Author: Mervyn Peake
First published: 1946
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I was hesitant to write this review, because the book is so magnificent that I just don't feel equal to reviewing it as it deserves. Reading it was a unique experience: for a week I could think of nothing else than the world of Gormenghast. I dreamed of it at night, and kept the book nearby during the day when I couldn't read. And when I could, everything else just stopped existing.
There is only one rule to reading Titus Groan: you don't rush it. You observe and remember every stone of the gloomy and monstrous castle, you inhale its dusty air, you respect its sacred ancient traditions and you behave properly. You do not look for action or change. It is so inappropriate! And if things do happen, it takes them all the time they need to unfold in all their minuteness. If you rush, you just miss everything worth reading it for. I made this mistake in the beginning, as I always read fast, and when I understood I was doing it wrong, I re-read the first 20 pages or so, devouring every word. I was rewarded by the most vivid images black characters on white paper can create. Just listen to it:
"Gormenghast, that is, the main massing of the original stone, taken by itself would have displayed a certain ponderous architectural quality were it possible to have ignored the circumfusion of those mean dwellings that swarmed like an epidemic around its outer walls. They sprawled over the sloping arch, each one half way over its neighbour until, held back by the castle ramparts, the innermost of these hovels laid hold on the great walls, clamping themselves thereto like limpets to a rock. These dwellings, by ancient law, were granted this chill intimacy with the stronghold that loomed above them. Over their irregular roofs would fall throughout the seasons, the shadows of time-eaten buttresses, of broken and lofty turrets, and, most enormous of all, the shadow of the Tower of Flints. This tower, patched unevenly with black ivy, arose like a mutilated finger from among the fists of knuckled masonry and pointed blasphemously at heaven. At night the owls made of it an echoing throat; by day it stood voiceless and cast its long shadow."
Now that you've had a glimpse of the magnificent writing, I'll give you an idea of the plot. The novel revolves around the birth of an heir to the castle: an event influencing everybody from the Earl to the last Scrubber in the kitchen. But more happens on this day, something not noticed by anybody, but which will result in the most dramatic events in the future: Steerpike, a boy from the kitchens, starts his long and unscrupulous way to the power by escaping his confinement through the window to the roofs of the castle. His Machiavellian notions and wonderful ability to influence people and make the best of every situation will change the life in the castle drastically and for ever.
In my book:
Titus Groan is dark, disturbing and magical. This is fantasy that becomes really real in the mind of the reader thanks to its spellbinding writing. How could I put it off for such a long time? I don't know.