The Gormenghast Trilogy - Mervyn Peake

The Gormenghast Trilogy - Mervyn Peake

The Gormenghast Trilogy in its entirety is so vast that it's hard to give it a single review. But I'll do my best.

It is the story of Titus Groan, heir to the vast and crumbling castle of Gormenghast, bound in ritual and ceremony. It is the story of the characters around him: the story of Steerpike, the Machiavellian; the story of Fuschia, the lonely, childish daughter of the Groans; the story of Flay, taciturn manservant; the story of the irrepressible Doctor Prunesquallor.

But most of all, it is the story of Titus and his struggle for freedom from the destiny that has been set out for him.

Titus Alone and Gormenghast are very similar in tone and content. Both are set in the castle of Gormenghast, and both deal with the politics of that region. The idea of the castle is fascinating: miles of corridors that haven't been seen for generations, fields of stone on the roof, walls emerald with lizards. The prose is dense and somewhat hard to get through; but this is more than made up for by the music of the language - brilliant sentences like "so limp of brain that for them to conceive an idea would be to risk a haemorrhage" - and by the sheer drama that permeates the pages: murders, suicide, madness and man-hunts. Steerpike, the arch-villain, has got to be among my favourite literary characters ever, for the sheer devilry of his mind. I give the first two novels four stars.

However, the rating is brought down by the third novel, Titus Alone . Yes, it is shorter and easier to read, and the settings and minor characters are as delightful as the ones in the previous novels. But I found I didn't care about Titus. He was an ungrateful, arrogant, spoiled brat, and he wasn't interesting enough to hold my interest. I also thought the ending weak and disappointing, and the narrative lacked the brilliant, intricate plotting of the first two novels. So, for Titus Alone , two stars; three overall.