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Mervyn Peake: Gormenghast Trilogy

The Gormenghast Trilogy is one of those works that make an immediate impression on you when you read them for the first time. It has been called Gothic and even Kafkaesque and, while both of those epithets are valid, they do not begin to do justice to the originality of Peake’s work. What Peake does is to create a completely separate world, with its own rules and customs but also, more particularly, with its own atmosphere, one that is unique to Peake. From the names – evocative names like Steerpike and Titus Groan and Swelter – to the sharp but somewhat lurid observations of the characters and place, Peake keeps us firmly placed in his strange world in a way that few other writers have managed to achieve. His command of language is – choose your adjective – artistic, poetic, vivid. The story is relatively straightforward. It tells the story of Titus Groan, heir to Gormenghast, and the decay of his family. It also tells of the rise of the erstwhile kitchen boy, Steerpike, a Dickensian villain but one you cannot help admiring. But, in these books, style is everything and Peake’s style is masterful.

Publishing history

Titus Groan
First published 1946 by Eyre and Spottiswoode
First published 1950 by Eyre and Spottiswoode
Titus Alone
First published 1959 by Eyre and Spottiswoode