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

Review of Titus Alone by Mervyn Peake

I enjoyed the first two books in the Gormenghast series a lot, savouring the texture of the writing, the unlikeableness of the characters and the darkness of the vision. The series was originally supposed to be a quartet, but Peake died before the third book was finished. I’d read comments that this final book wasn’t as good as its predecessors and when I read the editor’s foreword I found that although Peake had finished an early draft, the manuscript still needed work. I started the book with some apprehension, then, that it would prove a great disappointment after the heights of Titus Groan and Gormenghast.

The second volume ends with Titus, the 77th Earl of Gormenghast, fleeing the home of his ancestor; the third book is about his experiences thereafter. After a long journey he becomes completely lost and finds himself in confusing new territory. This strange land is almost as confusing for the reader as it is for Titus. While the first two books have a certain gothic medieval flavour, the third veers into science fiction territory. From the low-tech environs of Gormenghast castle we travel to a world of not just cars, helicopters and factories, but intelligent or remotely operated flying devices reminiscent of the knife missiles from Iain M Banks’s Culture stories.

Titus befriends and antagonises a whole new cast of players and is caught up in the selfish machinations of a spoilt young woman. Throughout, he is tormented by regrets over his abandonment of his home and this story is about his, and others’, attempts to return him there.

The book isn’t as successful a narrative as the first two in the series – the writing doesn’t quite have the intensity or poetry, the story isn’t as portentous, the characters aren’t as vital or morbidly fascinating, the whole isn’t as claustrophobic and doom-laden. While the first two books are very similar, this third one is very different. But that’s not to say it isn’t good – my fears weren’t entirely realised, I still enjoyed it. The conclusion was satisfying in some ways, though not perfect; perhaps it would have worked better with the addition of a fourth chapter in the saga – but that won’t be.

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Categories: Literature, Reviews
  1. 6 October 2011 at 12:07 am

    I’d have to agree with your assessment of the book – there were some really interesting elements, and perspectives on war and madness, but there was also a lot of dull, incoherent passages that just didn’t work for me. Would have been fascinating to see where Peake was taking Titus.

    My review: http://tinyurl.com/6cpqxq8

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