As I watched the protagonist ride off into the sunset at the close of the second part of Peake’s vastly underrated trilogy, I couldn’t help but think that he’d mixed up the titles of the first two installments. This novel, not the first, is about Titus Groan whereas the first novel, not this one, is about Gormenghast.
But that is a negligible criticism for two works of writing which have been all but forgotten in the half century since they were written. A lot of what I wrote for Titus Groan applies yet again, and more so: the prose perfectly matches the world Peake has created; the characters only deepen their Dickensian charm; Steerpike’s scheming reaches its climax; and the best way to approach it all is to lie back and drift in the stream.
At times, I have to say, I wondered if Peake was a bit too ponderous. Irma Prunesquallor’s love life seems a bit too tangential to hold my attention for as long as was required. But having got through that, and in the latter third of this volume, the pace quickens as political currents clash.
Titus Groan’s growing pains form an important part of the storyline, hence my thoughts that the novel’s name is misleading. As he grows more aware that he is different from those around him, his desire for freedom creates a tension between his duty and his yearnings. This adds yet another layer of tension to the latter half of the book which keeps the pages turning.
If you haven’t read any of Peake’s work at all, I do suggest you start at the beginning and read Titus Groan. Starting with Gormenghast would be a mistake as there’s a lot you won’t realise the significance of without having read the first installment.
I suppose the ultimate test of the first two novels is whether you actually finish the trilogy and read the third book, Titus Alone. I’m in no hurry, but if I do come across a secondhand copy one day, I’ll probably buy it just to finish off the series and at least doff my hat to Mervyn Peake’s memory.