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Titus Groan

Titus Groan is the first book in Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy.
Titus Groan with Mervyn Peake's sketch of Fuscia Groan as cover.A lot has been said about this book and this trilogy. The soundbite I have in my head for it is ‘a sustained work of the imagination’. It is definitely that. The narrative and characters are pushed to heights which, in different hands, would be ridiculous, but Peake manages to keep things engaging and ‘real’ with heavyweight characters and doses of allegory which are not so far removed from what we (UK, the aristocracy, old people, young go-getters, the yoke of tradition etc.) are actually like. His descriptions of place are so vivid you can almost feel the moss-covered stone or the dusty old velvet of Gormenghast castle.
There are many things I loved about this book:
I’ve mentioned before that I like owls. It was this book that really cemented my appreciation of them. In it owls are associated with learning and wisdom – constantly circling the tower and the library – but when the tower burns down and the Earl loses his mind it is the owls that dispatch him. They are not just wise and enigmatic, but also vicious and deadly.
In the version of the books I have there are several of Peake’s sketches he drew of his characters. Fuscia, on the cover of this one, is draw with a very heavy hand. There are other pictures which are drawn with a very light hand. Rather than these insane freakish protraits being caricatures or monsters, they are in fact credible representations of how these characters may actually look.
After reading this book I identified The Smiths’ This Charming Man with it. I assumed that Morrisey had written the line ‘a jumped up pantry boy who never knew his place’ about Steerpike. I’ve since learned that that is not the case, but I retain the association. I’m sure Morrisey wouldn’t mind.
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