Titus Alone, by Mervyn Peake

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Titus rose to his knees, the aftermath of a dream remaining like remorse, though he could remember nothing of it save that it was Gormenghast again. He picked up a stick and began to draw in the dust with the point of it, and the moonlight was so fierce that every line he drew was like a narrow trench filled up with ink.

When I previously reread this in 2011, I wrote:

I'm afraid I was simply not convinced by Titus Alone. In fact, I was bored and confused by it. Titus, having run away from his home, finds himself in the neighbouring industrialised countryside (where people have never actually heard of Gormenghast, despite its absolute domination of its own hinterland). He becomes the object of obsession – in particular of the two women, Juno, with whom he has a love affair, and Cheeta, who rejects him and then develops a bizarrely elaborate plan to humiliate him by throwing a party at which various aspects of Gormenghast are satirically brought to life, but also of the self-appointed guardians from the Under-River. The imagery was intense, and I suppose it is in some way a spiritual and allegorical journey for Titus growing up, but in the end he ends back exactly where he started, and it did not work for me.

Also fails the Bechdel Test. I had hopes that the mysterious Black Rose would have a conversation with Juno, but she died before waking up.

As previously mentioned, I've been part of a group reading the Gormenghast trilogy for the last few months. We did the first two books at a chapter a day; many of the chapters in Titus Alone are very short, so we grouped them together and did 122 chapters in 44 days. I noticed that even so, Titus Alone completely killed the group's momentum, and where previously we had a collective running commentary going, very few people seem now to be up to date with their comments (I finished the book a couple of weeks ago, but I sense that most of the others in the group haven't and perhaps won't). Where the first two books had some pretty improbable events, at least things seemed to happen for a reason. Here it's one bizarre scene after another, with plot developments that are never resolved – who are the two stalkers in helmets, for instance?

I really recommend skipping this and ending your reading of the trilogy with the second book, with Titus' departure from Gormenghast as the ending. Titus Alone is much shorter than either of the other two, but you will wonder why you bothered. If you really want to, you can get it here.

One last thing – Peake's concept of hydrogeology is a bit counterfactual. Gormenghast Castle is almost drowned in a great flood – where did the water come from? Is Gormenghast not on elevated ground anyway? And in Titus Alone, you have the network of caverns under the river. Normally caves are created by rivers which then drop down to lower levels. There is so much else wrong with Titus Alone that I won't dwell on it, but it struck me as a curiously consistent blind spot.

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