Incomplete Nonsense: A Book of Nonsense by Mervyn Peake

A Book of Nonsense by Mervyn Peake, Picador 1974, 91 pages (illustrated)

Mervyn Peake is in the canon because of his writing — the Titus trilogy, (Titus Groan, Gormenghast and Titus Alone), often called the Gormenghast trilogy. I read them as a teenager, an impressionable age, and found them vivid and fascinating. The first two really form a single long novel, with the third a change of direction confounded by his creeping illness. Mr Pye is a lesser but lively read.


Cover of 1974 Picador edition of A Book of Nonsense

He was also renowned as an artist and particularly an illustrator. Poetry, usually rhyming verse, was also a fascination, and clearly the prose, the poetry and the drawing informed each other, supported each other, and enriched each other. This volume is a posthumous collection of nonsense rhymes, and shows off his rich and visual imagination well. It does not lie at the core of his contribution to literature, but perhaps brings us closer to the man than much of his other work because here he is at play.  I confess I bought because it is by Peake and despite it being nonsense verse.  If you are a fan of neither English nonsense verse nor Peake, there is nothing to see here.

The illustrations vary from quick sketches to careful illustrations that tie in to the stories, all the way to complete illustrated pages reproduced in facsimile, for example for ‘O Here it is and there it is…’ with its marvellous winged William pear.

‘Turn over a fresh page my friend
And turn it over fast
For no one knows how soon may end
The foolscap of your past.

‘I am your boat! I am your crew
Your rudder or your mast —
Your friend, I am your limpets too
And your elastoplast.’


My issue is an old paperback on pretty coarse paper. I believe there is a more recent edition on slick paper with more drawings; such an issue would be far preferable. Some of the poems are reproduced on the official Peake website (


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About Darren

I'm a scientist by training, based in Australia.

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