Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast is the second in the trilogy. The story follows Titus Groan through his childhood years and into his teens as he develops a severe grudge against the weight of the rituals and expectations placed upon him as the 77th Earl of Groan and Lord of Gormenghast Castle. He escapes the confines on a number of occasions venturing into the surrounding forest at the base of the mountain and comes across exiled servant Flay and catches his first fleeting glance at ‘The Thing’ a shadowy sinuous creature that haunts the trees.
A lot of the first section of the book is taken up with rather comedic portrayals of the professors who tutor young Titus and his mischievous peers. One such professor ends up courting Dr Prunesquallor’s sister and it is a strange romance indeed. The description of proceedings at the Doctor’s house when potential suitors visit his sister were surprisingly funny amid such gothic trappings and felt like contemporary rather than post-war writing.
The villain is still Steerpike. He is one of the most conniving characters I have ever encountered and it was great to read of the gradual ruin of his machinations after he had managed to murder several more characters inside the castle. During a flood of almost biblical proportions everyone in the castle is on the hunt for him and his final demise is very satisfying especially given that Titus and his mother work together to defeat him.
Titus’s sister takes somewhat of a backseat in this story and the accidental end to her storyline felt like a punch in the stomach. Gormenghast has a George R. R. Martin level body count once it gets back on track with the main storyline after rambling on about the professors.
Another high point for me was the storyline of Titus’s obsession with ‘The Thing’ in which Peake’s prose reached poetic levels. The confrontation between ‘The Thing’, whose origin stems back to the previous book, and Titus is a thing of beauty and tragedy as any hope of a continued storyline is cut short in a flash (quite literally).
The book ends with Titus riding off from the castle on a horse intent on discovering what lies beyond his Earldom and on into the last book ‘Titus Alone’. I plan to read this over Christmas later this year. The reason for spacing the trilogy out over such a length of time is simply because it is one of the best books I have ever read in terms of storytelling, scene setting, character composition and command of the English language and I want the experience to last a long time.
My thoughts on the first book of the trilogy Titus Groan are here.