Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Review of the Day: Titus Groan

Titus Groan is the 77th Earl of Gormenghast, born in the opening pages of this first novel in Mervin Peake’s famous Gormenghast Trilogy. Although considered a “fantasy” classic, the novel should not be cubbyhole by its genre. There are no wizards, warlocks, orcs, or walking trees. The inhabitants of Gormenghast Castle come in the recognizable forms of humans, cats, birds, and other common creatures.

The story is fantastic in that it is free of geographical or historical constraints. It seems to be set in a Britain “of yore,” but is so self-contained that it does not matter. The point is the elaborate world contained within the sprawling walls of Gormenghast Castle.

The plot centers on the canny, 17-year-old Steerpike, who aims to control Gormenghast. In this first volume, we watch Steerpike wriggle his way up the ladder of power from a post as kitchen scullion, to the servant of the awkwardly endearing Dr. Prunesquallor, into an elaborate plot that gives him command over the nitwit twin sisters of the aged 76th Earl, to the exalted position of heir-apparent to the Master of Ritual at the castle. Who knows what heights he will reach in the remaining volumes.

Peake fills every page of Steerpike’s journey with intricate details of the ceremonies, manners, foibles, and relationships that govern the Groan family and their court. Darkly humorous and lusciously written, Titus Groan is a novel to get lost in.


This book is listed on at least one of the lists I am working on, but I am too scatterbrained by trial prep to remember which one right now. I will figure it out and add the information later.

This counts as one of my books for the Typically British Challenge.


(If you would like your review listed here, please leave a comment with a link and I will add it.)


  1. And the owls, don't forget the owls! Ha ha ha ha!

    I love this book. Ma femme finds the detail, the obessive, endless detail, tedious, and she's not wrong. But you're also correct, the right reader can get lost in this book, sucked right in.

  2. Yes! The owls! And the white cats, which were my favorites -- especially when they sit on the turrets.

    I was surprised by how much I liked it. It is definitely a book you have to submit to, because it is not going to flow any faster than it is going to flow.


    On Troutbirder II I do occasional reviews. This one made me nervous. :) Thanks

  4. Funny - an old friend asked me if I'd read this just the other day (I haven't), but I filed it away in the back of my head. Apparently there is a British TV adaptation of the series, but I haven't seen that, either. Anyway, serendipity says that seeing it come up twice in as many months means I should read it.

  5. Troutbirder -- I like your review of The Shack. I'll add the link to my review post.

    Caitlin -- Serendipity indeed! You are fated to read this.

  6. I read a part of the first in the trilogy years ago. Unfortunately, I was going to school at the time and had to abandon it. I would like to get back to it, but I think I'll wait until the class I'm currently taking is over! Learned my lesson last time. I've been pulling easy fast reads from my pile of books this time around.

  7. I've never even heard of this but my book club tries to do a genre book every year and maybe I'll suggest this one. "Days of yore" made me snicker and think of Phoebe on Friends when Rachel was tryingto prentend the furniture from Pottery Barn were all antiques.

  8. Terri -- I can understand! I'm in trial mode right now, so I can only concentrate on light and quick reads right now, since I am only getting in about ten minutes before I fall asleep.

    Carin -- Me too! I love that episode and I kept thinking of it while listening to this book. "Hhhmmmmm . . . this seems to take place in the days of yore."

  9. I didn't know anything about this book, so thanks for the review! It sounds really good.

  10. The obsessive, sometimes tedious detail is not without its point; there is a lot that is Kafkaesque about Gormenghast Castle. Titus Groan was written in 1946, and looks at aristocratic, bureaucratic, and by implication religious authority with a very cutting gaze. I think Peake was about 20 years ahead of his time.

    DO read book two of the trilogy, "Gormenghast." DON'T read the third, "Titus Alone," cobbled together from notes after Peake's death and a real train wreck of a book.

  11. JT -- I'm have the zeal of a new convert, but I think the praise is justified.

    Michael -- You are so right about the Kafka similarities! Except that the bureaucratic rituals of Gormenghast reach hilarious levels.

    Now I am conflicted, because the lists that include this "book" usually include the entire trilogy, which makes me want to read all three. But not if the last one is no good. We'll see how compulsive I am . . . . Well, the answer is "very" so I am sure I will read it. At least it is short.

  12. Tell you what: when you start "Titus Alone" and start thinking "Geez, this is terrible," remember I told you it doesn't get any better.

    The second book is fun though. Irma Prunesquallor goes a'courtin'!


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