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Under a Canvas Sky: Living Outside Gormenghast
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39 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on 12 June 2011
Anyone who knows me will tell you that I hold Mervyn Peake to have been a genius. As a painter, illustrator, poet and novelist he excelled. But there is one aspect of his genius that is rarely listed, but which should not be overlooked. In collaboration with his wife Maeve Gilmore (a superb artist in her own right), he was a genius parent.

If you want proof, read this book. It is there in several ways. To begin with, the story it tells. Clare was the youngest child of the Peakes and her father's illness began when she was seven. The harrowing tale of this wonderful artist's descent into a living hell has been documented more fully elsewhere. It still makes me cry. The perspective here is of a child. Clare Peake does not attempt an adult's retrospective other than to explain this was her life and, as a child, hard as it was (and the pain emerges later), that is how it was.

To write so confidently and simply about this, as Clare Peake does, is a great gift. She tells her story. And it becomes clear just what wonderful parents she had, that their talents as artists spilled over into their care for their children. It was not conventional. On the other hand it was not outrageously bohemian. It was a childhood of love. Because the artistic genius of the parents did not make them precious, did not make them feel superior to lesser mortals (unlike some of the unprintable people they met along the way, especially when Mervyn Peake became ill).

As a combination of biography and memoir it does not gloss over the bad times, but neither does it dwell on them. This is no rosy-visioned romp in a perfect childhood; but neither is it a misery fest. The straightness, openness, and honesty of the work is also a testament to the genius of the parents who laid the groundwork for someone who has had to grow up and make a life of their own knowing they had famous parents. And it is clear from this work, those foundations were strong.

Having read widely about the Peakes, this is a fresh perspective. It tells a familiar story without once making you think you've been there before. No mean feat. The writing is beautiful in its simplicity, the story is told with equal clarity (and having grown up through the same period, I have to confess there was a great deal of nostalgia on my part and a nodding of the head in agreement with sentiments expressed), and I feel privileged to have been allowed another glimpse into the life of this family.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 28 June 2011
I wholeheartedly agree with the first review here. This is a beautiful book that is clear and honest. I wept several times throughout the book but often happily as well as from the touching compassion of the author towards her wonderful parents. Nor is this book only for admirers of Mervyn Peake - anyone would find the human story within an interesting one. Covering the war and then the 1960s afterwards, the exuberance and talent of those times bursts forth. Clare Peake may have waited many years to publish her first book but I hope she will not hold back any more of her writing for us to all enjoy.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 19 July 2011
This is a beautiful memoir, beautifully written; full of fascinating details, not only about her father, a great artist and writer, but also about Clare's own life within such a hugely gifted family. It's a story not without its tragic elements, but threaded throughout with good humour and a rich humanity that almost glows on the page. Thoroughly recommended.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 11 July 2012
Like many teenagers I was spellbound by Gormenghast, which led on to a fascination with Mervyn Peake as a writer and artist. I have read other biographies, as well as his wife Maeve Gilmore's beautifully written book of their lives together, 'A World Away'. This sensitive memoir by his daughter reveals Mervyn the father and family man too, and is a wonderfully evocative portrait of growing up with two exceptional and loving parents. Clare writes with a direct simplicity which really makes her experiences come vividly alive, whether it's as a small child or as a teenager in London's swinging sixties - the atmosphere and sense of place comes through strongly. Of course the great tragedy at the heart of the book is Mervyn's premature illness and long decline, which again is told with love and honesty. I felt a huge regret for all the years of creativity that were denied to him - years when this prolific author and artist could have delighted us with unknown works - as well as the terrible loss that his family suffered. Ultimately though the warmth and humanity of Clare's book is uplifting and inspiring, and I am left with a sense of gratitude that she has shared these unique and personal memories with us. Thank you.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 21 July 2011
I've read so much about Mervyn Peake that I almost decided not to buy this book, thinking it could not add anything new to my understanding of this extraordinary man. How wrong I was. But it is not just for Peake fans - Clare's mother is arguably the heroine of the book for her warmth, courage and refusal to let her husband's terrible illness destroy her life and those of her children. Misery memoir this is not; Clare's childhood was idyllic in many ways and the book is very, very funny in places, as well as fascinating in its vivid evocation of London in the fifties and sixties.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 24 June 2012
I'm not sure what lead me to buy this book, apart from a Peake and Gilmore fascination in my late teens. Like others I wasn't sure what this account would add to my knowledge. But having read it, I'm not sure why it took me a year to do so. Once I picked it up I couldn't stop reading it. This is a really beautiful account of the parts of Clare's life she's chosen to share with us, written by someone who evidently revels in language and art. I frequently envied the wonderful upbringing she had and at the way her parents chose to live their lives - richly but simply, but equally frequently had tears in my eyes at the tragedy mental health issues imposed on her family, the beauty with which she wrote about it, at the way she presented things, at the courage of her mother and the poignancy of the events she relates. Her teenage escapades had me grinning a lot. Anything I write will only clumsily clutch at the emotional journey I went on in reading this book. This book relates real love, acceptance and devotion in trying and uncertain times, but celebrates the happy times too. And it's bound beautifully - I can't recall the last time I held a white bound book. A very special package indeed.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 22 October 2013
What an extraordinary achievement this book is. How do you capture a uniquely beautiful childhood without any tinge of boastfulness or celebrate your love for a great father of unique talent without a shred of self indulgence? Clare Peake has succeeded with a gentle self deprecating humour and a love of humanity the size of a planet.

Anyone who loves Mervyn Peake's `Gormenghast' or his poetry, or his fantastic illustrations must read this book as Clare introduces us to her father in a book that is partly a tender biography. Secondly we have a playful and original account of what it was like to grow up in Chelsea in the 60s. But most magically Clare has managed to include here everything that her two exceptional and loving parents taught her about life, about parenting, and about love and in doing so generously shares her parents with us all.

Ten stars out of a possible five Clare Peake.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 19 August 2011
This is an enchanting read and you don't have to be a Peake fan to appreciate it as an insightful and well written account of childhood that will have you chuckling away as you recognise (hopefully) your own childhood from it but also reaching for a hankie or two. It's never sentimental but celebrates being a child. It's also very revealing about the Peakes as other reviewers have already discussed. What a wonderful couple they were and Clare really brings them to life. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
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on 26 May 2012
I have always been fascinated by Mervyn Peake, and loved his books and illustrations, but even if I had never heard of him, I would have rated this book five stars. It is extremely well written, and anyone who grew up in London in the 50's will relish the description of the life we led then. Similarly, anyone who has experienced dementia in their family or friends will find this book very moving.
Clare's love for her parents and appreciation of their talents and humanity shine through this book. The writing is superb. I would also recommend her mother, Maeve Gilmore's, book about her husbands illness. (A World Away by Maeve Gilmour).
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