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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 15 January 2008
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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on 26 April 2015
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats o'er vales and hills,
When I saw a crowd,
A host of daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath trees,
Fluttering in the breeze.

Wordsworth and Mervyn Peake had a way with words. I first read the Gormenghast trilogy many many years ago; to this day I consider it to be my favourite book. Whoever converted Titus Groan to Kindle format seems to have felt that it was perfectly acceptable to drop or change a word here or there.

For God's sake, don't buy this awful transition; buy, beg, borrow or even steal the original (unedited) paper copy.
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on 25 November 2011
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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on 3 August 1999
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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on 18 May 2012
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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on 18 August 2011
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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on 29 May 2014
This first book in the Gormenghast series is a fine read. It isn't really the story of Titus Groan, heir to the Gormenghast "throne", as he is just a baby in this book. In some ways it's the story of Steerpike, the manipulative social climber, but it's difficult to pin down an exact protagonist in this book. It's more a story about the Gormenghast castle itself and the various characters in the book serve to highlight the castle and its relentless rituals.

The writing is more "descriptive" than the short-sentenced, punchy style of most books these days but Peake is a good writer and it's rarely a trial to read the prose. In many ways the story is a glum one and a lot of the characters in the book lead unhappy existences in Gormenghast castle, but it doesn't leave you, the reader, feeling glum or depressed. Rather, Peake's writing engenders more of a fascination and it becomes a genuine page-turner where you want to know what happens next in Gormanghast.

As far as the story is concerned: highly recommended. I cannot say the same for the quality of the ebook, which was riddled with more errors than I've ever seen in an ebook. You can usually figure out where words are wrong and it doesn't detract too much from the enjoyment of the book but it is an irritation. I've taken nothing off for that though as it's hardly Peake's fault.
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on 26 April 2004
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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on 28 December 2014
3 books about nothing. I read rave reviews about this trilogy and, having read all three, i can safely say never has so much been written about so little. The first two books do at least follow a common theme, but whilst I was hoping for some kind of profound insight into a young mans struggle against his pre-ordained destiny, i got none of that. In fact i ended up not liking Titus at all: a wishy washy aristocrat who doesnt seem to know what he wants in life. In fact most of the characters were fatally flawed apart from maybe Flay. His banishment and subsequent release to a life of freedom was an interesting theme but was taken no further. Book 3 was just strange and i will credit the author with creating its dream like quality. But the ending was a huge let down and left me wishing i hadnt bothered. Something for a literary connoisseur maybe as there is no doubting Peake's skill as a writer, but as a story teller I'm not so sure.
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on 10 June 2013
So far it's fine. I'm about quarter of the way through.
Wouldn't say I can't put it down, but i do go about 5 chapters at a time. Very discriptive.
There are more spelling mistakes in this book than I've ever found before. It looks likes it's been autocorrected rather than proof read. But if you don't have OCD that'll drive you round the bend (touch an go with me depending on the mistake) it's a different story to wrap your head round. I'll probably be following the trilogy through.
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