Wednesday, June 29, 2011

2,559: Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake - Week Four of the Gormenghast Readalong


It’s a good job that we can start the second book in the pseudo-quadrilogy (I’m not convinced that the new fourth book should be seen as part of the whole, as Peake himself only really contributed outline notes for it) immediately as I would have been most disgruntled at having to wait for it.  For, at the close of Titus Groan, the shadows of change are gathering around Gormenghast Castle.

As I have said previously, I have had a go at reading Titus Groan before and gave up after only a few pages.  Had it not been for the fact that I am taking part in the Gormenghast readalong, hosted by Jackie at Farm Lane Books, I may well have similarly fallen at the first hurdle this time. I persevered though and have been thoroughly rewarded as it is a truly rich and immersive book.  It is true that Peake’s language can be dense and indigestible at times but this is probably the price that needs to be paid for the almost three dimensional sense of his descriptive writing.  

This last instalment brings together many of the strands of the novel and leaves matters nicely poised with the main characters positioned by Peake almost as if they were pieces on a chess board.  Steerpike has succeeded in getting closer to the Groan family and, judging by this quote clearly has plans for both Fuchsia and Titus:

“Steerpike was watching Fuchsia through the branches.  She would be difficult, but it was only a matter of careful planning.  He must not hurry it.  Step by step…………….There was Titus, of course – but what were problems for if not to be solved.”

He is a most splendid villain and Peake has made him mesmerising, both to most of the castle’s inhabitants (Flay and Prunesquallor honourably excepted) and to the reader.  I desperately want him to get his just desserts but know that the books would be much duller without him.

The main theme of Titus Groan has been the tension between tradition and change.  Steerpike has been the main agent of change but in a purely personal fashion, indirectly provking the madness of Sepulchrave and hence his death.  At the end of the book, however, it feels as if another source of disruption is emerging.  Titus’ actions at the Earling clearly portend a breal in the numbing ritual of the castle and I hope that, as he grows, he will sweep away much of the must and rust of the castle.

One of my gripes about earlier sections of the book was the seemingly redundant sub-plot relating to Keda, the former wet nurse of young Titus but we can now begin to understand what Peake is trying to achieve as Titus, having cast aside his Earling props into the lake, faces Keda and her new-born – his foster-sister.  Maybe another symbolic theme is beginning here.  Titus, the product of a loveless but dutiful marriage and his foster-sister the product of Keda’s apparent love for both her suitors may come to be counterpointed as time passes.

As the first act of the Gormenghast novels comes to an end, the character who has grown emotionally and even morally the most is also my favourite, Fuchsia.  From her beginnings as a wild, unruly girl, she has grown over the book into a loving and caring young woman, trying to connect with her father through his madness, almost reversing roles with Nannie Slagg and even starting to take an interest in her little brother.  It is becoming increasingly apparent that a romantic sub-plot involving her and Steerpike will come to the fore and I fear for her – Steerpike does not strike me as a kindly or selfless lover.

There’s plenty to look forward to in Gormenghast.  As well as the above plot strands, the gruesome twosome of Cora and Clarice are still at large, a threat not only to Steerpike but also to everyone else in their simple malice.  Prunesquallor, another character who has grown in my estimation is slowly coming to suspect Steerpike.  We shall see whether he manages to do anything about him. And, finally, Lady Groan is threatening to take over the care of young Titus, something that would probably concern the Gormenghast regional social services office, if there were one.

There’s more going on in Gormenghast than in your average soap opera and it’s much better so why not join in the readalong as we start Gormenghast next week.

Further thoughts on Titus Groan can be found by:

1.         Jackie at Farm Lane Books;
2.         Margaret at Books Please; and
3.         Ellie at Curiosity Killed the Bookworm.


Jackie (Farm Lane Books) said...

Great post :-) I can feel your love for this book and I'm so pleased your persevered with it. I love your description of it being a three-dimensional world. So true :-)

I am really looking forward to finding out what happens in the rest of the books, but will reserve judgement on whether they are a trilogy or quadrology until I've read all four books. I think it could go either way.

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