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Review 173:
April 2021

 Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake.

First Published: 1946

Internet entries:

 Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake.

The author:
Mervyn Peake



Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake

As classics such as Jane Eyre and Great Expectations were greatly appreciated by club members the choice of this book, as an accepted classic, was thought likely to garner appreciation amongst club members. However, the review produced the widest possible spectrum of responses.

At least three members had attempted to read the book and had given up very quickly. And one member noted that there was no character that one could love or even feel sympathy for, most generated distaste, and some, a feeling of revulsion.

Several members had read this many decades ago, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

However, comparisons with the two classics above donít really work; the sub plots (of Jayne Eyre and Great Expectations) were very real to many people, the plot and sub plots of Titus Groan are pure fantasy, populated by a pantheon of caricatures.

Reading the book is a bit like going to a photography exhibition where all photographs have been contrast over-enhanced. However, in spite of that, the interplay of the characters (e.g. Flay versus Swelter) seems to work, and even the Machiavellian Steerpike is believable. Mervyn Peake never seems to use 2 words where 22 or 222 will do. But thereís method in the madness, the strangeness of the castle needs to be brought into focus for the story to work. Itís the changeless rites that enable Steerpike to worm his way into position that he can exploit.

Plot.

This is love it or hate it time. Gothic Fantasy. Nothing happens. Half way through the book, the main character (see title) has made one cameo appearance. But then this is a trilogy, so thereís a lot more to come. Itís a nice twist that the new Earl drops the symbols of office in the lake. Rotcodd missed the year but did we miss Rotcodd?

ďDismal and dourĒ was one memberís view of the book.

Characters

The daughter, Fuschia, is just a crazy mixed up teenager, but Steerpike develops in the readerís view. His determination and cunning are clear to view. He can be appreciated but, like Machiavelli, is hard to like. His manipulation of the twins is despicable. Most other characters are pure fantasy.

One member disliked most of the characters, there were too many birds, definitely too many cats.

Language

The extensive descriptive material was quite enjoyable but it was spoiled by a splattering of new words, which normally would have been looked up in a dictionary, but with so much to read they were merely guessed at.

Whilst accepting the skilful and imaginative writing, one member (who had read Gormengast), reacted with ďand groan I didĒ.

On the other hand, one member enjoyed this as a student, just got lost in the book, enjoyed the descriptions, loved the language and could see artistic possibilities in re-expression of some scenes.

Overall.

As a book as opposed to a trilogy, itís flawed.

The title is aspirational rather than descriptive, even after 350 pages Titus Groan has hardly appeared. Itís hard to see it as a whole. Whatís the point of the Bright Carvers? Or the mud people? What about Swelter? Barquentine is brought out of his hole when he is needed and not before. Whatís the point of Keda and the lovers, whatís the point of the lovers fighting?

So, nice read if you like that sort of thing, and possibly need to read the trilogy to get the point(s), but not this week.

2.7 stars
PC. 17 April 2021.


Mervyn Peake was a poet and artist as well as an author. There are 5 books in the Gormengast series, see Mervyn Peake Bibliography on Wikipedia and a number of other works including poetry and illustrated books.


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