Kathryn's Reviews > Titus Groan

Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake
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May 06, 12

bookshelves: 2012-reads, miscellaneous
Read from April 20 to May 05, 2012, read count: 1

I've seen the Gormenghast trilogy recommended so many times that I was really looking forward to reading it. I can't tell you how disappointed I was. The first book, Titus Groan, was a real struggle to read.

The real main character of the book is Gormenghast itself - not only the castle but also the demesne. The book focuses on the first year of the life of the seventy-seventh Earl of Groan, who ascends to that title before the age of two. During this first year of Titus's life, a number of characters (one might even say Loads and Loads of Characters) are introduced, and we follow their paths through the story.

The most notable characteristic of the book is its wealth of description. Gormenghast (the castle) is heavily personified, and the various characters feel more like symbols than people. The latter feeling is perpetuated by the importance of ritual to Gormenghast; there are carefully laid-out rules for what the Earl must do on any given day, and special occasions (like the birth of an heir or the ascension of a new earl) are even more heavily ritualized. One has the feeling that dire consequences will follow an abrogation of the rules.

I generally like that sort of heavy description, but as mentioned above, I was really struggling through this book, not in the sense that I couldn't understand it but in the sense that I often had to force myself to pick it up. This may be at least partially a function of my having limited reading time (I have an eight-month-old). I think it was also related to the fact that I disliked nearly all the characters. I still can't quite figure out Steerpike's end game (does he even have a specific goal, or does he merely seek power for its own sake? I can't tell), but I know very definitely that I don't care for him or his tactics, to the point at which I don't like reading about him and want to put the book down every time he crosses the page. I did like both Fuchsia and Dr. Prunesquallor better at the end of the book, but I liked nearly every other character much less the more I read about them.

It's just not very much fun to read about unlikeable characters, especially when it's a book you're trying to read for pleasure. I do have the next two books, so I'll read them as well, but I'll need a break first.

Overall, I can't really say I would recommend this book. I think if you're someone who likes puzzling through symbolism and dense description and has a lot of uninterrupted time to devote to reading, you could really enjoy it, but if you're looking for something that you can read in the brief ten-minute snatches your busy life allows you, I'd go with something else.

Original remarks: Been working on this for a while. It's kind of slow going, mostly because I dislike so many characters (Steerpike, I'm looking at you). I am curious to see where the story is going, though.
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