Group Read: Gormenghast Trilogy - Titus Groan, Gormenghast, Titus Alone

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Group Read: Gormenghast Trilogy - Titus Groan, Gormenghast, Titus Alone

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1avatiakh
juny 30, 2013, 4:55pm


Welcome to the group read of The Gormenghast Trilogy by Mervyn Peake

July: Titus Groan
August: Gormenghast
September: Titus Alone

I've put all three books into the one thread as I'm not sure how much discussion the books will generate and for most of us the pace of reading will differ.....and feel free to post about anything you'd like, but if you plan to reveal any plot spoilers, please include a warning to that effect.

2avatiakh
Editat: juny 30, 2013, 6:18pm


Mervyn Peake
artist, illustrator, novelist, poet
1911 - 1968

Mervyn Peake, a man of many talents, a creative virtuoso, and an eccentric genius, had a profound and singular interior idea. His work has frequently been compared to that of Dickens, albeit an off-center Dickens with a fantasy element.
Before he wrote "the Titus books," as he called them, Mervyn Peake was a noted illustrator of classic children's books including Treasure Island and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. His in-depth study of renowned illustrators (including William Hogarth, George Cruikshank, Albrecht Dürer, William Blake, Gustave Doré, and Francisco de Goya) served as the foundation for his own work. His illustrations are now highly sought after.
In 1945, as a war artist, Peake was one of the first civilians to enter the German concentration camp at Belsen. He was intensely affected by the event and was left with deep impressions of the victims of the war. Startling and disturbing paintings and poems resulted from that traumatic experience. Biographer John Watney wrote, "For years he had drawn strange worlds. Now he was seeing, in its reality, a monstrous world more terrible than any he could have imagined...." from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/gormenghast/novels/peake.html

There is an official Gormenghast website - http://www.mervynpeake.org/gormenghast/

4avatiakh
juny 30, 2013, 5:19pm


Please post the covers of the edition you are reading as there are so many out there:

I'll be reading the 1985 Methuen edition of Titus Groan. The cover art is by Peter Harding and the book has an introduction by Anthony Burgess. I've started the book before and got about 100 pages into it but got distracted so am keen to get through the whole trilogy this time.

5soffitta1
jul. 1, 2013, 4:13am

I've ordered the trilogy, just waiting for it to arrive.

6psutto
Editat: jul. 1, 2013, 5:25am

I have heard that some editions are not very good! (page errors and bad copy editing) I have previously read the first book, a long time ago - all I really remember about it is the evocative character names and the fact it was very very chewy. I'm hoping that this time I'll be able to read the whole trilogy. I'm currently mid Deathless and have plans to read some more women this month but will get to this soon...

7avatiakh
jul. 1, 2013, 4:01pm

That's interesting, I'm presuming my edition will be ok, though I have an old Penguin edition as well somewhere if need be.

8mstrust
jul. 2, 2013, 1:23pm

I started last night. I'm reading the 1992 Overlook Press edition with an introduction by Anthony Burgess.

9RidgewayGirl
jul. 2, 2013, 5:44pm

Oh, you are all in for a treat! A labyrinthine and gothic treat. I read the trilogy last year and, while it took me three months, I tremendously enjoyed the journey.

I adore Steerpike. I can't wait to see what you think of him.

10benitastrnad
jul. 3, 2013, 3:47pm

I will be starting this book in August, but will be following this thread until I start the book. Can't wait to finish my other reading so I can start it.

11mstrust
jul. 3, 2013, 4:54pm

I've come to the chapter titled "Fuschia". Peake has quite a cast of grotesque characters, especially Flay with his long, spidery legs.

12psutto
jul. 8, 2013, 4:27am

Started this morning

13avatiakh
Editat: set. 3, 2013, 6:46am

I got overwhelmed by all the books I've got lined up to read this month so started listening to an audio version of Titus Groan, so am up to chapter 13 or 14 but the audio file seems to stop there so I'll have to crack the book version open once I finish Time and Chance the April GR I still have on the go.

14RidgewayGirl
jul. 8, 2013, 7:46am

There is a mini-series based on the first two books, which is fantastic. I would recommend waiting until you've read the first two books to watch it, however. There are differences, but I think it remains faithful to the oddness of the world Peake created. It's amazing, isn't it?

15benitastrnad
Editat: jul. 8, 2013, 10:07am

I didn't know about the mini-series until I visited Belfast a few years ago. In fact, I didn't know about the books either until that visit. We were walking around the grounds of Queens University and a friend of mine mentioned that the main quad looks like it came out of Gormenghast. I was curious so asked what she was talking about. She told me about the books, and ever since I have wanted to read them.

Here is a link to the picture of the buildings we saw that day.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:QUB.jpg

I never saw the series so don't know if they really do look like the castle as depicted in the series. But they are rather Gothic looking to me.

16ALWINN
jul. 9, 2013, 11:52am

I started the book last night and so far Im only in the 3rd chapter or so. So still trying to get all the characters in line.

17psutto
jul. 10, 2013, 5:44am

I'm a third of the way through the first book - so far it's not as "dusty" as I remember it being from a previous attempt to read it about 20 years ago

18pgmcc
jul. 11, 2013, 5:45am

#15 Hi, benitastrnad.

I worked in that building. My office was at the top of one of the towers at the end of a wing. I had a view over all the roof tops and I can relate to your comments.

Subsequently I worked in the George's Street Arcade building in Dublin. It takes up a complete block and it is even more Gormenghast like when one gets to the roof tops and the attics. I was always finding new passages and stairways that led to abandoned rooms and roof spaces.

19benitastrnad
jul. 11, 2013, 4:29pm

I keep thinking I will try to Netflix the series but just don't get around to it. I would like to be able to compare for myself. Of course, it has been five years since I was in Belfast, so by this time I am not sure if my memories are accurate.

Abandoned rooms and roof spaces along with new passages and stairways - How cool is that?

20pgmcc
jul. 11, 2013, 5:01pm

While the mini-series differs in many ways from the book it is still a good entertainment and worth watching. It is one of the dramatizations that taught me to stop trying to compare a dramatization with the original book/story. The dramatization is in a different medium than the original work and I try to enjoy the two entities as entities in their own rights. I find it very liberating not to be always comparing one work against another.

21elenchus
jul. 11, 2013, 9:13pm

The miniseries is good but I was happy to have read the books first. For me, the miniseries served as a sort of animated illustration of the book: far too much left out, unavoidably so. Prunesquallor was not my favourite when reading, but in the miniseries I think he steals the show.

22Mccart.Brenda
jul. 11, 2013, 10:10pm

S'ha suprimit aquest usuari en ser considerat brossa.

23benitastrnad
jul. 12, 2013, 9:48pm

Strange how an actor can make a character something he might not be in the book. It might be indicative of how much of our communication is non-verbal. The way something is said, the expression on a face, all of that is interpreted and can change perceptions. A good actor can do that and change the way we see a character.

24pgmcc
jul. 13, 2013, 11:18am

#23 The way something is said, the expression on a face,

I have just finished watching the BBC miniseries of John Le Carré's Smiley's People, and Alec Guinness was such a brilliant actor he portrayed character and emotions just as you describe it. His character also communicated instructions and the answers to questions without a word. It is a wonderful dramatization of a wonderful book.

25pgmcc
jul. 13, 2013, 11:20am

#21 elenchus I was happy to have read the books first.

I feel this way about all dramatizations of novels or stories. I like to get my own impression of the original story untethered by the constraints of an on screen, or on stage, performance.

26PawsforThought
jul. 14, 2013, 10:33am

I'm really excited about this read and glad to see so many have jumped on the bandwagon. I've only just started and am still on the first chapter but so far I'm intrigued and looking forward to the rest.

27PawsforThought
jul. 14, 2013, 10:36am

#21, #25.

This is why I am currently living in a bit of a mini-hell, trying to keep myself from watching even trailers of A Game of Thrones. I've sworn to read the (currently published) novels before I watch the TV series but it's really difficult to stay away.

28pgmcc
jul. 14, 2013, 1:45pm

#27 PawsforThought - I think that counts as a First World problem. :-)

29HRHTish
jul. 14, 2013, 6:04pm

I'm so happy to see there's a Gormanghast thread - - I'm starting the first book tonight!

30IreneF
jul. 14, 2013, 8:14pm

The only movie that I liked better than the text was The Man Who Would Be King. That was partly because Kipling wrote the dialog in a Cockney-like idiom, which I didn't much care for.

I will be starting Gormenghast shortly.

31psutto
jul. 15, 2013, 4:45am

Just finished titus groan and going to read gormenghast in August and titus alone in September

pondering my review - will post something probably tomorrow

Got to say I enjoyed it a lot more than I did when I read it 20+ years ago, appreciated the writing a lot more and the evocative setting but still not a huge fan of some of the characters (although guess you're not supposed to be) or some of the "action"

32ALWINN
jul. 17, 2013, 11:17am

Am I the only one that is finding "The Twins" kinda creepy. Well most of the characters are creppy but they are alittle more so.

33psutto
jul. 17, 2013, 3:42pm

>32 ALWINN: - I doubt your the only one!

34pgmcc
jul. 17, 2013, 4:55pm

My god, there's a pair of them.

35avatiakh
jul. 22, 2013, 2:35am

I'm at the halfway point and really enjoying this read. The descriptions of the buildings and the gardens make it all sound so fantastical. Not sure I'd want to meet the cook up a dark alley.

36avatiakh
jul. 29, 2013, 4:01am

I finished this last week and will post some thoughts once I finish my other group read The Long Ships. I'm assuming everyone is happy to continue using this thread to discuss Gormenghast in August.

37HRHTish
jul. 29, 2013, 8:10am

I've added the Gormanghast to my Autumn Gothic Immersion challenge:

http://www.librarything.com/topic/157141

Anyone else out there whose mood turns spooky with the smells of Autumn, feel free to join me :-)

38RidgewayGirl
jul. 29, 2013, 11:37am

So who do you like so far in the story? By the end of this first book, I adored Steerpike; sure he made some wrong choices, but I admired his determination and his ability to grab whatever small opportunities that arose. And how about Fuchsia? Or the Doctor?

39pgmcc
jul. 29, 2013, 12:20pm

My favourite has to be Doctor Prunesquallor. Steerpike is well drawn as it the chef.

40psutto
jul. 30, 2013, 4:16am

I don't think any of the characters are likable. Interesting, bizarre, intriguing sure but not likable.

41HRHTish
jul. 30, 2013, 8:52am

Loved the Chef's speech before he fell over. I was thinking of memorithing some of it fer my own uthe.

42ALWINN
jul. 30, 2013, 10:45am

I think mine is Fuchsia... Just something that draws me to her she wants to be free so bad but just cant break away. I know how she feels.

43HRHTish
ag. 4, 2013, 10:47am

Am I the only one who is keeping a dictionary nearby? So many delicious new words!

44psutto
ag. 5, 2013, 5:06am

started the second book

45IreneF
ag. 7, 2013, 12:44am

>43 HRHTish: New words! "Malkin" is the only one I remember offhand.

Lots of foreshadowing at the end of this volume. I'll be picking up the second one mid-month.

46psutto
ag. 7, 2013, 8:30am

about 100 pages into 2nd volume and enjoying it as much as I did the first volume. Peake has a highly individual style though!

47pgmcc
ag. 7, 2013, 10:38am

I love the characterisation of the teachers.

48avatiakh
ag. 7, 2013, 5:49pm

I'm puttering away at a slower pace but really enjoying my second immersion into this world. I loved the description of the forgotten landing in chapter 9.

49avatiakh
ag. 29, 2013, 5:20am

I've not made much headway so far this month so will be continuing with Gormenghast into September.

50RidgewayGirl
ag. 29, 2013, 6:37am

There's a lot of Gormenghast and it can be quite baroque at times. Take your time and enjoy it, but don't give up.

51HRHTish
ag. 29, 2013, 9:57am

These books are meant to be savored slowly, I think. Already I've started over from the beginning, after letting too much time pass between readings. I love thewhite cat room.

52pgmcc
ag. 29, 2013, 10:07am

Reading the Gormenghast trilogy made me realise that story was not everything. The characterisation and unexpected similes are the two specific things I remember enjoying about the book, that and the world I was transported to when I first read these works. I am reading Gormenghast very slowly just to savour the atmosphere and the language.

I particularly like the descriptions and behaviours of the teachers in the second book.

53elenchus
ag. 29, 2013, 10:45am

> unexpected similes

A specific characteristic of the language I quite agree with, nice observation. Peake has a cluster of language usages that work very well for me, such as archaic terms, a poetic sense of description including those unexpected similes, the Byzantine world, Dickensian names, and that odd mixture of moldering tradition and an insistent modernity.

54klobrien2
ag. 29, 2013, 4:42pm

Glad to have found this thread! I've finished the first two books;Gormenghast, very recently. The books definitely are, as someone else stated, "very, very chewy." I'm going to wait a bit to start Titus Alone, but I definitely will read it soon, to find out what happens next.

Karen O.

55psutto
set. 3, 2013, 6:24am

finished titus groan last night, liked it the least of the 3 books, are we going to discuss (with spoilers) towards end of the month? It's unlike anything I've read before except for perhaps Dickens (I'm thinly read in Dickens) and Whittemore

56soffitta1
set. 4, 2013, 9:17am

I am half way through Gormenghast, not as engaged as I was with the machinations of Steerpike in the first book. A bit overblown for me, I'm not a Dickens fan and I think the same things are annoying me with both. I'm in the middle of the romance bit and it is not really grabbing me.

57klobrien2
set. 4, 2013, 2:51pm

Soffitta1, I found Gormenghast got a lot better later on, at least with more action and character development. Hang in there!

Has anyone read or attempted Titus Alone yet? I need to finish some other things first, but I'm thinking I might get started so that I don't lose the continuity.

Karen O.

58pgmcc
set. 4, 2013, 3:40pm

Titus Alone is the weakest of the books. Peake was suffering from his illness when that was written. In my opinion Gormenghast is the best of the three with Titus Groan being the next.

59klobrien2
set. 4, 2013, 5:29pm

pgmcc, that was what I was thinking; I know I preferred the second (Gormenghast) over the Titus Groan, and I'd read that Gormenghast was considered the apex of the trilogy. How sad that Peake was cut down so early in life!

Karen O.

60psutto
set. 5, 2013, 9:16am

Ah my post at 55 should read finished titus alone not titus groan - got to say I didn't really like the 3rd book, the 2nd book was the strongest for me, the version I read of titus alone had had some additional material added since first publication - haven't got my copy to hand to say what it is though...

61pgmcc
set. 5, 2013, 9:31am

#60 psutto - I was thinking that was the case. :-)

I picked up a copy of Titus Awakes: The Lost Book of Gormenghast last month. According to the blurb/introduction it was put together from notes Peake had made. Apparently he had intended a several book series. Family members put Titus Awakes together to give some idea of how the series was supposed to go.

I do not hold up much hope of it's being very good, so I am set up for a pleasant surprise. My fear is that it will be like Titus Alone.

62RidgewayGirl
set. 5, 2013, 11:54am

Titus Alone is the oddest book in the trilogy -- and that's saying something! But Peake loses steam outside of the crumbling towers of Gormenghast. It's a worthwhile read for completists, but if you stop after the second book, you've read the best and most important parts.

63pgmcc
Editat: set. 5, 2013, 12:04pm

I concur with what Ridgeway Girl said. I would not have been happy if I had not read Titus Alone, but it is the weakest of the novels.

I must admit that it was a help reading Titus Alone knowing that Peake had been ill when writing it. It meant I was not expecting too much from it and was not therefore thrown badly by the comparison with the previous two books.

64klobrien2
set. 5, 2013, 12:06pm

These comments are so helpful to me; it is such a pleasure to talk with people who have actually read the books, let alone heard of them in the first place. (Up until a few years ago, I'd never heard of them, so I shouldn't get too cocky about it!)

I finished Titus Groan in July, Gormenghast just last month. The characters and the, what?, atmosphere of the books are staying strong with me.

Karen O.

65HRHTish
set. 13, 2013, 3:06pm

Look what I found while I was looking for something else!

http://www.sfsite.com/columns/over269.htm

Nice review of the trilogy.

66benitastrnad
set. 13, 2013, 9:29pm

That review has persuaded me, once again, to take up these novels, but now I wonder what edition I have?

67avatiakh
Editat: oct. 19, 2013, 5:36am

Huff puff, bringing up the rear...I just finished up Titus Alone this afternoon. I need to reflect on all three books and will then post my final thoughts here.

edit: changed book title from Titus Groan to Titus Alone - always getting these two mixed up in the posts.

68soffitta1
oct. 19, 2013, 5:34am

I finished Titus Alone a couple of days ago, what a departure from the first two books. Again I didn't like the off-plot characters, but you could see how this one was more personal. I will read Titus Awakes, more out of curiosity that anything else.

69avatiakh
oct. 19, 2013, 5:38am

soff, it was a departure but I felt it well worth the read. I'll be interested in what you think of Titus Awakes but I don't think I could handle a fourth book right now.

70soffitta1
oct. 19, 2013, 1:02pm

I think there was a lot of potential, you could see where the plot could have been expanded. It was very modern, which was a surprise for me as a reader of the first 2 books. I actually had to read the first chunk a couple of times as I thought to myself that there couldn't be a car! I am glad that I persevered with Gormenghast (mainly due to the helpful comments above) as when Peake is on form, he is excellent.