on 1 November 2003
Reading this book is like being fully immersed in an utterly fantastic world. The way of life is described in microscopic detail until the existance of a world outside gormenghast becomes unreal. When Titus ventures out of the castle, the world (and indeed our world) by comparison is a pale, washed out image of reality. This is a book with which I have become far more emotionally involved than anything I have read before or since. Every reading feels like a homecoming. Peake's imagery is beautifully, indulgently rich, and the prose has been written with constant precision I defy you to find one single line which does not read like poetry.
on 4 September 2003
I have never read anything like this before. I am a huge fan of fantasy, but Mervyn Peake's style is truly unique. The trilogy is epic in proportion even though the first two books are set almost exclusively within the confines of Ghormenghast Castle. The characters are fascinating, complex and mad as badgers, every one. I loved these people. Peake writes with such descriptive love that you care about the characters and what happens to them. He creates such sympathy between you and the characters that you care despite their many flaws. My favourite character was Steerpike, and in anyone elses hands this character would have been odious, but I found myself on his side! The last book is perhaps the weakest, mainly because it is the claustrophobic atmosphere of the Castle that creates alot of the tension and atmosphere in the book, and having moved to pastures new in the last the tension is somewhat lacking. That said still a great read.
A deep, dark enthralling story which will keep you turning pages, and leave you with a slight aching sadness when you finish it.
on 22 June 2011
I had pre-ordered this and having recently seen a stunning exhibition of Peake's drawings, was eagerly looking forward to its publication. I have to say that I am sadly disappointed though. The paper quality feels cheap and horrible and does not do the illustrations justice. I was also expecting the pictures to be more central to the volume but I do not feel they have been made the focus as I would expect in an "Illustrated" version. The prints seem pale against the page. Many are quite small and even the full page plates lack any impact at all. Such a shame.
on 3 December 1997
Why is this book not given the recognition it deserves? Those who have read it cannot fail to be impressed by its power; Anthony Burgess hailed it as one of the best books of the century, and deservedly so. Peake has a virtuosic imagination. He is one of those few, remarkable writers who write with such sensual clarity that the reader reads 'through' the words on the page into an eidetic experience of the depicted world: that phenomenon uniquely capable in great literature in which writing is magically transparent to experience. He is arguably the best descriptive writer in literature, which makes his achievement all the more remarkable for being a work of pure imagination. For instance, to arbitrarily pick one example out of a book in which every scene is so imagined, the battle between Flay and Swelter in the spiderweb filled attic is a masterpiece of an imaginatively observed reality, rendered with such intense immediacy that one is there, observing every step, every parry, every iota of anxiety and tension moment to moment. And all in grand and beautiful language. (Truly gorgeous language. It may sound ridiculous, but I don't think I exaggerate when I say Peake's use of language is to 20th century english what Gibbon's was to the 18th: grand, sublime, precise, graceful, hypnotic, in love with words and language.) And though his characters are largely grotesques, he writes of them with such sympathy and with such spot-on characterization that he makes them credible living breathing entities. But his skill is not limited to description or characterization. He is able to capture complex and subtle relationships with surgical precision. To arbitrarily pick another example, the courtship scene between Bellgrove and Irma must rank as one of the most brilliantly comical set pieces in literature due to its farcical accuracy. To classify this work as fantasy is a disservice to his achievement. 'The Gormeghast Trilogy' transcends genre just as 'Moby Dick' transcends a fishing tale. Because while Peake's remarkable technical prowess alone should guarantee his place in the pantheon of great 20th century writers, it's his profound, and profoundly subtle, exploration of the motives behind--and effects of--power, complacency, ritual, and decay that puts him squarely in the center of the 20th century. If authors are the products of their history, then the Gormenghast trilogy provides an existential snapshot of the postwar years as only a handful of other works do (eg, Catch-22). The first book, as another reviewer here said, is like the appetizer for the second. The second book is the heart of the trilogy. The third book, as has also been remarked here, is the weakest. It is a great loss to literature that Peake lost his powers so early to illness in what should've been a long career. There are few books that can provide such ample rewards to the receptive reader. Once one enters Peake's world they never forget it. Though it is currently one of the unknown great works in world literature, I hope it will one day find its rightful place in the catalogue of literary masterpieces. It is a unique book, a triumph of imagination. Often a work of fiction is called 'an experience'; 'The Gormeghast Trilogy' is one of the few works in which such an ascription is not perjorative.
on 2 August 2011
I won't go into detail about the stories themselves except to say that I think that the 1st 2 books of the trilogy are in my top 3 fictional books in modern English.
The 2011 hardback Vintage Illustrated Gormenghast Trilogy is an improvement over Vintage's previous edition (which was Meridian's beforehand) in that they've got rid of some of the flagrant typos that were such a blight. Unfortunately, a lot still remain. They seem to be the result of bad optical character recognition (and inadequate proof-reading), e.g. "torn cat" instead of "tom cat", "day" instead of "clay", "splinteririg" instead of "splintering"! That doesn't explain "corosive", though. Don't these people have a spelling checker? I'm sure the edition I gave to a friend in 2001 didn't have nearly as many typos; alas, I can't remember the publisher.
Those who've seen previous editions will be familiar with many of Peake's illustrations. This edition has more of the same (though, for some reason, the picture of the starving girl, whom Titus takes home to Juno, has gone).
on 26 November 2004
The book itself is excellent, great atmosphere etc. as everyone else has already said...however I give it 4 stars and am writing on here due to the fact that it's absolutely full of printing errors and has a habit of turning phrases like 'a long finger' into 'along finger'.
So if that kind of thing annoys you...just a warning.
on 25 July 1999
Mervin Peake is one of the best writers I have ever had the joy of reading.
His style of gothic fantasy is so descriptive that you can actually hear the plot in action, and see the world that Titus explores in the very pages of the book.
Peake is someone who knows the benefits of immersing the reader in the story, and he does this with detail. Nothing is lost on Peake, and every word is crammed with descriptive power.
Peake does not clog up his novel with boring and useless detail, but instead asks the reader to join him in his Gormenghast, that he obviously has locked up inside his head.
The trilogy containss three very clever books, from an intelligent author. The plots are fantastic and it is an effort to put the book down. With all three now between two covers, you may be stuck reading for a very long time.
Peake was inspired when writing this trilogy, and although he was suffering from Parkinson's disease whilst writing "Titus Alone", the extra madness thrown into the plot just helps add to the confusion that all the characters, and not just Titus are feeling.
I read the book at 15 and could relate well to the emotions experienced by Titus throughout.
These books are fantastic.
on 26 October 2000
There is no other book that I can think of that transported me so completely into its world as The Gormenghast Trilogy. Never before have I been so utterly absorbed by a book (and I've read a lot of books). When I finished it and was singing its praises to my friends, a few people said 'What happens in it then?' to which I found myself replying, 'Well, that doesn't really matter'. Because the thing that makes the Gormenghast books enchanting is the detail, the description, the characters. One of the things that I most loved was that initially, none of the characters seemed to have any redeeming features at all, but as the trilogy progressed, they became more and more complex and started to surprise me. Peake's characters are often compared to those of Dickens, but despite the fantastic setting, they will seem more real and vivid to you than anything Dickens ever wrote.
By the way, the accident in the schoolroom in Vol 2 is one of the funniest things I have ever read, although like everything in the Gormenghast trilogy, it's very, very dark. I can't say that Gormenghast was the most cheerful thing I've ever read, but as soon as I'd finished it, I started straight again.
on 28 March 2011
I read this trilogy many years ago, but it has always stuck with me as one of the most original of the great fantasy masterworks. The Dickensian chararcters with their dark motives and strange needs, odd looks and even weirder mannerisms - it's all still in my memory as vivid as the day I first read it. Mervyn's writing does tend towards the verbose, and his descriptions (such as that of the Hall of Bright Carvings) can go on rather too long, in an elegiac and self-indulgent manner, but not to overlook these minor faults is to be deprived of a wonderful story, and one of the most poignant images of fantasy literature. The crumbling, shuddering but indomitable ruins of Gormenghast and its bizarre rituals and inseparable inhabitants. The metaphors are laid on thick throughout the books, but in a way that is enjoyable and in no way tiresome.
My only disappointment was that I was never able to fully complete the trilogy - I stopped 10 pages from the end, never to go back. Titus Groan and Gormenghast really are some of the best examples of the high-literary fantasy tradition, but in Titus Alone I feel Peake failed his own abilities. It is a rambling, strange and irrelevant addition to the previous two stories, and I found his obvious self indulgence just too tedious to carry on with. (Though I should point out that this thought only came to me quite late on into the last book.)
Having thought about my star rating carefully, I have decided to give it a four, as it really is one of the most vivid and original fantasy dystopia I've come across, despite its faults.
on 29 June 2010
The history of the Titus Books
Mervyn Peake's series of works was published in the following order: Titus Groan (1946), Gormenghast (1950) and Titus Alone (1959). In 1970, Penguin Classics published a handsome boxed set of the three illustrated paperback volumes - which is where I came in... For the last four decades I have been delighted to walk the stony corridors of Gormenghast.
Penguin published the novels again in 1983 but this time in one volume with some of Mervyn's own illustrations and with over 1,000 pages to savour. In 1984, BBC Radio 4 broadcast two 90-minute plays based on Titus Groan and Gormenghast, adapted by Brian Sibley and starring Sting and Freddie Jones. In early 2000, the BBC produced and broadcast a four-episode serial, entitled Gormenghast which was based on the first two books of the series. The glittering cast included Christopher Lee, Celia Imrie, Ian Richardson, Richard Griffiths, Fiona Shaw, Stephen Fry, Warren Mitchell, John Sessions and Zoë Wanamaker.
The trilogy, which has also been published by Folio, by Mandarin and by Methuen, has been described as a celebrated modernist fantasy and although Mervyn Peake was a talented and visionary artist, the story works better on the printed page. The imagination of the reader is much bolder than the limitations of the screen. The first books are a brilliant sojourn in the suffocating castle, trapped within the stone walls like dust motes, in the established ritual which governs the lives of the Groan family and their retainers. The characters which populate the Castle are unlike anyone else you will ever meet - from the highest Lord to the menial kitchen boys, all beautifully drawn.
In April 2003, the Gormenghast books were voted number 84 in BBC Big Read - not very high on the list but it's placed higher than Frankenstein, Dracula and Moby Dick!
I expect that shortly there will be a resurgence of interest in the works of Mervyn Peake when the long-lost sequel to the trilogy is published. Titus Awakes will be published next year, to mark the centenary of Peake's birth. 2011 will also see the release of a new illustrated edition of the Gormenghast trilogy, complete with 60 never-before-seen drawings by Peake which his son, Sebastian, is placing within the novel. So if you have not yet read the Titus books or need to read them again, get ahead of the crowd and be ready for the sequel. Mervyn Peake deserves to be recognised as the genius which he was.
If you want to join in discussions about Mervyn Peake's work, go to the Facebook group called The Grey Scrubbers - see you there!