Saturday, March 3, 2012

Mr Pye - Mervyn Peake


For the record I didn't get very far with Gormenghast (it was Lord of the Rings all over again - half way through the trilogy and I found I just didn't give a damn), despite that when I saw 'Mr Pye' in the Main street bookshop I was drawn to it. It's lucky thing that bookshops like this one make me feel that it's a positive duty (as well as a joy) to spend money otherwise I'd never have bought this book and that would have been a shame - it's a glorious little book in all it's oddities.


'Mr Pye' is something between a fairy tale and magic realism - although neither description/categorisation really does justice to the book. The Mr Pye of the title is an energetic evangelist who has more than a passing resemblance to a penguin. He's a happy soul who's determined to bring universal love and harmony to the island of Sark - not an easy task, but he sets to with a will starting with his landlady Miss Dredger and her sworn enemy Miss George. Miss Dredger is a willing disciple and at first all seems to go well, at just the moment when Mr Pye is about to bring the Sarkese round to his vision of the Great Pal (at a midnight picnic with an armchair bound Miss George descending a cliff care of some sturdy ropes and even sturdier fishermen as a finale to the evening) he's upstaged by a small and very dead whale.

From there on in things get strange for Harold Pye - he starts to grow wings and it appals him. In desperation he turns to sin in the hope that they'll disappear. They do but only to be replaced by horns - which leads to an extremely stressful time for Mr Pye as he struggles to find a balance between good and evil that will allow him to remain merely a man. It's a doomed struggle and it would take someone much better versed in the dark arts of literary criticism (or who understands it all) to tease out the symbolism and meaning therein. I did read some bits and pieces from around the net about 'Mr Pye' which were interesting but nagging at the back of my mind all the time is the thought that perhaps Peake just wanted to have a bit of fun. There are some lovely jokes in this book, my favourite being a riposte to the possibility of air born Russian invasion - a murmuration of Stalin's (it reads better than I repeat it). There are also several descriptions of the local femme fatale Tintagieu that are laugh out load funny (but again better read in context than repeated). 

The final strand of the story, and the one that lead me to buy the book in the first place, is Sark itself. The island is lovingly described, all it's nooks, crannies, and idiosyncrasies explored; it is as much a character in the book as Mr Pye himself - or anyone else for that mater and I certainly can't resist a good island story. This is a thoroughly rewarding book, odd, funny, and thought provoking, in equal measure. 

8 comments:

  1. I've often looked at this and then remembered Gormenghast, which I hated (I only managed about 3 chapters). I might well give Mr. Pye a go though, if only for the descriptions of Sark, which I love :)

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    1. I can't promise that you'll love it but it's nothing like Gormenghast, although there is a dark streak of humour running through it that's sometimes shocking (in that it shocked me out of feeling complacent about what I was reading). I really enjoyed 'Mr Pye' and think there's always something quite satisfying about reading a book set somewhere you know. I've wanted to visit Sark for years, and even more now I've read this.

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  2. I really ought to read this, I've had a copy for aaages... and I loved the Gormenghast trilogy so have no excuse (but I accept that that is definitely a marmite series even if I disagree with you over it's being LotR all over again, heh!). You've made it sound intriguing and unusual... I like the idea that it's a bit of fun, as well as more complex (rather like Orlando I suppose).

    Helen (gallimaufry)

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    1. I think if you like Peake you'll like Mr Pye. In theory Gormenghast is much more attractive than LotR to me but in practice neither held my interest - which is probably the only thing they have in common. It was intriguing and unusual - I wish he'd written more like this but I can't find anything that sounds similar on amazon so am guessing it was a one off. I think the Orlando comparison is apt - you could make what you want of both books depending on how steeped you are in literary criticism.

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    2. He did also write 'Captain Slaughterboard Drops Anchor' which is (according to the Mervyn Peake website; http://www.mervynpeake.org/novelist.html) inspired by his happy memories of Sark, but it's a children's book and the island is a tropical one. So, not really similar at all, as you were.

      Helen

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  3. There was a rather good TV adaptation back in the 1980s with Derek Jacobi as Pye which I enjoyed. I've not read the book though, however being a fan of at least the first half of the Gormenghast trilogy I'm sure I'd like this one.

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  4. That sounds like fun, shame they never repeat the ones you want to watch. Well worth reading if youre

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  5. Just been on a day trip to Sark and read the whole of Mr Pye while doing so. Fascinating to see the island in the book brought alive quite so vividly https://2ndfrombottom.wordpress.com/2017/08/26/mr-peake-mr-pye/

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