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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Book Review: Titus Groan - Mervyn Peake

Read for the R.I.P. II Reading Challenge.

It’s not every day where you read a book where the titular character doesn’t ever speak a word. Titus Groan is the first novel in the Gormenghast series, and starts with the birth of Titus, the heir to the earldom of Gormenghast, a large pile of a building filled with an incredibly diverse cast of characters. By the end of the book, Titus is still in his first year. The book therefore follows the stories of all of the people around him – his family, the servants of the castle, and even the folk that live outside the castle walls. It’s an incredibly atmospheric book, and definitely one of the most unique I’ve ever read.

Peake’s style if probably best described as word painting. It’s definitely prose, not poetry, but it needs almost the same level of attention to draw out the depths of what he is conveying. Gormenghast and the land around it are characters in this book, and are lavished with as much description as any of the human characters. I actually found this to be somewhat exhausting, as I’m a relatively fast reader, and I found myself having to slow way down to be able to take in enough detail to follow the story.

That being said, I can’t say that there’s much of a plot to this book. It’s really about the existence of this place, and the rituals that are performed to keep to going, and the fact that this baby is heir to this great rambling place and all its idiosyncrasies. Before I was accidentally tipped off to the plot of one of the future books, I spent a good deal of time wondering how Titus would change this place when he grew up, because it seems a place ripe for change once one of the earls decides he’s no longer interested in maintaining the incredible web of ritual Gormenghast requires to survive in its current state.

I think I can say I enjoyed this book. My enjoyment was definitely tempered by the near pain of the pace I was forced to take, which is why I will not immediately continuing on to the next book in the series. That being said, I do intend to read the next book. (I may stop there, as Peake was never fully able to finish the third book, due to illness and his eventual death, and I’m told it’s definitely inferior to the first two.) I’ll probably just have to give it a year before I’m ready to dive back into this incredibly detailed world again.

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