Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The Forbidden City

John Keay, writing in the current Times Literary Supplement reviews among other recently published books on China, Geremie R.Barme's The Forbidden City and writes, 'Nothing better conveys the Forbidden City's reputation as both palace and prison than Barme's revelation that the fictional Gormenghast of the Titus Groan trilogy owed its hide-bound rituals, if not its architecture, to Mervyn Peake's upbringing in nearby Tianjin in the early years of the twentieth century. Peake's creation was another world within a world, another warren of chambers and courtyards in which the fair and foul cohabited promiscuously. It too was built in alignment with the four points of the compass and the passage of a reluctant sun. And like the infant Groan, seventy-seventh Earl of Gormenghast, the young Puyi - China's "Last Emperor" as per the Bertolucci film - must have been "suckled on shadows; weaned, as it were, on webs of ritual: for his ears, echoes, for his eyes a labyrinth of stone".


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