Monday, September 06, 2004

Titus Groan

By Mervyn Peake

This is the first book of the Gormenghast trilogy, one of the earliest examples of fantasy literature. It was first published in the late 1940s, about the same time as the Lord of the Rings. I first read these books about six or seven years ago, but I couldn't really remember what they were like, so I decided to read the first one again.

Gormenghast is a huge ancient castle, where every inhabitant is enslaved to a complicated set of bizarre rules and traditions. Titus Groan is the male heir to the Earl of Gormenghast. Despite having the book named after him, he doesn't do much in it, as he is still only a year or so old by the end of the first book. In fact, not a lot happens at all in the first book, it mostly just introduces the main characters and sets up the oppressive atmosphere of the castle.

In some respects Titus Groan is a very good book, the author has a unique and evocative style of writing. The descriptions of the castle and it's environs are probably my favorite parts of the book. In a lot of ways the writing style resembles that of a children's book (Mervyn Peake wrote and illustrated a few children's books as well), but it's incredibly dark and twisted compared to the likes of Harry Potter. The characters are memorable, although creepy. The Duchess of Groan is a huge silent woman, who cares for a horde of white cats, and keeps a flock of birds in her chambers. The Earl's sisters are two malevolent but mindless identical twins, always dressed in purple and almost incapable of showing any kind of emotion.

On the other hand the book is very slow and often a bit of a chore to read. Also in some chapters the whimsical but warped style of the author goes right off the deep end into flowery pseudo-philosophical wankery (that reminds me, maybe I should write something about Ray Manzarek's book), leaving me wondering what the hell he was smoking.

In summation, while Titus Groan has some great writing, I found it too slow and boring most of the time. I might read the next book (I remember it being better than the first when I read it previously), but probably not any time soon.

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