Sunday, 31 January 2010

Vast Alchemies ~ The Life And Work Of Mervyn Peake - G Peter Winnington

I read this when it first appeared ten years ago and was lucky enough to acquire a copy a few weeks ago. The author is someone who knows his Peake inside out, upside down, and probably by touch in a darkened room. His research is meticulous (he went back to source material rather than rely on previous not altogether reliable works), yet he wears it lightly. The book also has the advantage of being comprehensive whilst remaining a sensible length. All of which makes an ideal biography.

This work also has an advantage over others in that it treats its subject with a great deal of sympathy. That is not to say it ignores Peake’s faults and foibles. But a great deal of rubbish was promulgated about Peake, especially during his illness in his final years. Some of his treatment was nothing less than barbaric; his decline was heartbreaking.

If you are a fan of Peake’s art or writing (or both), this is the perfect companion. It not only helps to unlock the source of much of Peake’s style, it provides an interesting insight into the creative process and how the artist interacts with a world that is clearly far more bizarre than anything that Peake created.