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Gormenghast - Mervyn Peake

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Author: Mervyn Peake / Genre: Sci-Fi / Fantasy

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    11 Reviews
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      29.11.2011 19:02
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      A brilliant modern classic that fully derves its reputation

      I'd heard so much about this book but had never read it, or any of the others in the series. I was waiting for them to become available from someone on Bookmooch but as it happened the first on offer was this one rather than the first in the trilogy - Titus Groan. So, it was with some trepidation that I started reading Gormenghast, not knowing if it would be a mistake to do so as it had been trying to read one of Stephen King's Dark Tower series out of order. I needn't have worried. Gormenghast stands it's ground as a novel in its own right; you do not need to have first read Titus Groan to be able to get full enjoyment from this second book in the series, although I will go back and read the first when I can lay my hands on a copy. Gormenghast can best be described as a Gothic Black Comedy but even this doesn't really do it justice. The setting is so bizarre that it almost stands as a genre in its own right. Certainly, I've never read anything quite like it, even from masters of the Gothic like James Herbert and the aforementioned Stephen King. We find ourselves in a decaying world of ancient privilege set within a grounds of a vast citadel that is part seat of power, part castle and part city. However, the various buildings and districts are largely deserted of their original occupants, whose fate is unexplained. Those parts within the walls of the citadel that are occupied are so by the family Groan and their servants and dependants. Outside is mostly unknown, and inhabited by the destitute, who have virtually no interaction with the citizens. The two main characters are: Titus Groan himself who, with the death of his father has assumed the title of the seventy-seventh Earl of Groan. He is as yet a teenager and so under the influence of his mother and her entourage. Supposedly he lives a life determined by protocol and ceremony based on rules devised hundreds of years earlier and whose purpose is largely lost in the mists of time; and Steerpike who, it appears, was a kitchen boy in the first novel in the series but one with ambitions above his station. Steerpike want to depose the family Groan and assume ruler-ship of the domain for himself. He is determined to achieve his objective by any means possible, preferably murder. Titus, in growing into his predestined role is being brought up as a "normal" youngster, educated alongside the children of the families which serve the Groans. However, he has serious doubts about whether he even wants to assume the leadership of this decayed dynasty. If Steerpike has his way, the decision will be taken out of his hands. As the bodies pile up, the identity of the villain has yet to be discovered but Titus is on the hunt. Who will finally triumph and, what then? Peake's writing style is quite extraordinary: I have yet to read a book where there is so much narrative compared with the events that are being described. You find that you may have read four or five pages and yet nothing has actually happened. Peake describes the thought of characters and their situations in minute detail. Even when you reach the end you sit and think, "What has actually taken place that could possible occupy over 500 pages!" Don't get me wrong though, I loved the book. You just get lost in the narrative, so rich is the writing. This is truly painting with words in the finest possible sense. It is fair to say that the action does tend to rattle along towards the end when the battle between the major protagonists takes place. I will certainly return to the first book in due course and will also read the final book written entirely by Peake (a sequel finished by his widow was also published) - Titus Alone. As it is, if you, like me, was curious to find out what all the fuss was about then, don't hesitate. Also posted on Goodreads.

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        23.12.2001 00:11
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        Hi, I haven't wrote for a while but I was flicking through idly, in my time away from uni, seeing as Christmas is upon us. I found myself thinking about a book I had read when I was doing a-levels <wow, two years ago now...> and came across this masterpiece and felt moved to write about it. Gormenghast. The second of a trilogy written by Mervyn Peake, the trilogy of Titus which consisted of Titus Groan, Gormenghast and Titus Alone. But out of all those, this one stood shining as a brilliant delving into the workings of the human mind and what motivates us. Gormenghast is the name of the Castle in which Titus grows up, a sprawling decaying spiderous castle, where-in the ramshackled walls lie a thousand terrible secrets and the beating hearts of hundreds, thousands of people, pagan in belief, utterly loyal to the ideal of Gormenghast. Ineed, the ruling family, the Groans, have lived all their noble lives inside the rooted castle, feeding off the traditions and loyalties, ensuring Gormenghast survives, caretakers of this ghastly thing, an almost living breathing prescence of the castle. Titus, the recent scion of Groan line is a young boy who slowly ascends to adulthood, through trials of learning and traditions, eventually coming to reaslise his adventurous spirit earns him no place in this fantatstical and ancient of places, and thus seeks a way to escape his lot as Lord Groan <His father dies, you see, in a tower, surrounded by birds...> His mother, the Countess, sees nothing beyond her white raven, locked in her own rooms and ignoring the outside world. The doctor and his mad sister, the teachers from school and the master of ceremonies all strive to make a perfect "lord" and rather, more accurately, caretaker out of Titus. But this is the crux of the story. Whilst Titus only seeks to escape his life, and is cast in one light as a hero, there is another hero to consider. Imagine being trapped in a similar way, born int o a life and never to be let out of it. This is the tragedy of one young man called Steerpike. Blackhearted from the cruel treatment he has murdered his way up the ranks of Gormenghast, his heart filled with a desire to do little more than bring down the ancient civilisation of Gormenghast. For those who read this, and tut and shake their heads, thinking most likely I am mad to sympathise with Steerpike then maybe you should read the book again. Yes, the young man is filled with hatred and suffering, murders and is corrupt, but then, isnt Gormenghast itself? Is Steerpike not just a way of showing man's struggles against greater forces. Think about it. *******SPOLIER, PLEASE TURN AWAY NOW IF YOU DONT WANT TO KNOW!!!********* Most notably, later in the book, as Titus faces the murderer of his sister <Steerpike> his father and the twins <his aunts> and the master of ceremonies <whom he burnt alive>. the castle is under siege from the natural elements and flood, setting the scene into dank despair, <quoted "it became their morbid interest to gauge how high and at what speed the flood was rising." > and people moves desperatly up into the higher echelons of the Castle, hoping it will save them as they have so patiently tended it and kept it whole and alive. Steerpike and Titus struggle together down in the bowels of this ancient monstrous Gormenghast, Steerpike having just killed Flay <The previous Lord Groan's faithful manservant, once banished> and it ends with Titus vanquishing the "villain"... Yay, happy Ending! ... No, it's not really. ********SPOLIER ENDS NOW!!!!*********** Titus has struggled all his life to understand why he must be here, why he isnt allowed to imagine and stretch beyond this and be something more, to love and be free. The end of the book gives us the answer to so many questions, to all his doubts and he finally finds the courage to leave the protection and security of Gormenghast, even this mean's leaving it without an heir, or caretaker. It ends rather poignantly, the book, and words I will quote soon enough but first, a quick word. The BBC production. Hmmm. I was mildly excited when it came out, it promised, from reviews, dark characters and a forbidding backdrop, but what I saw wasnt the old and ramshackle place that Mervyn Peake envisages in his magnum opus. My advice is read the book, please, because no matter how much other people twist it and make it into something, what you see with your imagination is far better. I didn't like the BBC production, in my mind I saw Gormenghast, the BBC prsented a world of bright colours, not grey, threateningly soft and dreary traditions. I guess I'll leave you with one of my favourite quotes, for a book on which I wrote an essay and received an A, for a view "never before considered on Identity". "There is no where else," It said. "You will only tread a circle, Titus Groan. There's not a road, not a track, but it will lead you home. For everything comes to Gormenghast." ^__^ Rith xxx

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          13.08.2001 06:05
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          The Gormenghast Trilogy or 'Titus books' as Peake referred to them . They are very difficult to categorise as they cover fantasy, horror and even comedy, but to give Peake's wonderful imagination it's due I would settle on fantastical horror with a hint of fairy tale. The books follow the life of Titus Groan the 77th Earl of Gormenghast. Peake intended to write four or five books taking Titus from cradle to grave, but due to illness he could only write three. The first book Titus Groan introduces us to the castle of Gormenghast, it's surrounding dwellings, the Groan dynasty and the servants. "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." The story begins with the birth of the new heir to the Earl of Gormenghast, the new heir is Titus Groan. We do not really get to know much about the character of Titus during this book because he is only a baby and toddler. We do get to know the Groan family and the servants who work for them. The Countess.. She is a bulky woman with dark red hair and pale green eyes. In her room she is surrounded by wild birds that perch on her while she converses with them. She also keeps a room full of white cats, that follow her in a pack. She is not in the least interested in her new infant, only requiring him for the many ritualistic ceremonies. Fuschia... She is the elder sister of Titus, about 15 when he is born. She has wild black hair and always wears a red dress. "She was gauche in movement and in a sense, ugly of face, but within how small a twist might she not suddenly have become beautiful." The servants... Flay.. A very thin and bony man who is the Counts servant, he has knee joints that crack so much people ca n hear him clicking down the corridors. Swelter... The chef, he is a fat, arrogant, sweaty drunkard and the enemy of Flay. Nannie Slagg.. She is a thin , tiny birdlike woman who cares for Fuschia and Titus, she is put upon constantly and is none to bright. Doctor Prunesquallor and his sister Irma. The doctor is quite a clever man, he lives with his sister who is very vain and easily taken in by flattery. Sourdust the Librarian.. He plans the Earls day having him perform ridiculous ceremonies from the books in the library, his position is the most powerful of the servants. Keda.. She is one of the dwellers who live outside the castle walls, she is recruited by Nannie Slagg to wet nurse Titus.The mud hut dwellers are a strange people who once they become adults, become old, so no one looks middle-aged. "The tragic reason was that after they had come to their physical maturity of form their loveliness crumbled away and they became as withered as flowers after their few fresh hours of brilliance and strength." Steerpike.. A kitchen boy who runs away from swelter and worms his way into the life of the Earl and his family. His actions are the most infuential in the book . At first he uses flattery and cunning to improve his place in the castle, but becomes more and more ruthless resorting to murder after murder. We learn a lot about the others through Steerpike as he spies on everyone. Because servants as well as masters have their jobs set out by hereditary means, it makes rising to the top more difficult for Steerpike, as even if he dispatches a servant, any sons the servant has will take his place. All the characters are ugly in appearance, giving you no one to really warm too, Steerpike is very clever, but you can't admire some one with no scruples about removing everyone in his way. There are also harrowing descriptions of physical violence as in this battle between Swelter and Flay. &qu ot;The blows had no more than gored him, of Swelter's acreage, only a perch ot two here and there might, if broken, prove vunerable loam. That he bled profusely could prove little. There was blood in him to revitalise an anaemic army, with enough left over to cool the guns". The second book Gormenghast. At the start of this book Titus aged seven, his father dead, is now the Earl of Groan. The same characters are in this book, but we see much more of Titus as he grows into a young man, and we are introduced to the Gormenghast school and its masters. Steerpike continues to lie, manipulate and murder in effort to take control of Gormenghast. Some of the other servants begin to realise what his plan is and show that they too can be sly. In spite of this the catalogue of deaths continue. On the lighter side we have the romance between Irma Prunesquallor and Bellgrove the headmaster. Their courtship and her vanity, stumbling about without her much needed spectacles to impress him, give us a little comedy amongst all the evil plotting. Titus Alone. This book was completed , but never polished by Peake as he was ill with Parkinsons disease and sleeping sickness. It was published in 1959 and he died in 1968 at the age of 57. In this volume Titus leaves the confines of Gormenghast and his protected life as an Earl to come across horrors that he could not have imagined. Peake had entered Belsen at the end of the war as a war artist and it is thought that this must have had some bearing on the evil and degredation in this novel. We meet the imposing Muzzelhatch and Juno the lover. Titus has his first full affair, after having his sexuality awakened by Keda's daughter in the previous book. We also see the truly awful world of the people that live under the river, and Titus growing in strength of character and bravery with each episode. It feels unfinished , probably due to Peake intending had he been in good health, to write at least one more volume. Although if you decide to read the whole trilogy it seems a long task (953 pages), I found myself wanting to pick this up at every opportunity.I generally pass novels on to my mum when I have read them, but this trilogy will stay on my bookshelf to be read and enjoyed many more times.

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            18.02.2001 06:17
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            When I first saw the TV series I knew the book must be something special.It is an amazingly descriptive book;quite dark in places that keeps the reader guessing right until the end.The books surreal touches help detract it from the overall gloom that readers may find overwhelming. The characters in the book are well written (especially Steerpike) and you get a disturbing feeling when you read it that only a very few characters are actually in touch with the world about them.The leading characters weaknesses are exposed one by one to the arch villain, Steerpike,who uses them to his advantage. The first two books are an intrigueing read,full of description,surreal humour and masterful writing. The third book of the trilogy is a somewhat different affair;written during Mervyn Peakes final days and pieced together,it is patchy and trippy at times and evokes some strange images. All in all a good read,and anybody with the patience to stick with it will be rewarded.

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            22.11.2000 21:57

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            Titus Groan is a rich allegorical tale enhanced by the fact I’ve heard it read to me as an audio book. The book is read by Edmund Dehn, an actor with such a rich voice and a talent which makes listening a pleasure. The story of involves the gruesome residents of Gormenghast and the ascent to power of the machiavellian Steerpike. Each character is described in such richness, for instance Swelter the cook talks in a string of culinary references, Flay the servant is as brittle as his monosyllabic conversation. The only weak moments of the book lie with Kada, Titus’s wetnurse, here Mervyn Peak switches from caricature to a more gentle and descriptive style. It truly is a classic but isn’t in any way a light read.

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            06.11.2000 16:39
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            The first book revolves loosely around a newborn Titus Groan that is heir to the earldom of Gormenghast and it's Castle, an archaic, monolithic, stiffly-traditioned place. Throughout the first volume, we meet various members of the castle staff, the royal family and even a few commoners. You'll love Peake's unique way of portraying characters with his hilarious attention to detail. I don't think I'll ever forget the eccentric Mr. Flay or the effeminate Dr. Prune... The Antagonist, Steerpike, has got to be the most villainous, calculating creature I've come across in any book. He's someone you'll love to hate, but also admire. Since this is one of those rare books in which you can easily become attached to the characters, I'll warn you, Peake is not hesitant to dispose of them! At first, there doesn't seem to be a definitive plot to follow. But, as the story progresses and Titus matures, you begin to see that he is feeling more and more strangled by this static castle life. But, Titus and nearly all of the castle's dwellers are ignorant of what lies beyond Gormenghast. It's important to note that the reader is also kept in the dark. You get the impression that Gormenghast "Was, is and always shall be." And if it's inhabitants have ever dreamed of lands beyond, it is doubtful that any could consciously imagine any other place. The truth is revealed in book 3. Believing there is nothing left for him, Titus does the unthinkable and abandons his castle, his people and more importantly, his duties as the 77th Earl. The world Titus finds is quite unlike his own. So different in fact that he begins to doubt it ever existed. Even as the reader, I couldn't help wondering if Titus imagined it all during some delirious state of mind. But, the ending satisfies... I highly recommend this trilogy to lovers of fantasy and haters alike. This work is not classifiable fantasy in a strict se nse, as there aren't any mythical beasts or obvious magics. It's kind of a mish-mash of fantasy, sci-fi and drama. But make no mistake, you'll reserve a spot for this classic epic right next to Tolkien. (Though I'm not comparing the two, each is a classic in it's own right).

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              05.11.2000 02:05
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              “Gormenghast” is, quite simply, a masterpiece of imaginative works. The superb novel is exquisitely and eloquently written and Mervyn Peake has a talent for writing flowing, descriptive prose and realistic dialogue. A wealth of little details create the world of Gormenghast, where beautifully portrayed characters carry out the daily rituals which hold the kingdom together. When one ruthlessly ambitious kitchen hand, called Steerpike, dares to step out of his place and work his way through the ranks of power he begins to unravel the very threads of existence in Gormenghast and slowly the great tapestry of history begins to unravel. Steerpike’s brilliantly clever ideas mean that he gradually begins to wield power among the Groans ( the royalty of Gormenghast ) without challenge. So manipulative is he, that he convinces two distracted twin Groans to burn their brother’s ( king Sepulchrave ) library for personal gain. This drives the king insane. Steerpike also manages to have the king’s most trusted assistant ( and perhaps his one opposition ) fired and after these two events, it seems as if our cunning Steerpike’s actions could go on forever unchecked. Indeed, for a long time they do and unless they are stopped, the whole fabric of Gormenghast will disintegrate. This trilogy is absolutely captivating, it’s all too easy to get completely lost for a few hours in Mervyn Peak’s fantasy world. Go on, give it a try.

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                14.10.2000 22:57
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                I would only recommend two out of the three books that make up the Gormenghast trilogy. The first, 'Titus Groan', is a masterpiece. Although, it is a book that people either love or hate. It is full of dark humour - too dark for some. It is written by a man who obviously looked at the world from a slightly different angle than the rest of us. The author, Mervyn Peake, was encouraged (some would say pressurized) by the publishers to write the other two books. So the second, 'Gormenghast', is not quite as inspired as the first. It is however, still enjoyable and worth the read. The final book, 'Titus Alone' has, in my opinion, nothing to recommend it. It is a unfocused muddle, that illustrated the deteriorating health of the author.

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                11.09.2000 19:47
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                My attention was first brought to Gormenghast after watching the BBC2 dramatization and although enjoyable I felt that when it finished it had left to many unanswered questions so my girlfriend bought me the book. The trilogy made up of Titus Groan, Gormenghast and Titus alone were first published in the 1940's and it has been written that Lord of the Rings is to The Beetles as Gormenghast is to The Stones, from this I can only suggest that they had never listen to either groups for any great length of time. I would certainly recommend watching the program first as I felt the interpretation of the first book was very good and it certainly helped me visualize the people and places of Gormenghast. That said I still found it very difficult to get it to and only managed to read the first book before giving up (which I hate to do), I found it to be heavily descriptive and used words that I have never come across and probably never will again. The Author also seemed to have a fixation the word breast, it really started to get on my nerves after a while. I would love to here others people's thoughts on the book and how many times the word breast does appear but for the moment I think I'll move on to something else and come back to Gormenghast another time.

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                19.08.2000 19:44
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                Murder, intrigue, romance, treason. These are the sort of subjects that ensure a book a place at the top of the bestseller list, but Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast was never a huge commercial hit. Fortunately, Peake's beautiful and elaborately detailed writing has guaranteed him a certain cult status, which will ensure he is not forgotten. Gormenghast is a castle that has been cut off from the outside world for many hundreds of years. Change is slow and unwelcome and, until the arrival of the new heir to Gormenghast, Titus, is not imminent. One of my favourite characters is the evil 'Queertike,' a kitchen boy desparate to escape the confines of his situation. He is willing to do anything to better his own position, and is responsible for several untimely deaths and a number of nasty 'accidents.' Oddly enough, it is he who is generally the favourite character, not Titus Groan. Titus may be the hero, but he does not have a great effect on castle life until the second book, and much of the time he comes across as weak, unsure of what he wants in life and, in some cases, very annoying. Perhaps the strongest character in this book is the castle itself. It may only be bricks and mortar, but Gormenghast seems to be alive. Endless passages which contort themselves to confuse the reader, shadows which prowl in corridors, an air of neglect; the castle seems to breathe and grow. 'Titius Groan' is not a book that will be loved by everybody. The prose is heavy and at times obscures the plot. I found it an incredible book; very dark and sinister, but occasionally very funny. It is a bizarre mix of humour and malevolence, which I think works well. He may never rival Stephen King or JK Rowling, but in crafting Gormenghast, Mervyn Peake proved himself a prodigious writer.

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                  30.07.2000 04:57
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                  I recently bought this book having only heard about it on the TV, but missing the show completely - due to the fact that where I live, we don't get BBC. I had no idea of the story and setting and was pleasantly suprised with the first two books - I was expecting language along the lines of Dickens, but Gormenghast is very much written in a language style used today. The first two books are superb, possibly inmy top ten, however book 3 is complete rubbish. The setting of the castle is changed to a world of cars and talking animals. When we leave gormenghast - the focus of the story and binding the characters into a whole it becomes meaningless. Espically with a secondary charactre taking such an active role. No wonder the BBC left this whole book out! Still, the first too books are great.

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