Friday, December 12, 2014

Titus Groan

Titus Groan has been on my to-read list since college.  Oh, so long ago.

I'm not sure what first alerted me to its existence, but the idea of a Gothic novel written in the non-Gothic time period (I'm talking both legit Goths and Visigoths and Ann Radcliffe-Goth) intrigued me.  Plus, the names were just this side of ridiculous--Groan, Gormenghast.

I managed a hundred and twenty-five pages of Titus Groan before I, too, groaned and gave up.  I'm not entirely ruling out finishing it in the future, but it's no longer a pressing matter.  I'm no longer itching to find out what's going on with this series.


This has about a million glowing reviews all over, so I feel like some sort of barbarian (Visigoth?) in not liking this.  Am I especially dense for not getting it?  Do I simply lack patience, and, like Luke Skywalker, must learn patience?

Those are all distinct possibilities.  But there is another thing, and it's that Mervyn Peake's prose takes Henry James' prolixity to new and even murkier depths.  It's as if Peake gathered up all the vaguely dark, sinister, and obscure adjectives he could find and hurled them at the narrative.  There's pages and pages and pages and pages devoted to describing the odd gabled roofs and towers of the manor.  Perhaps Mr. Peake took on a bet: "Say, Merv, I bet you can't write a thousand words about the sinister aspect of  a roof."  "Challenge accepted!"

The characters are mildly intriguing, but I could barely peer through the gloomy, overhanging sentences to find them in the murk.

Getting back to the adjective thing, I was musing this morning that when certain authors whose works are now considered "classics" get verbose, it's considered a mark of higher learning and linguistic achievement.  Nowadays, odd similes and metaphors get lambasted for being silly.  I thought of the oft-mocked description in The Prey by Tom Isbell (review here) of the "anvil-shaped face."  Yet, I think many characters in Titus Groan  are subjected to descriptions more grotesque than mere anvils.  This is praised.  I am confused.

The more I think about it, the less desire I have to return to the world that Peake has created.  You may enter at your own risk.

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