Tuesday, May 26, 2020

38. Titus Groane by Mervyn Peake

The Gormenghast series has been on my radar for a long time, but I have always hesitated because it looks so daunting.  It is one of meezly's favourites and I took advantage of her having a reading copy when my books that I ordered a month ago still haven't arrived and nothing interests me on my on-deck shelf.

My trepidation was accurate.  This book was a bit of work for me.  As the vast multitude of my readers knows, I am lazy-minded and driven forward by the narrative of a book.  Titus Groane is almost 400 dense paragraphed, narrow-margined pages and what actually happens in the book could probably be condensed down to maybe 100 pages and that would be pushing it.  As Anthony Burgess says in his introduction, Titus Groane is "architectural".  Gormenghast castle and the surrounding bleak landscape take up the bulk rest of the pages. It is incredibly rich and evocative world-building, a fantastic evocation of an epically decadent aristocracy, manifested in the few remaining members of the House of Groane and their servants, but mostly in the place itself.  It is good and I would say it deserves the title of a modern classic.  It's just for me, this kind of reading can be a bit of a grind.  I just get distracted too easily.

The story too is compelling, though perhaps ultimately lacks some weight as the characters are so crazed and almost entirely unlikable.  It begins with the unexpected birth of Titus Groane, next in line to become the Early of Gormenghast.  We meet the cast of characters around him: his check-out, book-obsessed father, his lonely older sister, his mother who lives for her cats and birds only, the self-obsessed and victimized nanny, the class-jumping doctor and the sort-of protagonist, Steerpike the young kitchen aid with a machiavellian drive for power that risks to bring change to Gormenghast.  There are others and though each is quite unique, they are all almost entirely self-centered and utterly disconnected from any reality other than their role in the castle.  There is also Keda, a woman from the mud towns that live at the foot of the castle walls, who seems to have a larger role in the later books. She is actually decent, so far.

The geography of the castle is amazing. It would be literally possible to get lost on the rooves and die of starvation.  The twin sisters of the Early, total freaks, live in a room with the roots of a giant dead tree whose network is so complex that you can get stuck and not be able to leave the room without them guiding you out.  It looks like I will have to read the entire trilogy, but not right away.  Need something with some pace to it next.

1 comment:

meezly said...

400 pages and you couldn't even spell the book title nor the titular family name correctly!