Gormenghast

Volume 2 of the Gormenghast Trilogy
Narrated by: Robert Whitfield
Series: Gormenghast, Book 2
Length: 18 hrs and 22 mins
4 out of 5 stars (291 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

In Volume 2 of the classic Gormenghast Trilogy, a doomed lord, an emergent hero, and an array of bizarre creatures haunt the world of Gormenghast Castle. This trilogy, along with Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, reigns as one of the undisputed fantasy classics of all time. At the center of everything is the 77th Earl, Titus Groan, who stands to inherit the miles of rambling stone and mortar that form Gormenghast Castle and its kingdom.

In this second volume, Titus comes of age within the walls of Gormenghast Castle and discovers various family intrigues. His twin aunts, Cora and Clarice, have been imprisoned in their own apartments, believing that they alone among the castle inhabitants were free of a hideous disease referred to as "Weasel plague." Titus has discovered secret hiding places in abandoned parts of the castle from which he can watch and learn, unobserved: for he has been "exiled" to grow up with the common children until the age of 15. And so, not feeling connected to his future responsibilities, Titus drifts back and forth between the complicated social world he will grow up to govern, and a world of fantasy and daydream.

©2000 Mervyn Peake (P)2000 Blackstone Audiobooks

Critic Reviews

"[Peake's books] are actual additions to life; they give, like certain rare dreams, sensations we never had before, and enlarge our conception of the range of possible experience." (C.S. Lewis)

What listeners say about Gormenghast

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A “Supernaturally Outlandish” Masterpiece

Gormenghast (1950), the second novel in Mervyn Peake’s classic fantasy trilogy, opens with seven-year-old Titus Groan, the 77th Earl of Gormenghast, already conflicted by rebellious desires to be free from the meaningless ritual and dry duty of the castle and from his role as its figurehead. The novel depicts his maturing into a sensitive and self-aware young man scarred by violence, seasoned by loss, and attracted by the world outside. Into that plot Peake weaves the career of the amoral ex-kitchen boy Steerpike, scheming his way ever deeper into the heart of Gormenghast. And for comic relief, Peake spends (almost too) much time with Professor Bellgrove, his bachelor colleagues, and Irma Prunesquallor, who wants a husband.

There are many memorable set pieces in the novel, like the moment when Titus and his sister Fuchsia discover that they love each other, the “Bachelorette” soiree at the Prunesquallors, the demise of an anile headmaster, the game of marbles in the Lichen Fort, the tracking of a satanic outlaw, the aborted ceremony of the Bright Carvings, the encounter with the wild Thing in the forest cave, the Biblical flooding of the castle, and the schoolboy game featuring a classroom window 100 feet above the ground, a giant plane tree, a pair of polished floor boards, and a gauntlet of slingshots.

Reader Robert Whitfield’s narrator is clear, refined, and sympathetic, and his character voices varied and on target (especially Dr. Prunesquallor, Irma, Bellgrove, Barquentine, Steerpike, and Flay). But his Fuchsia needs more raw passion and less nasal whine and his Countess Gertrude more gravitas and less dowager quaver. And there is an odd glitch whereby about twenty times during the course of the book Whitfield’s sentences jarringly repeat.

Gormenghast resembles Titus Groan, the first novel in the trilogy. Both novels are set in a vividly realized castle world populated by grotesque denizens. Both intoxicate the reader with rich language, baroque detail, painterly description, and blended humor and pathos. Both leave images etched upon the mind’s eye. Both feature long passages of conversation or description punctuated by unpredictable scenes of suspenseful action. Both express themes about the primacy of passion and imagination over reason and calculation and the comforting and stultifying influence of tradition on human lives. Although both novels are “fantasies of manners,” however, Gormenghast is also a romantic comedy, a British school story, a gothic thriller, and a bildungsroman. And it highlights new themes: the conflict between duty and freedom and the transformations, wonders, and absurdities of love and aging.

Finally, Gormenghast, like Titus Groan, is a unique masterpiece that offers a satisfying conclusion to the story arc of the first two novels that perhaps renders the third book, Titus Alone, unnecessary.

8 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Not just a book - an experience!

I was enthralled by this second book in the trilogy. A lot more happens in this book than in the first, Titus Groan, but the rich detail is still there. The amount of description in this book does not make it in any way boring, because the pace is varied in a masterful way - a long passage may culminate in a sudden moment of laugh-out-loud humor, or the death of a major character can occur in a couple of lines. The reading is beautifully done and the voices of the characters sound just right. I'm hooked.

9 people found this helpful

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Dickens in our time

I don't think anyone gets closer to Dickens than Peake when it comes to characters. There is no one who can compare with the way he draws the weird and wonderful world of Gormenghast. His plot is a little thin, mostly, and he is incapable of increasing his pace - even when the tensions and action reaches "fever pitch" the events are captured in slow motion. This is not irritating, but rather amusing and it leaves one more time to wallow in the glorious, graphic, intricate and incomparable writing. This should be required reading for any aspirant author. I have also picked up a new favourite saying, thanks to Dr Prune-Squallor when he sees his rather desperate and sad sister toffed up for a social occasion "by all that convulsive ..." . Looking forward to the last in the series.
The narrator is superb as usual. On a technical level the recording leaves much to be desired. There are several instances where a passage is repeated instead of being edited out - at one point it was about 3 minutes. There are also long silences. This points to a lack of attention to detail but not to the overall enjoyment of the masterpiece.

4 people found this helpful

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One of the masterpieces of English literature

While the Gormenghast trilogy is often compared to The Lord of the Rings, in my opinion any comparison is an apples and oranges thing. they both are great but different.

1 person found this helpful

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an entire course in english

Mr. Peake is the pinnacle of the use of language. This book is a hallmark of 20th century writing.

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True mastery of English language. Unreal.

Such magnificent turn of phrase, such a billowing, enormous and unexpected masterpiece. I'm buying the next--the third--at this moment and falling back in. Narrator amazing. In fact, he's the voice of the great castle to me.

1 person found this helpful

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Satisfying conclusion to the story in Titus Groan

The same reader, Robert Whitfield, did this unabridged Gormenghast as read the first volume, Titus Groan. His reading is brilliant, in my opinion: this is of course a very difficult book to read well, as it's experimental fiction on the order of Ulysses and it is a form of poetry in prose: note the very careful choice of every word, for the dire, the scary, the unsettling. The plot is vivid and full of action, but could be told in a third the words: but the words are the point. So enjoy them. This book is not about the plot, exciting though that is. It's not about the characters, fascinating though they are. It's about the second-by-second elaborate description of the experience.

There is a production problem that did not occur in Titus Groan: I counted eleven times when the reader repeated whole sentences, having apparently stopped, taken a break, and then went on repeating from the top of the paragraph. Obviously the editor should have edited out the repeats!! Bad production not to bother. It should be done right and reissued. However, it's still a very good rendition and well worth hearing.

The conclusion is highly satisfying and there is no need to go on to the post-mortem third volume cobbled together from notes on the author's desk. I would advise first reading the two works, then listening to them, and finally watching the excellent BBC movie starring John Rhys Meyer as Steerpike. It's a star-studded cast: you will be surprised at the important actors you recognize. They stay very close to the text, though it must have been hard to make, given the spectacular scenery and events.

1 person found this helpful

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Love this audio book

I find Mervyn Peake a bit heavy to read in text form, but Robert Whitfield's crisp diction and superb pacing made this a really pleasant listening experience.

3 people found this helpful

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Repeated segments

Review master. Online at numerous points the recording repeated itself of about a sentence at a time. Only this book.

2 people found this helpful

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Weird and Wonderful

Despite 30+ years of reading almost exclusively in the Fantasy genre, I only recently discovered the Gormenghast series while researching works considered the “most important” in the genre. After reading that this series is an overlooked gem from the time of Tolkien, and an important part of the genre, I decided I had to try them and wow! What a bizarre and enjoyable pocket dimension of beautiful weirdness this series is!

I was expecting an epic fantasy, what I found was a series of books that defy easy classification, as well many conventional storytelling techniques. These series has absolutely amazing, lush prose. Some sentences are a paragraph long, yet don’t seem like they could have been written any other way. The language used is deft, inventive, and boldly unique. It’s alternately beautiful, grotesque, satirical, and silly - yet consistently compelling.

There are no true main characters, only a collection of highly memorable (weirdo) characters with personalities as odd as their names. While there are broad story arcs that conclude by the end of the second book, the story meanders constantly to odd side stories, some without real resolution. The whole mess would seem to collapse under the weight of its own weirdness, but the books somehow form a coherent whole.

The series is typically considered “Gothic Fantasy”, though there aren’t many of the usual Fantasy ingredients present. There are a few mysterious moments that could be considered magical, and the castle Gormenghast itself certainly fits the mold of the classic “Castle the size of a City” trope, but otherwise the series seems to mostly be categorized as Fantasy because no one knows where else to put it.

Apparently folks like to argue about which is better: LOTR or Gormenghast. The comparison seems meaningless, as they are dramatically different. I wouldn’t say Gormenghast is any “better” or “worse” than Tolkien, they’re just too individually unique to compare fairly. Tolkien is more approachable, Peake is more.... weird and beautiful.

I will say that the first book in the series, Titus Groan, is in my opinion better than the second book, titled Gormenghast. Titus Groan was weird and perfect, whereas Gormenghast felt a little like the author was indulging himself. Both books certainly ramble off onto weird paths, but the first book was interesting throughout, while the second introduced new characters that simply distracted from the main cast and weren’t as interesting. The second book also has several stories that seem to have led nowhere, whereas the first book was more tightly plotted, though I use the term “tightly” in the loosest way possible. (Ha, see what I did there?)

I have to give the caveat that I did not read the third book. I’ve heard that it is drastically different and inferior to the first two, likely due to the authors poor health while writing it. The second book is a good place for the story to end, so I chose to stop there.

If you’re looking for something weird, wonderful, and thought provoking, this series is as timeless as Tolkien, but waaay weirder.

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  • Sara
  • 01-22-10

As brilliant as Volume 1.

Another great, atmospheric, other-worldly Gormenghast book. It is a continuation of the story threads in the first book and as I suspect no-one will read this book without reading the first, I feel I can review this book by saying that if you enjoyed the strange characters, the dry, black humour and the evil machinations of Vol. 1 then you will definitely enjoy this book as it is as brilliant as the first outing. Excellently narrated.

4 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Laura
  • 09-23-11

Excellent voices

I have really enjoyed listening the whole trilogy, not only for the story, but for all different voices the narrator uses. I particularly like the voices of Fuschia and the twins, the story is a little complicated in places, (particularly when I am listening to it whilst doing something else!) So the different voices really help to keep track of what's going on.

1 person found this helpful

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  • maggie
  • 09-28-13

A Classic. Extra-ordinary and most wonderful.

Would you listen to Gormenghast again? Why?

Yes - I would listen again..almost on a looped tape. It is such beautiful language, transporting you to a world that is so vivid, so strange - yet mysteriously something or somewhere you almost recognise.
The descriptions of the people, the castle - and then the utterly surprising eccentricity of the world of Gormenghast...it is hypnotically addictive.

What other book might you compare Gormenghast to, and why?

well I suppose the obvious superficial comparisons are Dickens and Tolkien - but actually I would only compare it to those if I was pushed. Some of the characters can be said to have a Dickensian flavour, and the concept of a mysterious world is Tolkienian...but there are no unknown 'creatures', no blatant 'magic'....that is what brings it so strangely into something one ALMOST recognises...in ones strangest of dreams.

What about Robert Whitfield’s performance did you like?

It was marvellous. Brilliant. He captured each character perfectly. I almost can't beleive I did not 'see' it all - he was so vivid in his reading

Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

Made me laugh at times, but not usually because it was ha-ha funny. More because of some line or characterisation that took me by surprise, or that was so peculiar and wonderful - so more of a gasp really.

Any additional comments?

A book that is unique, rare and wonderful. It transports you into another realm. I love it to bits.