0523 | Titus Groan | Mervyn Peake

I had no idea that the world of Gormenghast existed. Quite how I managed to get to my age without ever hearing about it seems a literary crime. It, and writer Mervyn Peake, should be more well-known today than they are. It seems that our parents’ generation did not pass on their appreciation of him.

Peake has created a world arguable as detailed as that of Tolkein for his Gormenghast trilogy. Okay, he stopped short of inventing languages, but no one uses Tolkein’s anyway. The world of Gormenghast is made more vivid by Peake’s languorous prose which perfectly fits a world beset by tradition and in no hurry to move through further annals of time.

The novel is, for me, mistitled. Titus, the heir to the Gormenghast throne, is born at the start of the novel, but, apart from three memorable traditional events that take place at roughly equal intervals throughout the novel, he is very much not the focus.

The focus is, instead, on the creatively named cast of characters most memorably Steerpike and the resemblance of ambitions to that of Thomas Cromwell. We have a sideshow conflict between the earl’s personal assistant Flay and the head chef Swelter, and we have a quite mysterious side story following a woman from a dwelling outside the castle walls. Unless she features again in the trilogy, I’m not at all sure why she appeared at all.

Each of the characters is very deftly drawn. Peake’s prose is almost Dickensian in its ability to bring a character to life and make eccentricity seem perfectly normal. There are some great set pieces here, most notably in the library. I couldn’t help thinking that this would make a fantastic film. It was all mesmerising.

The story is written is bite-sized chapters which are easy to digest if you just lie back and let yourself get lost in it all. And the ending is perfectly poised for the second novel, a book which sits staring at me from my shelf and which I am very much looking forward to.


Gormenghast, that is, the main massing of the original stone, taken by itself would have displayed a certain ponderous architectural quality were it possible to have ignored the circumfusion of those mean dwellings that swarmed like an epidemic around its outer walls.


This might reveal the ending. If you want to see the quote, click show

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Key: Legacy | Plot / toPic | Characterisation / faCts | Readability | Achievement | StyleRead more about how I come up with my ratings

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