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Gormenghast (1950), the second novel in Mervyn Peake’s classic fantasy trilogy, opens with seven-year-old Titus Groan, the 77th Earl of Gormenghast, already conflicted by rebellious desires to be free from the meaningless ritual and dry duty of the castle and from his role as its figurehead. The novel depicts his maturing into a sensitive and self-aware young man scarred by violence, seasoned by loss, and attracted by the world outside. Into that plot Peake weaves the career of the amoral ex-kitchen boy Steerpike, scheming his way ever deeper into the heart of Gormenghast. And for comic relief, Peake spends (almost too) much time with Professor Bellgrove, his bachelor colleagues, and Irma Prunesquallor, who wants a husband.
There are many memorable set pieces in the novel, like the moment when Titus and his sister Fuchsia discover that they love each other, the “Bachelorette” soiree at the Prunesquallors, the demise of an anile headmaster, the game of marbles in the Lichen Fort, the tracking of a satanic outlaw, the aborted ceremony of the Bright Carvings, the encounter with the wild Thing in the forest cave, the Biblical flooding of the castle, and the schoolboy game featuring a classroom window 100 feet above the ground, a giant plane tree, a pair of polished floor boards, and a gauntlet of slingshots.
Reader Robert Whitfield’s narrator is clear, refined, and sympathetic, and his character voices varied and on target (especially Dr. Prunesquallor, Irma, Bellgrove, Barquentine, Steerpike, and Flay). But his Fuchsia needs more raw passion and less nasal whine and his Countess Gertrude more gravitas and less dowager quaver. And there is an odd glitch whereby about twenty times during the course of the book Whitfield’s sentences jarringly repeat.
Gormenghast resembles Titus Groan, the first novel in the trilogy. Both novels are set in a vividly realized castle world populated by grotesque denizens. Both intoxicate the reader with rich language, baroque detail, painterly description, and blended humor and pathos. Both leave images etched upon the mind’s eye. Both feature long passages of conversation or description punctuated by unpredictable scenes of suspenseful action. Both express themes about the primacy of passion and imagination over reason and calculation and the comforting and stultifying influence of tradition on human lives. Although both novels are “fantasies of manners,” however, Gormenghast is also a romantic comedy, a British school story, a gothic thriller, and a bildungsroman. And it highlights new themes: the conflict between duty and freedom and the transformations, wonders, and absurdities of love and aging.
Finally, Gormenghast, like Titus Groan, is a unique masterpiece that offers a satisfying conclusion to the story arc of the first two novels that perhaps renders the third book, Titus Alone, unnecessary.
6 of 6 people found this review helpful
I was enthralled by this second book in the trilogy. A lot more happens in this book than in the first, Titus Groan, but the rich detail is still there. The amount of description in this book does not make it in any way boring, because the pace is varied in a masterful way - a long passage may culminate in a sudden moment of laugh-out-loud humor, or the death of a major character can occur in a couple of lines. The reading is beautifully done and the voices of the characters sound just right. I'm hooked.
8 of 9 people found this review helpful
Another great, atmospheric, other-worldly Gormenghast book. It is a continuation of the story threads in the first book and as I suspect no-one will read this book without reading the first, I feel I can review this book by saying that if you enjoyed the strange characters, the dry, black humour and the evil machinations of Vol. 1 then you will definitely enjoy this book as it is as brilliant as the first outing. Excellently narrated.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
I have really enjoyed listening the whole trilogy, not only for the story, but for all different voices the narrator uses. I particularly like the voices of Fuschia and the twins, the story is a little complicated in places, (particularly when I am listening to it whilst doing something else!) So the different voices really help to keep track of what's going on.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful