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4.6 out of 5 stars17
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on 9 December 2003
Gormenghast is in my opinion the greatest work of imaginative, original and descriptive fiction I have ever read.
It isn't Tolkein, it's nothing like his work. It IS unique. The characters are brilliantly written, bright, mad, dark, and bad; the descriptive passages - which can be whole chapters long - could only have been written by an artist of Peake's ability. The attention to detail will blow your mind.
The plot is murderous - literally, with intrigue and betrayal, madness and merciless violence.
Heck, Peake went insane himself after writing about it so much.
If you're an author - or a wannabe writer - this book will probably have one of two effects on you - or both, but not simultaneously. First it will inspire you; but it can just as easily scare the crap out of you. It did me. But genius is genius. You can't argue with it, fake it or cultivate it. All you can do is admire it.
Thank you for reading this review.
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on 27 June 2001
Mervyn Peake's seminal work of gothic fantasy is by far the most amazingly crafted piece of English Literature of the 20th Century. Macabre, dark, brooding, and hipnotic.
The desciptive passages (which can take up whole chapters!) are trully spell-binding. This isn't a work to be taken lightly. This is not light reading by any stretch of the imagination - and it will certainly stretch yours.
The ancient, crumbling city of Gormenghast is in an age-old fight for its very existence, bowed under the weight of ritual, and set to implode.
Enter Steerpike, a young man with ambitions to undermine and destroy everything that keeps Gormenghast and the Groan dynasty alive.
Dastardly plots, Murder, madness, treachery... Weird and wonderful characters that Dickens would envy. You name it, it's all here!
Forget the BBC dramatisation (as good as it was), it didn't even come close to this claustrophobic tour de force!
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on 26 May 2004
This is a review of Gormenghast, that is, the second part of the Gormenghast trilogy (after Titus Groan, and before Titus Alone).
After a somewhat slow beginning, in which Mervyn Peake first briefly summarizes Titus Grown by drawing up a list of which characters have died or gone missing, then introduces the reader with the plethora of new characters that are the teachers of Titus, the now seven-year-old seventy-seventh Earl of Gormenghast, the pace hopefully picks up again. And as the pages turn, the story becomes more and more exciting.
Irma Prunesquallor's party, and then her romance and the way the whole affair eventually backfires on Wellgrove, although it does not push the plot further, were fun to read. Titus's growing love for his sister Fuchsia, and at the same time his attempts at shunning both the physical prison that is Gormenghast castle and the mental cage that is its sacrosanct ritual, attempts that lead him into the mysterious forest where lurks the Thing, and to the grotto where Flay has taken shelter, were passionating. Finally, Steerpike's mischievious, murderous ambition, and the others' suspicions that gradually turn into evidences, and the memorable chases in the shadowy maze of the fortress that ensue, were purely mind-boggling.
Mervyn Peake's characters are so complex that in the end you like the ones you despised and hate the ones you loved in the first book. His words give life to such an amazing imagery, it vibrates and dazzles, it's intoxicating. This is magic.
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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.
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on 24 October 2011
Not a long review, as such; the story is one of the best you will ever read.

I just wanted to mention that there are more than the usual number of transcription errors in the Kindle edition. Not to the point of extreme annoyance, but enough to be a slight thorn in the side of anyone who loves Peake's masterful use of language to create the living, breathing world of Gormenghast.

I'm assuming Amazon have scanned an original copy of the text and used optical character recognition (OCR) to transcribe it into the digital edition, but either they haven't proofread the result or, if they have, they didn't do a particularly good job. Commas and full-stops are occasionally transposed (or missing altogether) and two letters are occasionally joined into one (in one case resulting in the unintentionally amusing but somewhat jarring "he closed the door with a dick", which I'm assuming should have read "click").

I will always buy hard-copy versions of my favourite books but, for convenience, I like having the option of reading a digital version; here's hoping that Amazon will improve their proofreading in future (or allow Kindle owners to flag up potential errors?).
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on 30 April 2011
Every other reviewer here to date has written only about the wonderful "Gormenghast" print novel, not about this specific Blackstone Audiobook version. I have all three of the Blackstone Audiobooks in the Gormenghast series (this title, "Titus Groan" and "Titus Alone") on CD, and I am pleased to report that reader Robert Whitfield does an absolutely magnificent job of not merely reading the books, but performing them.

Whitfield's readings are thoroughly entertaining, and the individual "voices" he gives to the characters are positively inspired -- from the stately baritone drawl of headmaster Bellgrove to the fidgety desperation of Irma Prunesquallor to the "we are not amused" Countess Gertrude to the obsequious, ambitious and evil Steerpike -- I could go on and on. Whitfield seems to take real delight in giving voice to Peake's words, savoring every richly ornamented sentence.

The only "caveat" for Peake purists is that all three Blackstone audiobooks, although they were produced in 2000, used the old Ballantine Books editions of the novels as their source material, not the "restored" texts that later appeared from Overlook Press and other publishers. Fortunately, any "restorations" that were made to "Titus Groan" and "Gormenghast" were extremely minor; only the third book, "Titus Alone," had significant alterations and additions (including entire restored chapters that did not appear in the Ballantine version).

(Note: The "restored text" audiobook version of "Titus Alone," produced by Isis Audio Books, is read by Edmund Dehn, whose delivery is not nearly as energetic, imaginative and textured as that of Robert Whitfield on the Blackstone version. Which means buyers face the odd choice of hearing a better performance but not getting the entire book by going with the Blackstone version, or hearing the full text from a less lively reader on the Isis version. Heck, just do what I did and buy both -- it's only money!)

While the Blackstone "Gormenghast" is not exactly inexpensive, rest assured that you will not be disappointed with the product. Reader Robert Whitfield is a true treasure.
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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 would like to join in discussions about Mervyn Peake's work, please have a look on Facebook for The Grey Scrubbers group and join us.
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on 26 December 2011
This a work like nothing I have read before. Peake has a distinctive and rare form of writing which is poetic and captivatingly lyrical. It holds one's interest not through dialogue but through expression. He narrates the tale with a detachment akin to ghostliness - it is as if he is looking back from a timeless, ethereal vantage upon a rather earthless planet.

It is removed from everyday reality yet is not quite fantasy. Gormanghast is a vast decaying castle the size of a city, which is ruled in a medieval style of hierarchy and ritual. Titus Groan, the Earl and inheritor, is seven at the outset and there is a whiff of treason about. The Countess, his mother, has met him just seven times in seven years is the one who detects the odour.

Yet, there is also a sense of the absurd; his characters have comical names - Cutflower, Fluke, Deadyarn and Spiregrain are all professors, while the doctor is Prunesquallor. The Countess is followed everywhere by a hoard of white cats and has a bird permanently nesting in her hair. In a sense it is earthbound, but these incongruities add to the sense of uncertainty about its reality at the beginning of the book. There are elements of dark fantasy, reminiscent of C.S Lewis, Tolkien seems to have left impressions and even Dickens is visible.

The book meanders through various tales, often humorous, of the inhabitants. But the two main themes persist of Titus' desire for freedom from the impositions and constraints of his Earldom and Steerpike's evil obsessive plots to gain power of Gormanghast, by all means foul.

It is a good read with fascinating aspects - there is an intriguing comment from the Countess right at the end, yet overall, I suspect it is a tale of good struggling to prevail over evil.

A.O'Connell
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on 28 June 2014
This is one of my favourite all time novels, it is one of the most unusual stories I have read, written with exquisite language. Mervyn Peake was a master of the written word, a genius. (And a very good painter too, for that matter!)
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on 16 July 1999
A great sequal. Gripping, emotive and intellegent, only let down by a few rambling chapters that have no real direction. A few shocking plot developments. This book is recomended to those that have already read and enjoyed the first part of the trillogy - "Titus Groan".
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