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The Gormenghast Novels (Titus Groan /…

The Gormenghast Novels (Titus Groan / Gormenghast / Titus Alone) (original 1967; edition 1995)

by Mervyn Peake, Anthony Burgess (Introduction), Quentin Crisp (Introduction)

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Title:The Gormenghast Novels (Titus Groan / Gormenghast / Titus Alone)
Authors:Mervyn Peake
Other authors:Anthony Burgess (Introduction), Quentin Crisp (Introduction)
Info:Overlook Press (1995), Edition: First Edition, Paperback, 1168 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Gormenghast Trilogy by Mervyn Peake (Author) (1967)

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It seems churlish to fault the Gormenghast trilogy as flawless; that it isn’t is only partially the author’s fault. The first two books are extraordinary, a triumph of atmosphere and sense of place. Peake captures the claustrophobia of Gormenghast, a place of inertia hidebound by tradition and archaic rules populated almost solely by grotesques. Every character, every action is saturated in symbolism, Peake’s writing is often so dense in conveying what’s going on it approaches poetry – given how often he describes colour and texture, you can see how strongly his skills as an artist influence his prose. This means that the pacing of events is often glacial, despite the timescale covered, so those first two books are best savoured rather than zoomed through.

Much as the third book makes thematic sense – Titus going out into the big wide world and discovering he’s not as special as he thinks – it comes across as an appendage to those first two books, lacking a sense of place or the languidly explored grotesque characters of the first two volumes. It also lacks the backbone, the compelling story that Steerpike’s ambitious treachery gives the previous volumes. It’s bitty and episodic, a sketch as opposed to the fully realised art that preceded it. It doesn’t help that Titus is such an unsympathetic lead character, though it could be argued that it’s not an inaccurate portrayal of a youthful man, particularly one with Titus’ strange upbringing. But the bitty, episodic nature of the narrative feels a touch unsatisfying compared to what’s gone before. Well worth reading for the glorious mannered madness of the first two volumes though. ( )
  JonArnold | Apr 13, 2014 |
I hardly know how to rate these books. The tone of the book is entirely negative - even the "positive" ending. Each character seems to be the personification of the most negative of human traits. Although the first two novels imply a static medieval world, the third novel reveals an alternative modern world beyond the castle. The motivations of the characters are not plausible; I suppose one could say this was done on purpose for "artistic" reasons. The plot is trivial, even comic. When I finished I asked: what was the point of that?

Peake is a marvelous descriptive writer. The majority of the more than a thousand pages are taken up with descriptions of all kinds. He is the Francisco Goya of literature.

My own response: I'm glad I'm done with it. I won't be back. ( )
  KirkLowery | Mar 4, 2014 |
This is an omnibus of of the three Titus novels: Titus Groan, Gormenghast, and Titus Alone. Individual reviews of the three can be found here:

Titus Groan


Titus Alone
  HanJie | Jan 1, 2014 |
Fantasy fiction. I'd tried to read the Gormenghast books a few times, but only succeeded after watching the excellent BBC series. Good books, nonetheless. The last book, Titus Alone was my least favourite. ( )
  questbird | Oct 7, 2013 |

Over their irregular roofs would fall throughout the seasons, the shadows of time-eaten buttresses, of broken and lofty turrets, and, most enormous of all, the shadow of the Tower of Flints. This tower, patched unevenly with black ivy, arose like a mutilated finger from among the fists of knuckled masonry and pointed blasphemously at heaven. At night the owls made of it an echoing throat; by day it stood voiceless and cast its long shadow.

A dusty tome languished on the shelves for many years, once dipped into but abandoned like an unwanted child, guiltily, stealthily. Then a chorus of voices called for it to return to the light, called for it to be given voice once more, demanded it be read. So read it he most assuredly did, studiously, laboriously, willingly, eventually. Such words, descriptions built upon description like a house made from massive blocks of granite like the abandoned building blocks of long dead gods. But wait, this tome is in three parts, three months assigned to its investigation. Three months were needed, as like a barium meal it is difficult to ingest but illuminating in effect. Part the first sees Titus Groan born into a family of such old and bizarre ritual that the very walls of his home and the life of the castle itself in its daily minutiae is the main character. Doctor and twins, sister and parents, servants of all stripes, and all physical types, thin and fat, old and young, and carvers of bright carvings are lesser characters, small actors upon a grand stage. All lovingly, minutely, richly, sometimes tediously detailed. A plot you ask, why yes there is the barest one but it is subsumed, servant to the description, kept in dark places and fed on worms and scraps. Part the second sees the child grown and the birds come home to roost, such birds, all manner of feathered kind, like unto the birds the countess Groan can call to her despite her carpet of cats. There is a flood, a biblical, catastrophic, all-encompassing flood which moves the second part to its denouement. This second part was the one most avidly consumed. Part the third sees Titus leave the castle and become lost in the larger world and is the weakest of the three, a product of sick bed and inadvisably abandoning the looming, brooding, ubiquitous castle. Young Groan comes close to losing his mind, is Gormenghast real? Taken together the three are less than excellent yet more than merely good but require a concerted effort to consume. The third is terribly flawed and the runt of the litter, one perhaps best left in the dark. Now that it sleeps once more upon the shelf would he recommend it, or leave it to slumber? Could he envisage another adventure within the dusty parchment in the future. All is unsure.

Withdrawn and ruinous it broods in umbra: the immemorial masonry: the towers, the tracks. Is all corroding? No. Through an avenue of spires a zephyr floats; a bird whistles; a freshet bears away from a choked river. Deep in a fist of stone a doll's hand wriggles, warm rebellious on the frozen palm. A shadow shifts its length. A spider stirs...
And darkness winds between the characters.
Overall – Like a whisper in a dream, disturbing, portentous, absorbing, infuriating, incomparable… ( )
5 vote psutto | Sep 23, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Peake, MervynAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hellar, JulekCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Miéville, ChinaIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Peake, Sebastiansecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Dost thou love picking meat? Or would'st thou see/A man in the clouds, and have him speak to thee?
-- Bunyan
For Maeve
First words
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.
Introduction by Quentin Crisp:  Style is a terrible thing to happen to anybody.
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Book description
Introduction by Quentin Crisp (p. ix),
Introduction by Anthony Burgess (p. 1),
Titus Groan (p.7),
Gormenghast (p. 397),
Titus Alone (p. 809),
Critical Assessments (p.1025) includes:
"The critical reception of Mervyn Peake's Titus Books" by G. Peter Winnington;
"Memories of Mervyn Peake" by Louise Collis;
"The Gutters of Gormenghast" by Hugh Brogan;
"Situating Gormenghast" by Ronald Binns;
"'The Passions in their Clay': Mervyn Peake's Titus Stories" by Joseph L. Sanders;
"Titus and the Thing in Gormenghast" by Christiano Rafanelli;
"Fuschia and Steerpike: Mood and Form" by G. Peter Winnington;
"Gormenghast: Psychology of the Bildungsroman" by Bruce Hunt;
"Gormenghast: Fairytale gone wrong" by Margaret Ochocki;
"The Cry of a Fighting Cock: Notes on Steerpike and Ritual in Gormenghast" by Ann Yeoman;
"Beowulf to Kafka: Mervyn Peake's Titus Alone" by Colin Greenland;
"A Critical Conclusion: The End of Titus Alone" by Laurence Bristow-Smith;
"A Barrier of Foolery? The Depiction of Women in Titus Alone" by Tanya Gardiner-Scott
Titus Awakes (p. 1165)
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0879516283, Paperback)

Mervyn Peake's gothic masterpiece, the Gormenghast trilogy, begins with the superlative Titus Groan, a darkly humorous, stunningly complex tale of the first two years in the life of the heir to an ancient, rambling castle. The trilogy continues with the novels Gormenghast and Titus Alone, and all three books are bound together in this single-volume edition.

The Gormenghast royal family, the castle's decidedly eccentric staff, and the peasant artisans living around the dreary, crumbling structure make up the cast of characters in these engrossing stories. Peake's command of language and unique style set the tone and shape of an intricate, slow-moving world of ritual and stasis:

"The walls of the vast room which were streaming with calid moisture, were built with gray slabs of stone and were the personal concern of a company of eighteen men known as the 'Grey Scrubbers'.... On every day of the year from three hours before daybreak until about eleven o'clock, when the scaffolding and ladders became a hindrance to the cooks, the Grey Scrubbers fulfilled their hereditary calling."

Peake has been compared to Dickens, Tolkien, and Peacock, but the Gormenghast trilogy is truly unique. Unforgettable characters with names like Steerpike and Prunesquallor make their way through an architecturally stifling world, with lots of dark corners around to dampen any whimsy that might arise. This true classic is a feast of words unlike anything else in the world of fantasy. Those who explore Gormenghast castle will be richly rewarded. --Therese Littleton

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:24:36 -0400)

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Contents: Titus Groan - Gormenghast - Titus alone

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