grist

 

Thursday, August 14, 2003
Titus is dead! Not the whole 1000+ page monstrosity, but at least the first installment Titus Groan, and I give it 3.5 stars. It is a book of magnificent virtues and bad vices. (That it felt simultaneously like I would never finish and that it was too good to abandon may give you some sense of its contradictory nature.) First, the virtues: the names are as entertaining as anyone's since Dickens and maybe more so--Flay and Swelter the servant arch-enemies, Rottcodd, Barquentine, Gormenghast, Nannie Slagg, etc. And Peake writes amazing set piece descriptions of the architecture and atmospherics, especially of the castle in different weathers. His language is rich, dense and precise (he finds infinite ways to say that things are dark and gloomy--I found myself going back to see if the descriptions were repetitive and they were not, though he does overuse "momently" .

He also has an amazing imagination for tracing out the quirks of character into marvelous visions of how the inhabitants of Gormenghast might live--Gertrude trailed by her snowy serpent of white cats, Flay sleeping for years on the dark floor outside his master's bedroom, the undulant flesh of Swelter moving through the air.

At the same time, the plot moves glacially, and there is so much rich description that I found myself skimming ahead, and then forcing myself back--like I was eating a much-too-big steak that was delicious, but making me sick. And unlike other writers of this density (like Proust), Peake's accomplishments are more technical than substantive. His book is full of marvels and I admire him, but do not find myself moved by the book, and, other than envy, do not find myself stirred by its accomplishments. I am relieved to put it aside (for now), but to know that it sits there, ready to rebuke me when my own imagination feels confined by the dreary sameness of delicately sketched oblique family dramas and thinly veiled autobiographies of vaguely disaffected and over-clever "writer" writers--and that is a noble charge....



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