Home > Literature, Reviews > Review of Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake

Review of Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake

Titus GroanAbout twelve years about, maybe longer, the BBC did a dramatisation of the Gormenghast trilogy. I watched the first three of the four episodes, and I didn’t regret missing the last. If memory serves, it was strangely manic, too colorful, too luvvy-ish (like the first Harry Potter film), and it just didn’t do much for me. Having now read the first of the books, I think I was probably partly correct and maybe a little wrong.

The most noticeable things about Titus Groan are the writing and the characters.

The writing is dense, verbose, descriptive, poetic. Long passages describe the castle at the heart of the story and the lands surrounding it. It’s a place of shadows and tired light, secret and decrepit halls, forboding heights and strange behaviour.

The people are all self-centred and self-serving. There’s the cold and ambitious Steerpike, the lonely old earl, his massive reclusive wife, their childish daughter, Fuchsia, her nagging nanny, Mrs Slagg, the smug Doctor Prunesquallor and his neurotic sister Irma, the lugubrious first servant, Flay, the corpulent chef, Swelter, and a few others besides. In summing up their characters, there’s little good to be said about any of them.

These two dimensions, writing and character, give the novel its gothic darkness. Not only is the fabric of Gormenghast Castle decaying and fading away, but the people who inhabit it are likewise slowly dying, although none of them have an inkling of it, set in their ways as they are.

Life in the castle is a grotesque dance of ritual, loneliness and despite. It’s not exactly a fun read, but its dark poetry is captivating. Having not written any reviews for a while, I’m now partway through the second book in the trilogy, Gormenghast (having spent about three years reading Dust of Dreams).

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