Cecily's book reviews

In general I've written reviews of every book I've read since I joined GoodReads (RIP) in May 08, along with one or two I read prior to that. More recent reviews tend to be longer (sometimes a tad too long?). I always carry a book, though I don't get as much time as I'd like to get engrossed - life is busy, but in a good way. Too many of my favourite authors died without writing enough! Apart from reading, and writing about reading, I enjoy Scrabble, good restaurants, woodland, and attending the theatre.
A Child Of Bliss: Growing Up With Mervyn Peake - Sebastian Peake Memoirs of Mervyn Peake's son, and it really is all about Sebastian. The trouble is, he doesn't portray himself as a particularly interesting chap. There's not much detail or insight about Mervyn (or any of the rest of his family), and it's poorly written/edited. A hardcore fan of Peake would be unable to resist it for completeness, but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone else.

The title is wonderfully happy and positive, and at the start, Sebastian states that "the all-pervading atmosphere of their [his parents] influence still envelops me, like a wonderful but harmless leprosy". Unfortunately he fails to convey that with any passion (unlike his sister in her memoirs, "Under a Canvas Sky", http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/258608942) and in contrast, there is plenty of detail about "the uprootings that punctuated my childhood", particularly how unhappy he was at school. The trouble is, I'm not that interested in his schoolboy boxing matches or even how unpleasant the Christian Brothers could be to their charges.

That said, it must be hard to be the child of famous and talented parents, especially if you don't seem to share those talents, but I really think he would have been well advised to have a a co-writer, or even a decent editor. This rambles on in a very disjointed way, changing subject abruptly so that it would be confusing if I hadn't already read a fair bit about the Peakes. There are even quite a few sentences that are so badly mangled that I had to reread them to figure out what was meant! Various famous names are dropped, but I would like to know more about the encounters.

Sebastian repeats some anecdotes for no good reason (other than sloppy editing?), and where he retells an anecdote that is also in his mother's memoirs, "A World Away" (http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/487563887), his version is flat in comparison.

Even more irritatingly, the book contradicts itself: in the space of two pages, he claims to have started boarding school at two different ages, and although he says "my father was not a great reader" he mentions the enormous number of books he had and the fact "he could quote from books verbatim, could recite complete poems if given only the first line". It's hard to know what's true.

Nevertheless, there are a few delightful impressions of his father. For instance, Mervyn returned from a few days away and built a surprise igloo for his sons to see when they woke, complete with a picture of an Eskimo looking out. He also had a bit of a thing about bones and skeletons, collecting some, starting with those of a whale! There is some feeling of his father as a storyteller: "I grew up knowing traditional bedtime stories very well, but interwoven with unique, strange and sometimes mad episodes."

His father's prolonged illness is barely even hinted at, which is bizarre, even if he understandably didn't want to go into painful details. He does fleetingly suggest the visit to Belsen at the end of the war was the cause of his death (his sister lays more of the blame on the failure of his first play, and their mother is less specific).

To be fair, I read this in a double volume, paired with his mother's memoirs, under the shared title "Mervyn Peake: Two Lives"; had it been more obviously an autobiography of Sebastian I might have been slightly less critical of the content and emphasis (though not the writing and editing). Also, Sebastian is very aware of his need, throughout his life, to be noticed and to feel important, and I suppose this entire book is a manifestation of that.

Currently reading

The Illustrated Gormenghast Trilogy
Sebastian Peake, China MiƩville, Mervyn Peake
Mervyn Peake