Review of ‘Titus Alone’ by Mervyn Peake

This novel is astonishing and strange but I’ve never liked it much. I re-read it to complete the trilogy which began with Titus Groan and Gormenghast. It’s quite different from these, being half the length and not set in the ancient decaying castle of Gormenghast. The tone is different too, more fevered and edgy. I should note that the author was ill at the time he wrote Titus Alone and that the book was not carefully edited before publication. Much later, it was re-edited using the author’s notebooks. It’s impossible to say whether the story has turned out as intended and how it might have changed if the circumstances were otherwise.

The story follows on from the ending of Gormenghast, with the heir Titus leaving the flooded castle to escape his duties and change his fate. The town he finds is more akin to our contemporary times than to the medieval ruins he’s familiar with. However, there is still a fantasy element. He finds allies such as the rugged Muzzlehatch and the generously loving Juno; and enemies such as the grim abuser Veil and bitter socialite Cheeta. No one really believes that Gormenghast exists. Titus is quite a sensation and is pursued by the authorities for being a vagrant.

The chaos of the plot, horrible characters and the change in setting make this an unappealing book. Yet there are various interpretations if one cares to look beneath the surface. Coming-of-age novel, critique of high society, warning against scientific progress, political narrative of resistance, quest for identity. If you’ve read the previous two novels, you’ll probably be disappointed in this one, but I’d still say it’s worth reading.

First published in 1959. This is the 1989 Mandarin edition.

5 thoughts on “Review of ‘Titus Alone’ by Mervyn Peake”

  1. Wow. Kudos to you for finishing the book despite disliking it. I would’ve given up. It’s also so tricky to publish a book that wasn’t completely edited. Also what’s Mandarin edition? Mandarin as in one of the dialects in the Chinese language?

    1. Thanks 🙂 I wanted to complete the trilogy but as a standalone book I wouldn’t read it. Mandarin means the imprint it was published under, I don’t read Mandarin 😀

  2. I was intrigued in this trilogy and especially Gormenghast every since (last year?) they announced that Neil Gaiman was leading a TV series adaptation for it! It’s good to know that this one is a weaker than the first two though. Great review! 🙂

    1. Thanks for reading my review 🙂 I think an adaptation is likely to leave out this book as it’s so different, but who knows?

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