Flee. ‘The one and only Mr Flee, Well, well, well. Here before me in the Cool Room. Dived through the keyhole I do believe. Oh, my adorable lights and liver, if it isn’t the Flee itself.’
To add insult to injury, Swelter then proceeds to introduce Mr Flay to his kitchen boys:-
‘Mr Flee, I will introduce you,’ said Swelter as the boys approached, glueing their frightened eyes on their precarious cargoes. ‘Mr Flee – Master Springers – Mater Springers – Mr Flee. Mr Flee – Master Wrattle, Master Wrattle – Mr Flee. Mr Flee – Master Spurter – Mr Flee…….
For Flay, this proves too much. He strikes Swelter across the face with the heavy chain. But before there can be any retaliation, Flee manages to escape. The next encounter between the two enemies is interrupted by Sourdust being there, so there can be no return match. Later.