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42 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The most pleasure I ever had from a book
I first read this when I was 14 whilst recovering from a chill, and I devoured it in a couple of days. I have read it, and its companions, 'Gormenghast' and 'Titus Alone', five or six times since, and hope and expect to read them a few more times yet.

You read these books for their extraordinary prose, which has a flavour somewhere in the region between Dickens...
Published on 15 Jan 2008 by John Ferngrove

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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Oh Dear
Oh dear. What a shame. I read this book years ago and it is fantastic. I suspect the kindle version has been scanned using some sort of OCR software which has made too many annoying mistakes. Why don't the publishers proof read? Get the paperback...Great book, shame about the lazy publishing.
Published 23 months ago by michaeli m


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42 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The most pleasure I ever had from a book, 15 Jan 2008
By 
John Ferngrove (Hants UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
I first read this when I was 14 whilst recovering from a chill, and I devoured it in a couple of days. I have read it, and its companions, 'Gormenghast' and 'Titus Alone', five or six times since, and hope and expect to read them a few more times yet.

You read these books for their extraordinary prose, which has a flavour somewhere in the region between Dickens and Dali. While the plot is huge, intricate and subtle, plot remains secondary. The reader must allow the dense, intricate prose to paint its vivid pictures in the mind, as strange and idiosyncratic as the illustrations and paintings for which Peake is also famous. As a celebration of the English language he is there alongside the best of writers. Those in search of a good yarn may find such writing tedious, but for those who like to savour language this is a feast.

The books are frequently described as fantasy, but they are fantasy in a sense entirely distinct from the heroic fantasy tradition resurrected from the Norse, by Tolkien, Lewis and their like. In the world of Gormenghast what heroism there is, is bent and twisted and always ultimately futile. There is little space for moral manoeuvre where the roles of most characters are prescribed to a minute degree by an immutable ancient tradition. The world of Gormenghast is a vast crumbling castle, that has stood for time immemorial, isolated from the world outside. It could be anywhere or anytime. It is populated by a cast of characters made exquisitely eccentric by the castle and the entrenched, stifling tradition it represents. The wonderful characters whom we come to love and loathe include;

Dr Prunesquallor, obliged by his position to behave as a buffoon, but the one source of sanity throughout the insane unfolding of events. He is endlessly patient with his hugely neurotic sister, Irma.
Countess Gertrude, formidable mistress of a thousand snow white cats, who has more regard for her birds than for people.
Earl Sepulchrave, 76th Earl of Groan and father of Titus. He will go very mad.
Lady Fuschia. The sweet, innocent, vain, dear Fuschia whom we want so badly to protect from the cloying menace that surrounds her.
The mad aunts, Cora and Clarice, who take tea each afternoon in the boughs of a tree that grows horizontally from the side of the castle walls.
The fanatically loyal manservant to the Earl, Mr Flay, whose knees crack like pistols, and the despicable chef, Abiatha Swelter.
And then there is the wicked, wicked boy, Steerpike, who pulls the wings off flies and seeks to control them all.

These and numerous other more or less strange characters comprise the world of Gormenghast, into which is born Titus, destined to be the 77th Earl.

Whilst a whole industry has grown up around the emulation of Tolkien, the same cannot be said for Peake's Gormenghast, the other key 'fantasy' work of the mid-20th Century. This is because Peake was touched with a unique and original vision in the way that Kafka and Sartre were. Such writers were able to see through the contingencies of our world into other worlds so close to our own in form, yet utterly different in light and atmosphere, allowing them to create a backdrop for a strange and subtly distorted form of human experience. As events unfold we watch as the characters are deformed, each in there own bizarre way.

Having read a lot of fine literature I would say that these are among the world's great books and would be worthy of a posthumous Nobel. Everybody I know who has read them has had their imagination uniquely affected by the experience.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars eery gothic fantasy which co-exists with reality, 3 Aug 1999
By A Customer
i first read this book 13 years ago and it still exercises a hold over me. the beauty of the prose is similar in many respects to Dickens but Peake has taken the victorian style and mutated it into something fragile. the book is set in a crumbling castle whose inhabitants lives are shored up by an empty series of fantastic rituals, echoing a long lost splendour from which they derived their meaning. the force of change arrives in the shape of the diabolic kitchen boy, Steerpike and the young inheritor of the castle is sucked in by him, as are all the other odd characters that populate the castle. it's like 'name of the rose' meets 'bleak house'. a compelling and beautifully poetic read that will lead you to the other two books (not as good as Peake was to soon die of sleeping sickness - the third book is reconstructed from his notes). after all this time, i still am in love with book and remain convinced that Peake is an unique and under-studied genius
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Persevere!, 21 Dec 2004
By 
Although I will admit that Titus Alone is the weakest of the Titus trilogy, I cannot describe it as a disappointment, as have previous reviewers. Although while writing the book, Peake's powers were somewhat diminished by the onset of the Parkinson's disease that would tragically cut short his life, it is, nonetheless, still full of those characteristics that empower the earlier books: his humour and sarcastic wit, his portrayal of people as caricatures, yet with an intense realism and humanity, and his beautiful prose. His depiction of the mechanised world beyond Gormenghast Castle, ruled by a scientific-military elite who oppress the downtrodden masses, is as relevant now as when it was published in October 1959. It is probably this discontinuity between the world of Gormenghast and the world beyond that many people find dissatisfying, but which does still reward the reader who is prepared to follow Titus' path. Titus' almost-return to Gormenghast, his belief in which has led the people of the World to think him insane, is heart-achingly poignant, npt just for Titus but, by extension, for Peake himself.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An unforgettable experience, 25 Nov 2011
By 
Stephen Hudson "Steve Hudson" (Keynsham) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This is a simply beautiful, wonderful book. It affected me deeply when I read it.

It's also a unique book, in my experience, in that this is a fantastical, farcical and impossible world (Gormenghast Castle is seemingly as big as a small city; the existance of a 77th Lord Groan would be a near impossibility in our unstable world), yet there is (almost) nothing supernatural here. Our own physical laws apply. This is actually part of our world. At one point a character opens a bottle of French wine. This is not a different reality.

The writing is rich and overblown, like a massive fruitcake. Somehow this works superbly well; normally I would dislike such books, but here the complexity of the writing builds up a claustrophobic, frightening atmosphere of horror and absurdity. One slip, and it would collapse into twee Tolkeinesque or bloat into swords-and-sorcery; Peake never slips.

One thing I loved about this book is that most of the characters seem hard to like at first, but as they become more distinct, you start to see the subtle, loving relationships between some of them - mostly around Fuschia, daughter of Lord Groan.

The names of the characters are wonderful - the cook Swelter, the bone-thin dried-up old servant, Flay, Nanny Slagg, Doctor Prunesquallor (my personal favourite). Scenes from the book, with their mad vividity, linger in your mind. The Hall of Bright Carvings, which opens the book, with wooden carvings each representing the creative pinnacle of a peasant's life, forgotten under layers of dust in the Groan's castle. The fight to the death between Swelter and Flay; the meeting between Steerpike and Fuschia; the absurdity of Lord Groan being obliged by tradition to eat his dinner while a dwarf capers on the table in front of him.

It's a book of extremes; madness, love, beauty, vileness and hate. Not everyone I think will like this, but if this is the kind of thing you like, you will absolutely, completely, adore this book.

And it's only the first one.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Still stunning..., 18 Aug 2011
By 
Rod Bryans "Creative Maven" (Jersey) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
I first read this book back at college in the 70's. To re-read it was a joy. I remembered the visceral pleasure of reading something disconnected from the world I inhabited with a scope of language I'd never encountered before.

Later moving to Jersey I visited Sark, where Mervyn Peake had written a good part of the book, and was picked up at the harbour by a horse drawn carriage there being no cars on Sark. This lean, long, angular figure turned to speak to us and I was immediately confronted by a character straight of Gormenghast. The shock of that sensation still lingers with me.

This is a beautiful dark book whose characters are so distinctly drawn and the writing still glistens on the page.

Read the book. Visit Sark.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantasy without magic - the history of the Titus books, 29 Jun 2010
By 
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 ZoŽ 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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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Oh Dear, 18 May 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Oh dear. What a shame. I read this book years ago and it is fantastic. I suspect the kindle version has been scanned using some sort of OCR software which has made too many annoying mistakes. Why don't the publishers proof read? Get the paperback...Great book, shame about the lazy publishing.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Different but in a Good way, 12 Nov 2012
By 
Ste to the J (Mansfield England) - See all my reviews
synopsis isn't an easy task for such a book as this, as not a lot seems to happen plotwise, but there is a huge interaction between characters and things are always in the offing in that respect.

The miniverse in which the reader finds themself is a landscape dominated by Gormenghast castle. This, for me, has to be one of the most memorable settings in any book, the way it is written about gives the imagination scope to explore but never discover all of its secrets.

Throughout the book the reader is treated to wonderfully memorable descriptions of the Gothic architecture, its labyrinthine structure changes with each sentence to give an ever evolving and sometimes vaguely unquantifiable nature to its ancient and crumbling structure of cold indifferent stone, brooding over its dominions.

It's this difficulty to understand and clearly see the castle that brings about the mystery and the fascination, a bit like an M. C Escher painting with its strange perspectives. Gormenghast castle you will appreciate is something that (for example) Hogwarts would give its foundation stones to be, dwarfing everything with its immense presence, steeped in glory and ruin, a world where everything is possible and an infinite amount of stories can be formed.

Enough waxing lyrical about the premises though, the actual plot and writing deserve a mention too. Imagine Charles Dickens, P. G Wodehouse and Lewis Carroll having a fight in an alley (with pens) that somehow produces a book. That is the best way I have so far found to describe it and I think it works, but then again I would being slightly biased.

Despite the huge panorama outside, the reader is constantly dragged into the small places and sometimes claustrophobic spaces where the action happens, which gives a sense of equilibrium when put into perspective all the huge turrets and gables of the towering construction they inhabit. There is always lots of darkness and shadow and the crushing weight of the centuries is almost palpable at times especially when listening to the trivialities of the characters lives.

Now here is a strange lot, with enchanting names that Dickens would have been proud of (such as Dr Alfred Prunesquallor), it is refreshing to meet a bunch of characters that don't much like each other and are quite happy to live their own eccentric existences scheming and plotting away from inside the indifferent encasing stone. It almost felt like a soap opera at times, albeit a particularly verbose one. Throughout though I never found myself warming to and by extension not caring about any of the characters enough to be emotionally invested in their fates.

The story itself is written in a very languid way, indeed it was about one hundred pages before any sort of plot starts to take place, not that there isn't plenty to see with your mind's eye. Those one hundred pages do a good job of bringing you into the complex social structure of the world and also make it feel alive and vibrant but also desolate and sad at the same time.

I find myself reminiscing about Moby Dick when I think of it, another slow book that frustrated me into demanding something happen and that the pace pick up a bit. Like Moby Dick Titus Groan has fantastic language, there is some really varied prose in there and a smattering of words that I expect won't be familiar to many people these days.

When it comes down to it though, I didn't find enough to keep me hooked for one, let alone two more books. Although there were some genuine moments of humour, lots of repeated themed imagery and that sense of archaic wonder that the book conjures, it left me relatively unmoved. If you like a challenge though and feel like you want to experience some wonderfully arranged words you will more than likely get something more out of it than I did. Like I said at the beginning this is a divisive book but one I assure all you readers that enjoyed it, I did `get'. It just wasn't something that I could maintain a level of concentration for when there are so many other authors out there that deserve a read.

[...]
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars it's not just the setting......., 11 Feb 2003
Reviews of this book (and it's continuation, Gormenghast: the two are a single story and should be read as such) constantly focus on the deep, wonderfully languid prose and strange poetry they are written in. but remember, description and place alone cannot carry a book. Where these books truly triumph is the characters. Though all are to a greater or lesser extent caricatures (some of whom, like the twins, are truly grotesque), they are slowly and subtly built into real people, with real emotions, life outside the page, and a give sense of belonging to the luminous, dusty world.
These books are not an easy read, but persevere, it's worth it.
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An enormous pleasure to read., 26 April 2004
By 
This is the first book of the Gormenghast trilogy (before Gormenghast andTitus Alone).
The castle of Gormenghast is a huge, maze-like fortress built on the sideof a mountain. It's surrounded by a tall wall, that helps keep the noble"Castle" people and their menials inside, and the "Bright Carvers", atribal people who live in mud dwellings, outside on the arid plain.
In this first volume, we're introduced to the castle's inhabitants, amidstthe bustle of Titus the seventy-seventh Earl's birth, and a few dayslater, of his christening. There's the melancholic Lord Sepulchrave, theseventy-sixth and current Earl of Groan, his enormous wife Gertrude andher white cats, and their teenage daughter Fuchsia. And there is Mrs.Slagg, the frail old Nanny who's always complaning about her poor heart,and Mr. Flay, the Earl's tall first servant with the clicking knees. Andalso Mr. Rottcodd, curator of the Hall of Bright Carvings, and Sourdustthe Librarian, guardian of the Protocol. Doctor Prunesquallor with hisnervous laughter, and his spinsterly sister Irma, as well as Swelter thetyrannic cook and his kitchen boys, among which the young Steerpike. Thencome Cora and Clarice, the Earl's asinine twin sisters, envious of his andGertrude's power... and a few others.
As the story flows, we watch these numerous protagonists interact, asSteerpike slowly works his way up the ranks of the castle. Charminghigh-born ladies, plotting arson, nothing daunts him. And what was a sowell-greased, fine-tuned machine of minutiae and protocol, the veryessence of Gormenghast, is starting to crumble slowly and inexorably.
It's very hard to summarize Titus Groan in a couple of paragraphs. It's sobrimming with court intrigue and mischief, interspaced with lushdescriptions of this amazingly intricate fortress where I wanted to escapeto, or play hide and seek in. As a whole, all I can say it that it was anenormous pleasure to read and that I can't wait to read the next book.
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Peake: Titus Alone (ABRIDGED) (The Gromenghast Trilogy)
Peake: Titus Alone (ABRIDGED) (The Gromenghast Trilogy) by Mervyn Peake (Audio CD - 27 Jun 2011)
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