* Prices may differ from that shown
Titus awakes is a fourth book in the Gormenghast series of novels written by Mervyn Peake, well I say fourth it's more of a reconstruction of a book Peake was going to write before his death. The original Gormenghast trilogy was written between 1946 and 1959 and tells the story of Titus Groan, beginning with his birth in the original book we follow his travails, the books have been hailed as the greatest works of gothic fantasy and for some including me are the only books which rival Tolkein for their depth and richness. Peake died when in his Fifties and notes suggested he wanted to keep writing about Titus well past the original trilogy but his death prevented that from happening, the original trilogy ends with Titus around 18-19 years old and has him making his first ways in the world. Peakes widow Maeve Gilmore constructing his wishes from notes and the first chapter he left has constructed a new world for Titus to live in, the offering the Titus awakes was compiled with by herself.
Gormenghast was and is a trilogy which uses gothic horror in a large castle (Gormenghast) to look at how power corrupts and in this case absolute power corrupts absolutely. The books are filled with harsh unflinching characters who are only looking out for themselves, they are filled with greed, envy, avarice and power and have very few comfortable places for the reader to latch onto. All of the characters are dissolute, power hungry and totally lacking in warm and empathy, their struggles in a large gothic castle with strict class guidelines makes the books so powerful and illuminating. They are clearly a pastiche on post-war England, the struggles of the classes and the breakup of empire and the books leave the reader in no doubt about how power is a drug and one which feeds an increasing drug habit. The books as I said start with Titus being born but in truth he only appears as a main character in the final book Titus alone, where Peake takes him out of the castle and he enters a strange post-war Europe where Gormenghast is only a myth and the return an impossibility. The book ends with Titus' striking off in a new direction and ignoring the guns firing from the castle pleading for his return.
Titus awakes is the book about what happens next, the first chapter is by Mervyn Peake and describes Titus waking up in a cold dark cave and how his memories of who he is return at the same pace as his limbs begin working. This chapter of the book is by far the best, Peakes skills with the English language come through with ease and he is one of the few authors who can put a reader of balance by use of a one or two words, in particular he describes a bookcase which is alive with mice, something so simple yet in an instant the reader is made to feel he's entered a different world. The great shame and all the more poignant is that this was the last thing he wrote about Titus, he leaves Titus just awake and leaving the cave and we never find out what Peake wanted to happen to Titus in his own words.
The book after this takes a darker more disjointed turn even than the original trilogy, Titus is portrayed as a woman beating thug who goes around fathering children, fighting and betraying. There is little to like about him and the world he lives in is a dark and despairing one, in the original books in the middle of all the gothic darkness there was the occasional moment of lightness such as the chief butler having clacking knees but in this book there are no moments of lightness.
This the final book in the series if one wants to call it such is a book which attempts to end the story of Titus, we follow him around as he moves between towns and villages, this is a strange almost alternate Europe with cars and planes and the trappings of the Twentieth century but feudal in how Titus perceives them so he has no problem with planes but champs against a person asking him a question and making eye contact. Finally, we are taken on Titus' last journey, a trip across a sea and a final moment of clarity before the book concludes.
This book was always going to be less than the original trilogy; a book based on fragments and notes is something almost impossible to create. The authors have given it their best go and the book has the feel of a Titus novel without the quality of the writing. I fear that time won't look on this book with affection and that lovers of Gormenghast will ignore it but there are moments which recapture the greatness of his writings but they are momentary rather than prolonged and the reader wishes he'd lived long enough to have written at least one more book and depict an older Titus and his impact on the world.