Mr. Pye, by Mervyn Peake

Mr PyeMr Pye by Mervyn Peake

Mr. Pye is Peake’s successful attempt at a fable, and as such it has a moral. It is the kind of moral, in the end, you’d expect from Mervyn Peake, not entirely useless–more of a gentle reminder in a style perilously close to being overdone, but not quite.

How shall I describe the personalities that Peake draws? The personalities encountered on the island of Sark are as characteristic as any in Gormenghast. They are almost cartoons and would fail in any setting other than Gormenghast but that Peake is using them here for a fable, for which they’re fabulous. They are a bit thicker than characters in an allegory, but not in every dimension. Peake’s characters are part of the dramatic landscape, and he never takes any of them entirely seriously.

Peake is good at drawing a scene, at drawing it out, one might say, and making a great dramatic point out of very little action. He paints, one sometimes thinks, more than he writes. And if you enjoy an often vertiginous and always overcrowded zest of atmosphere and description, then you’ll like Mervyn Peake.

The book is about a little fellow of missionary zeal who is given what he seems to believe. It is set on the Channel Island of Sark, where Peake lived. It is a fantastic but thought-provoking story. The result is humorous indeed, very humorous at times. I think one of Peake’s great virtues is maintaining a sense of proportion in the bewildering landscapes and situations he sets himself to describe. If you don’t find the grotesque when used intelligently off-putting, if you want a lighter version of what you get in Gormenghast with perhaps more of a resolution than the famed trilogy, try this.

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