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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Titus Groan (1946) by Mervyn Peake

Artist illustration of Gormenghast, the castle at the heart of Titus Groan, copyright Malcolm Brown

Book Review
Titus Groan (1946)
 by Mervyn Peake

   Titus Groan is the first in a trilogy of Gormenghast Novels by  English artist/writer Mervyn Peake. 
"Gormenghast" is the name of the Castle-complex where the Groan family lives and rules.  The Groans are an almost impossibly gothic bunch, with an Earl who ends up thinking he has become a death-owl and a cast of characters that most resembles the Addams family (minus the wit) or a Roald Dahl novel.  The Gormenghast novels are closest to occupying a slot somewhere in the "fantasy" genre alongside The Hobbit, but there are no wizards or dragons at Gormenghast.  Peake is resolutely terrestrial in his characters and plot devices. 

  Titus Groan is above all else gothic, in the 18th century sense of the word.  Like, literally gothic.  I would argue that Peake was the equivalent of a revivalist, someone concerned with aesthetics and seeking to make a point about the banality of contemporary existence by creating a stilted parody about the banality of existence in a quasi-fantastical milieu.  The write up in the 2006 edition of 1001 Books goes so far as to call it a "parody...of English aristocracy," which only makes sense if you are talking about the English aristocracy of the 14th century.

  Reading Titus Groan, what most struck me is how this entire trilogy should be required reading for any contemporary goths, be they the mall goths of hot topic and emo bands in the us or the cyber goths of the UK and Europe.  The Gormenghast Novels are gothic culture, and a relatively recent, accessible addition to the goth canon.

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