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Titus Groan (Gormenghast #1)

3.91 of 5 stars 3.91  ·  rating details  ·  7,519 ratings  ·  608 reviews
Starts with the birth and ends with the first birthday celebrations of the heir to the grand, tradition-bound castle of Gormenghast. A grand miasma of doom and foreboding weaves over the sterile rituals of the castle. Villainous Steerpike seeks to exploit the gaps between the formal rituals and the emotional needs of the ruling family for his own profit.
Paperback, 396 pages
Published November 1st 1991 by Overlook Press (first published 1946)
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Dracula by Bram Stoker1984 by George OrwellAmerican Gods by Neil GaimanThe Complete Stories and Poems by Edgar Allan PoeFrankenstein by Mary Shelley
Quality Dark Fiction
41st out of 921 books — 1,202 voters
1984 by George OrwellAnimal Farm by George OrwellThe Diary of a Young Girl by Anne FrankThe Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-ExupéryThe Stranger by Albert Camus
Best Books of the Decade: 1940's
40th out of 381 books — 452 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Keely
I know of no author in all of the English language who is like Peake, or who could aspire to be like him. His voice is as unique as that of Milton, Bierce, Conrad, Blake, Donne, or Eliot, and as fully-realized. I am a hard and critical man, cynical and not easily moved, but there are passages in the Gormenghast series which so shocked me by the force of their beauty that I would close my eyes and snap the book shut, overwhelmed with wonderment, and take a moment to catch my breath.

I would drop m...more
Megha
“This tower, patched unevenly with black ivy, arose like a mutilated finger from among the fists of knuckled masonry and pointed blasphemously at heaven. At night the owls made of it an echoing throat; by day it stood voiceless and cast its long shadow.”
There stands the Gormenghast - as if sealed inside a crystal ball - looming in all its grotesque wonder. The old, musty smell. The susurrus of narrow passages. The torches casting an eerie circle of light. The hustle and bustle of the castle dwe...more
Cecily
How to review this weird and wonderful book? The setting, characters and plot etc are extraordinary, but it is the language that is utterly bewitching. The fact Peake was also an artist is evident in the special care with which he describes light (or absence of), skin and textures.

It is usually classed as fantasy, but it is more like historical fiction, with an occasional dash of the supernatural - magical realism set in the past. Or is it? This first volume has a profound sense of place (Gormen...more
Bill  Kerwin

What an odd fantasy! No swords, no sorcery, no elves, no thieves, no imaginary beasts, no multiple planes of existence . . . nothing but a cavernous castle peopled by eccentrics with Dickensian names (Sepulchrave, Prunesquallor, Swelter, Flay) whose lives are determined by centuries--perhaps millenia--of complex rituals. Although the people themselves seem to be British, the enormous burden of tradition under which they labor seems Asiatic in its detailed intensity, and it is instructive to lear...more
Lynne King
My favourite book of all time is “The Alexandria Quartet” by Lawrence Durrell but I have now met a worthy contender in Mervyn Peake’s “Titus Groan” to bring to the same elevated level. The books marry very well indeed and the two distinct structures span the gamut of every conceivable emotion that the human brain is capable of absorbing I believe. So I’m on a win-win situation here with both books.

And as for this tour de force, how can one even attempt to describe the amazing prose that Peake ha...more
Ian Paganus de Fish
The World of Gormenghast

"Titus Groan" is a work of fantasy constructed in a painterly manner without much obvious concern for narrative dynamism.

First, Mervyn Peake builds the static grey stone world of Gormenghast Castle, then he populates it with Lord Sepulchrave (the Earl of Groan) and a few key members and servants of his family, and finally bit by bit he permits them to interact.

The world of Gormenghast has a Gothic solidity about it. It has been built from the hallowed ground up out of bot...more
Brian
It is difficult to believe that this book was written by a human. It reads like an unearthed mythology, discovered on a far away planet in a cave filled with treasure.

Derivating from the Tolkien model for fantasy, Peake's genius is certainly the progenitor for all non horses-and-swords books of the genre. And his ability to create an ensemble book without a strong lead character is simply amazing. There should be a graduate class taught on his methods of characterization and the importance of co...more
Paul
Aug 30, 2010 Paul rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: novels
Mervyn Peake was one of those gifted people you burningly resent, he was a brilliant artist and then he thought oh I need something else to occupy my time when I'm not doing brilliant drawings and paintings, hmm what can I do, ah yes I'll write one of the century's greatest fantasies in one of the most individual and beautiful prose styles, and create about a dozen of the most memorable and delightful characters in all of fiction, including a real heartbreaker of a heroine called Fuchsia, yes, h...more
midnightfaerie
Looking for a drive on the dark side? Something grotesque and dripping with unwarranted behavior? How about some characters that are so repulsive, you can't help but be drawn into their world? A world of such descriptive horror that you're both terrified to watch, yet oddly hypnotized? Well, then step right in, into the world of Titus Groan, the next Earl of Groan, the heir of Gormenghast Castle, the castle which is pretty much our main character in and of itself. It's a place where time seems t...more
Jonathan

Titus Groan is a novel that defies classification yet it is one hundred percent powerfully written and one hundred percent a classic. It is however not for those who don't like to patiently sit through a long, description driven narrative. But for those who appreciate those elements in a work of fiction or perhaps those who found the unique ideas of The Trial interesting I strongly recommend this novel.

The best genre that I could possibly associate this with is fantasy. However it is also a nove...more
Kyle
In very broad terms, writers have to deal with two main issues when putting their stories to paper: the 'macro' issue (i.e., the overall plot, theme(s), and desired character development), and the 'micro' issue (wordsmithing, prose, and style). The greatest writers, in their greatest works, manage to nail one issue, while successfully covering their shortcomings on the other. Mervyn Peake not only managed to nail both issues in toto, he is left with plenty of literary "hammer power" to spare.

Lik...more
Gregor Xane
Titus Groan is considered by many to be a masterpiece of the literature of the fantastic. I don't think that I can argue with that assessment. However, I can say that it's a masterpiece that I certainly wasn't pleased to be reading for much of the time I was doing so. The primary reason for this was that I felt that it was overly descriptive, tediously so. And I think of myself as someone who has a high tolerance for fictional works that others deem too descriptive.

Below you'll find a passage d...more
Fatin
Jun 18, 2013 Fatin rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fantasy lovers, people who enjoy dark fairy-tales
Recommended to Fatin by: Jonathan
Shelves: fantasy, owned, reviewed
As far as the entertainment factor is considered, I wouldn't say this book is very entertaining, it's a story told, but for what purpose, I have not yet decided.
The writing is beautiful, the castle comes alive, and you can its pulse. The characters are real, they're weird as hell, but they're real, and everything is described to the point where it stirs alive in your mind, but the amount of description does not bog down the story, as is the case with most fantasy novels. The "evil" character, t...more
John
Like Moby Dick - or even Lolita - Titus Groan uses a poetic, highly personalized, almost extravagant and over the top prose style to depict grotesque, extreme people going about dark, absurd things. Peake’s characters and the world they live in seem like Gorey or Kubin drawings brought to life, and, what’s extraordinary is that they don’t just seem that way in description, they actually talk that way – the dialogue is some of the most bizarre yet fitting and purposeful of any I’ve read. Peake’s...more
Mosca
Wow! Wow!

This is some of the most impressive prose I've experienced in a while. And the book itself is unlike any other I've read. The use of the language kept me hooked throughout. The plot is enigmatic and entangling. The characters are numerous and, frequently, described in hilarious detail.

The language consistently moves the reader along with a poetic rhythm that is often humorous, satiric, loving, mystical, evocative, lyrical, terrifying, seductive and always intoxicating.

There is no other...more
Laura
Well, that took forever. When someone (don't ask me who) said that this was a giant of the fantasy genre, I thought "Well, I should give this a try." Freaking A. Talk about boring. And dull. And excessively long.
Plot? Sure there was one. I just didn't seem to care all that much about it.
Fantastical locations? Also present, just explained in a way that was reminiscent of 10th grade English class. I felt I should be taking notes in the margins on the metaphoric use of color.
So, it all comes down...more
Jason P
Titus Groan was fantastic! I loved the different world that you get hooked on to. Mervyn Peake writes beautifully, he has such a magical way with words. He helps you visualize the castle of Gormenghast which is vast and immense. The sky line is littered with peaked roofs, a multitude of turrets jut-out from the Towers. Here is a visual, you gotta see this:
description
Imagine growing up there! HA! The story was great and it was well told too, it had me laughing my butt off, especially when reading The Twins....more
Frank
More and more often I don't finish books because I just don't have the time for bad or boring books, and besides I find it's actually depressing to get bogged down in them. Unfortunately this was one of them. I didn't get past page 150 or so, definitely feeling it wouldn't get much better or even different. I so would have liked to like this better. I recently saw a small exhibition about his life and work at the British Library, and this is what made me finally start this novel. The drawings on...more
Alex
"Wagner has some wonderful moments . . . and some perfectly dreadful quarters of an hour!" - Rossini

Rossini, one of the greatest of all Opera composers was not too appreciative of that other acknowledged Opera genius, Wagner. I really love Wagner, but having sat through Tristan und Isolde with a wretched cold or Meistersinger von Nurnberg when I was painfully tired, I've often appreciated Rossini's sentiment.

The link is, perhaps, that I was equally desperate to turn the last page on this wretch...more
Prakriti
It is much easier to like Gormenghast after you are done reading it. Because reading it is a torturous experience like none other.

It has taken me close to three and a half months to finish this 470 pages book, that too with enforced discipline and self goading way beyond my normal will power (I finished a book of 270 pages in a day - yesterday, just as a comparison).

It is very well written, no doubt, and aspiring writers perhaps could read this again and again. For a reader who is looking for a...more
Metaphorosis
I've been (re-)reading Mervyn Peake, Jack Vance, and Robert Silverberg, all at the same time. I was surprised by the similarity between Vance and Silverberg, but more on that (and Silverberg and Peake, for that matter) in my eventual review of Lord Valentine's Castle. I expected some similarity between Vance and Peake, who both leave the impression of dense, intricate language to which the plot is subsidiary. That's true, but there are substantial differences. With Vance, it's all about the lang...more
Aaron
Jul 06, 2007 Aaron rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Lovers of description
This is at heart, a ridiculous book. Most of the reviews you read about it refer to it as some kind of quintessential Gothic novel. It's hard for me to classify it as such when the action takes place in a world that is so obviously not our own. It seems to me that although he was following many of the tropes of Gothic literature, he was in fact pressing them towards their extreme, in many cases with humorous results.
For instance, the atmosphere is continually oppressive, no matter what the sit...more
Chas
I've championed Mervyn Peake for a long time, but really, if you've not read him, you should. This, the first of three novels set around the massive, rotting castle Gormenghast focuses on the events surrounding the birth of the 77th earl of said castle, Titus. It's equal parts Poe, Dickens, and Shakespeare. For some reason, it's often compared to Tolkien, if only because it was published around the same time (eight years before, actually) and was probably incredibly hard to classify at the time....more
Louise
Everything else I read seems flat and thin compared to Titus Groan. I didn't think I would enjoy a book so densely described, and peopled with such unlikeable characters, and yet I love it madly.

I agree with another reviewer who calls it "continually oppressive". It feels like it is always raining heavily in Gormenghast, and the intrigues and conspiracies are the fruit of a long confinement indoors. None of the characters are at all pleasant, and yet they are wildly interesting and complicated....more
Michael
I couldn't decide whether this should be a four-star book or a five-star book. Then, I realized that I got everything out of this book that I want out of a fantasy novel. I suppose that means it should get five stars, right?

This book has the utterly compelling and original setting of Groan Castle, a monstrous behemoth of a castle where whole sections have been forgotten and abandoned. It has many wonderful characters who are simultaneously outlandish and complex. And one of these characters is S...more
lowercase
i have a kind of love/hate relationship with this series; it's sort of like reading an extended gahan wilson cartoon, and i adore gahan wilson but part of his brilliance is in his brevity. the gormenghast novels go on and on and on (and on, and on): an exercise in outrageousness, where nothing much happens, but when what takes place actually DOES happen it's with jerks and twitches and involuntary exclamations, and murder, and much furtiveness, until it all resolves, from a distance, into a pret...more
Yngvild
Writers who are also artists have a distinctive writing style. You can see it in Lewis Carroll and William Blake but Mervyn Peake, who was primarily an illustrator and artist, is exceptional in using written drawing. Every sentence describes a scene and I suspect that, rather than the content of the Gormenghast novels, is why Peake is compared so often to Carroll or even J R Tolkien.

Gormenghast is a dilapidated castle, a labyrinth of towers, staircases, hallways and rooms, populated by a cast o...more
Jim McDonnell
It's 1979, and a feckless, lazy youth is doggedly refusing to read any of the tedious, old-fashioned and uninteresting 'classic' literature required by 'A' Level teachers, preferring a diet of fantasy and science fiction. One of the teachers, 'Violent' George Spencer, noting the lack of interest, claims confidently that he will recommend a book (two, in fact) that, he promises, will grip from the first page and will be much better than the fiction the pupil is currently reading. The student was...more
Nathanimal
The descriptions were often belabored and hard to follow. The pacing was outright glacial. Sometimes the dialogue felt like the characters didn't know what on earth to talk about. The whole thing lacked focus, a sense of direction. And yet!

Seldom have I enjoyed characters so much. Remove all of the boring heroines and well-meaning gentlemen from a Charles Dickens novel and this is about what you get. There's a set of twins in here that are some of my favorite grotesque characters ever.

And seldom...more
Tadiana
Titus Groan is the tale of a bunch of very strange, grotesque people living in a crumbling, old, grotesque castle:

description

Maybe it's just me, but I generally love fantasy of all kinds, and I found this book very creepy in an off-putting kind of way, sort of like one of Tim Burton's weirder movies.

description
. . . this picture pretty well sums it up for me.

It's also grim and gruesome. And boring. So, so boring that I'm surprised I even managed to finish it. Between all those things, this book was pretty much a los...more
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22018
Mervyn Laurence Peake was an English modernist writer, artist, poet and illustrator. He is best known for what are usually referred to as the Gormenghast books, though the Titus books would be more accurate: the three works that exist were the beginning of what Peake conceived as a lengthy cycle, following his protagonist Titus Groan from cradle to grave, but Peake's untimely death prevented compl...more
More about Mervyn Peake...
Gormenghast (Gormenghast, #2) The Gormenghast Novels (Gormenghast, #1-3) Titus Alone (Gormenghast, #3) Mr Pye Boy in Darkness and Other Stories

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“Lingering is so very lonely when one lingers all alone.” 116 likes
“And now, my poor old woman, why are you crying so bitterly? It is autumn. The leaves are falling from the trees like burning tears- the wind howls. Why must you mimic them?” 83 likes
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