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 novel focused around the magnificent and brooding setting of the castle Gormenghast. Therefore the atmosphere Mervyn Peake creates with his deliberate word choice also associates this novel with the Gothic genre. Yet it does not entirely sit as a Gothic. It does however sit inside the group of excellent novels.
The writing is what makes this such an endearing work to me. Peake uses metaphors with precision and with wit, genuinely creating situations where I as a reader were unsure whether he was being naturally brilliant or planned everything to fall into place perfectly.
Take this writing from the text for example:"She appeared rather to inhabit, than to wear her clothes."
I have to also note that in his writing Peake is exceptionally gifted in the art of disassociation. That is he can take one idea, add another unrelated idea, and create a sentence that through disassociating from the main idea actually further draws out the truth of the main concept. A writer skilled at this should be able to take a noun like stone, add an adjective like wooden and create a sentence focused around the 'wooden stone' that reveals what a stone really is.
Take this as another example: "And there shall be a flame-green daybreak soon.
There was also a fascinating period where Peake effortlessly moved from past to present tense while still making sense in the novel and where he chose to use a stream-of-consciousness manner it was written brilliantly. I personally wondered how on earth he could write so perfectly with such ease.
The plot feels like it is all leading to the second novel yet Titus Groan
stands alone as a narrative. It follows the birth of one Titus Groan and the ceremonies involved in initiating him as the next Earl of Groan, ruler of Gormenghast. Associated with this the reader can observe a set of characters so unique that they are instantly fascinating. Take Steerpike, or Dr Prunesquallor and Fuchsia to whom even the Groans pale at times in significance.
Gormenghast becomes an object in this novel that naturally exists. It is because of this castle that Titus Groan
feels like part-fantasy, part-Gothic tale and part historic narrative. The castle is something that feels like it has always been there, something out of time. Peake truly knows how to show rather than tell his readers that fact. He also suggests that his characters are as much a part of the castle as the castle is part of the landscape which is fascinating.
The negative for some readers is that this is a slow novel. As a result some may very well find this a 'boring old classic.' At times not much seemed to happen while reading it but by the end I felt that it was such a unique and wonderful novel. The only books it brings vague comparisons to for me are: Complete Stories and Poems, Alice in Wonderland, The Lord of the Rings and as mentioned before Kafka's work in The Trial
. It had the intrigue of Poe and the beauty of writing but Poe is less about the detail and more about lyricism, it had the whimsy of Lewis Caeroll but not the magic, it had the denseness of Tolkien but not the same world building element or focus on various languages and it had the psychological element of Kafka yet it was not Kafka. This is a unique and unparalleled novel in my view.
What was more fascinating to me even was the foreword by Anthony Burgess in the edition I read. It provided further insights into how unique the novel is. I will certainly read the next book and likely the third in due course. I do also encourage that others read this novel: it is not an easy read by any stretch of the imagination, the text as rich and dense as it is but it is a novel that you will finish and envy the ability of the author. And not only that, it should also be a satisfactory experience if you find any interest in enjoying fine prose and other literary elements of a novel.