Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Review of the Day: Titus Alone

Titus Alone is the final volume of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast Trilogy about the 77th Earl of Gormenghast. In Titus Groan, the eponymous first volume, Peake created the elaborate world inside castle of Gormenghast and introduced readers to the extended Groan family and their court of retainers and hangers-on. Volume two, Gormenghast, picked up when Titus was a schoolboy, allowing Peake to focus on the antics of a mangy band of professors responsible for Titus’s education.

This last volume is not really an extension of the glorious saga of the first two books, but its own story of Titus’s adventures after he leaves Gormenghast. It is much shorter than the first two, giving Peake less room to develop the intricate descriptions and side stories that make the others so seductive.

The plot moves forward in fits and starts as Titus tries to find his way back to Gormenghast, or at least back to surefooted sanity. There are gaps in the narrative and some characters disappear quite abruptly.  And the story is emotionally ragged as Titus and several other characters are, for no clear reason, quick to anger and violence.  Scenes go instantly from potentially humorous to disastrous, and then the story moves off in a different direction, leaving the reader struggling to catch up.   

Overall, Titus Alone lacks the polish and delightful detail of the first volumes, which makes it a letdown.



See also, The Voice of the Heart: The Working of Mervyn Peake's Imagination
by G. Peter Winnington

Judging from other reviews I’ve read, I’m not alone in my assessment. But there are some fans who very much enjoyed the third volume and make a case for its literary and entertainment value.

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


My review of Titus Groan is here. My review of Gormenghast is here.

The Gormenghast Trilogy shows up, in whole or in part, on Anthony Burgess's list of his favorite 99 novels and on the BBC's Big Read list.


  1. I think I agree with every word. Some episodes and individual pieces are brilliant, but the book as a whole is a patchwork. It should have a warning sticker on it - "Different Than The Other Two" or "Good But No Titus Groan."

  2. Told ya so. If I remember rightly, he died when it was still in draft stage and it was just kind of cobbled together.

  3. Peake did in fact complete Titus Alone, a longer book with episodes that he discarded before publication, but the publisher hacked it about and Peake was too ill to protest. After he died, a friend reinstated many omitted passages to make the book more coherent, and that's what we have today.
    My 'review' of the Titus books is a book, linking his fiction-writing with his poetry, his plays, and his art. It can be glimpsed here:

  4. Amateur Reader: Having you agree if big praise! "Good But No Titus Groan" pretty much summed it up for me.

    Michael5000: You did tell me! I thought of you as I was listening to the audiobook.

    Peter: Thanks for the link to your book! That is pretty cool. I will add the link to this post. And then I will spend some time poking about in the book.

  5. Like the previous commentors, I'd have to agree with your review for the most part - a real patchwork book. There are elements of disturbing brilliance, but also a lot of incoherent and dull content.

    My latest review: Titus Alone by Mervyn Peake


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