Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake

Titus Groan, the 77th Earl of Gormenghast, heir to a decidedly odd fortune, is born amidst violence and intrigue of a most peculiar time.

I was captivated by the prose in Titus Groan, the first book in Mervyn Peake’s decidedly unique Gormenghast trilogy. Peake was also an illustrator, and his writing is exceptionally visual in the way that he describes his characters. He comes up with the most idiosyncratic quirks I’ve ever encountered, for characters named things like Prunesquallor and Sourdust and Steerpike. He also writes quite cinematically, directing the reader’s eye around the action with a firm, controlling hand.

In terms of the story, it’s one in which hardly anything happens at the same time a million things are going on. The plot is alternately slow-paced and electrifying, moving from odd, ornery descriptive passages into violent duels and murderous intrigue. There isn’t a quest or a romance or a bildungsroman anywhere in sight, though the characters have ambitions a-plenty. One of the articles published with the trilogy suggested it be considered a fairy tale, and that makes the most sense to me. Titus Groan exists outside of any genre I can think of.

Vague enough for you? The truth is, as much as I admired Peake’s prose, I never clicked with the larger narrative. There wasn’t anything for me to latch onto emotionally, and while I can appreciate its literary significance, I can’t say that I loved it. I’ve always been more Tolstoy than Joyce, if that makes sense.

I’m aware that I’ve added nothing of substance to the discourse on Gormenghast, but my toddler has been tantruming all day and I’ve just had it.

2 thoughts on “Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake”

  1. Yep, I tried to read it a couple of years ago, didn’t get halfway through. I remember lots of description, lots of quirky, and nothing happening.

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