Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Titus Groan - Mervyn Peake

”Dreer ritual turned its wheel. The ferment of the heart, within these walls, was mocked by every length of sleeping shadow. The passions, no greater than candle flames, flickered in Time’s yawn, for Gormenghast, huge and adumbrate, out-crumbles all.”

Gormenghast is the seat of the Earl of Groan, Lord Sepulchrave, who has finally been blessed with a son and heir. Unfortunately for him, one man seeks to worm his way into the family’s good graces and seize power for his own ends. Steerpike, the kitchen boy, uses his smarts to get out of the kitchen and into the royal household, manipulating and lying to get what he wants. He is the fulcrum upon which the story turns as it’s his actions and inactions that drive the plot and force the other characters to react to his machinations. Only time will tell if his scheming bears fruit.

It’s a strange world to be sure. One that is waning rather than waxing. His strength lies in his description, which has a gothic lean to it, showing Castle Groan as a decaying mass of stone and squalor. There were evocative lines of terrifying beauty that read more like prose strewn throughout, like so much seed over tilled ground. ”The darkness in the great hall has deepened in defiance of the climbing of the sun. It can afford to be defiant with such a pall of inky cloud lying over the castle, over the cracked tooth mountain, over the entire and drenching regions of Gormenghast from horizon to horizon.” Both the setting and the characters benefit from his command of internal monologue and ability to paint an image for the reader in a fresh way. This is bolstered by the fact that the book contains some drawings. His manuscript contained sketches of his characters and have an Edward Gorey feel to them, giving the reader a sense of the what this world looks like and the characters who people it.

The characters were all interesting but strangely, almost all unlikeable. Here though, Peake seems willing to show his characters in a grey light, rather than force everyone into stereotypical roles. Everyone has a dark side that is evident either through thought or deed and made it somewhat difficult to identify with characters. Titus, may have been the one character we’re supposed to root for but this felt manipulative as he’s an infant. I did appreciate being able to see so many different character POV’s as it provided a multiplicity of opinions on the events taking place. The one section I thought was out of place was Keda’s. It was nice to see the viewpoint of someone outside of Gormenghast but she travels far away and has adventures that are mostly glossed over. This didn’t seem to fit with the rest of the characters or the story as everyone else’s lives seemed to center around Gormenghast.

My one major complaint is that while the story is interesting, as are the characters, it takes Peake a long time to actually say anything. In the context of plot, major events do happen but in between those events, very little appears to happen. The pace is very slow because so much ink is taken up with description. To be fair the description, especially for the characters is excellent but at times I found myself frustrated with the lack of plot development.

Rating: You should own this and not let it get too dusty from lack of attention!

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