Review: Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake

Titus Groan (Gormenghast, #1)Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Weird, evocative, scary, funny, all wrapped into one. Peake’s style is totally unique, and his characters even more so. From the Dickensian names (Steerpike, Prunesquallor, Sepulchrave) to their vividly drawn physicalities (Cora and Clarice’s identical…everything…), their idiosyncratic speech (Steerpike’s well-mannered manipulation, Prunesquallor’s purple diction interspersed with giggles)to their frankly bizarre personalities (enormous Lady Gertrude with her menagerie of cats and birds, stiff Lady Irma, the melancholy Sepulchrave who does seem to crave the sepulchre). Peake subtitles his work “a Gothic Novel,” and his playing with the conventions of the gothic is delightful. Tempestuous weather; drafty castles and windy moors; class conflict; madness and intrigue; murder and suicide; the sense of impending doom and inescapable destiny. Underneath the celebration of the gothic, he inserts a hilarious subversion: Steerpike’s attempts to manipulate the most clueless aristocrats. The titular Titus remains firmly in the background as we barely make it to the first year of his life. Lest it all become too tongue-in-cheek and insular, Peake lets the air in by following the journey of Keda (Titus’ wet-nurse) in her journey back to the countryside, which is no less tragic than the castle of Gormenghast. A strange, strange book that I thoroughly enjoyed and am glad to have read.

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About Katherine Sas

I graduated from Messiah College in 2009 with a B.A. in English Literature. I'm a student of all things arts and humanities, in particular Tolkien, the Inklings, and the fantastic and imaginative tradition in storytelling.
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