1940s Classics Fantasy

Titus Groan – Mervyn Peake

Titus Groan (Gormenghast trilogy)

You have seen nothing like it before … but after … you see things like it everywhere …. C.S. Lewis




Titus Groan contains the most vivid writing I have ever read. Mervyn Peake has created an amazing cast of characters, each one packed with a range of flaws and their own complex agenda. It is rare to enjoy reading about such unlikable characters, but the quality of the writing means that you can’t help but want to find out what happens to them.

The book is set in a creepy, sprawling castle which is so well described it almost feels alive. Gormenghast castle may be a sparse stone structure, but it contains many intriguing rooms – including the room of roots, the room of spiders and a room packed with white cats. I’d really like to know if JK Rowling has read this book, because I spotted a lot of things that appear to have influenced the Harry Potter books.

Into this dark castle a baby boy is born. This baby is Titus Groan, the heir to Gormenghast castle. His birth sparks a series of events which are impossible to predict, but fascinating to read about.

This is one of those books that defies genre. It is part fantasy, but has strong gothic undertones. The plot could easily have become far-fetched, but Peake somehow manages to ground his weird world in reality, giving a sense that this could even be  a piece of historical fiction.

The only problem I found was that it was occasionally too wordy, but this is a fault that lies with the reader, not the writer. I struggled to read the first few pages and sometimes found this situation repeated if I left too long between readings (especially if I’d read something light in between) but once I became used to the writing style I loved its complexity.

Titus Groan doesn’t come to any real conclusion, but as the first in a series of four books it sets the scene well and leaves me desperate to know what happens next. It is already one of my favourite books and if it continues to maintain this high standard I can see the Gormenghast series becoming my all-time favourite. I highly recommend that you give it a try.



Titus Groan

The Twins Again – Mr Rottcodd Again (p277 -p361)

We’ve reached the end of the first book! I am amazed at how much Peake has managed to cram into 361 pages. Most books manage to combine a few characters and a simple plot into this space, but we have a whole cast of different individuals, a vivid location and a complex plot.

Despite my raving review I did have a minor quibble with this final section. I thought that the “Reverie” for each character was a great idea, but it didn’t quite work. It was interesting to see their thoughts, but these sections jarred with the rest of the book and as I read them I was hoping for a quick return to the omnipotent narrator. Did you enjoy “The Reveries?

I loved the reappearance of the skull, but those twins must be really stupid to have fallen for Steerpike’s ghost costume. In the real world I’m sure that they’d have recognised his voice and the bit of white material and had a good laugh at his silly costume!  I’ll have to suspend my disbelief for this bit of the plot, but I’ll forgive Peake because it was at least entertaining.

I was interested to see Peake’s drawings of the twins. Their long necks remind me of aliens and I no longer think of them as being fully human. Whenever I read about them I am reminded of characters like Dren, from the film Splice. Are you picturing the Gormenghast characters as human? Or do you think of them as a slightly different species to us?

We have always suspected that Gormenghast Castle was an actual character, so I loved the final page in which the castle breathes:

The Castle was breathing, and far below the Hall of the Bright Carvings all that was Gormenghast revolved.

I thought this was a perfect ending and I’m really looking forward to reading the next book.

Did you enjoy reading Titus Groan? Are you looking forward to reading the rest in the series?


I’ve got a puppy!

On Saturday I got a puppy!

She is a Bernese Mountain Dog, so she won’t be small for long.

I have been trying to get a dog for a long time, but Bernese Mountain Dogs are quite rare here in the UK so it has taken me a while to find one.

Her name is Ayla (after the central character in Clan of the Cave Bear, one of my favourite books). She is very quick to learn, but doesn’t like being on her own so I’m having sleepless nights at the moment.

Is there anything that is better in life than having a new puppy? They give us so much love right from the start, and there is so much affection in their sweet little faces. From the start we become so attached to them, and are looking forward to a long and healthy life with them at our side. With so much affection between our puppies and us it is not surprising that you would want to take the best care of your new furry friend as possible, and that would include looking for the best dog food for puppies that is out there. You can also find out more from here.

There is almost no end to the choices that we have when choosing the dog food for puppies that we will feed our new pet. The stores are usually full of isles upon isles of choices, each of them in a colorful package that happily lists all of the benefits of that food to your puppy. The problem is that those dog food companies are not actually concerned with the health and welfare of your new puppy, they are concerned about making money and keeping their stockholders happy. Here is the real truth behind the dog food for puppies that you find on the shelves.

Dog food is not regulated the same way that people food is regulated. For example, if you see on the package that it says chemical free, or no chemicals added it actually is telling you that there were no chemicals added to the puppy food after it entered the processing plant. Before it got there it could be hormone ingested and chemical laden and they do not need to disclose that. Add to that problem the fact that most dog food companies use byproducts that include road kill and diseased carcasses and the bodies of euthanized animals that are brought from the shelters, many times thrown into the mix with collars, tags and even the plastic bags that they are kept in.

2010 2011 Orange Prize Other Prizes Pulitzer Prize

A Visit from the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan

A Visit From the Goon Squad

Winner of 2011 Pulitzer Prize
Longlisted for 2011 Orange Prize
Winner of 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award

Five words from the blurb: popular, humourous, lives, interact, loss

A Visit from the Goon Squad seems to have won more awards than any other book this year. There is no question that it is a groundbreaking novel (how many other books do you know containing an entire chapter written as a powerpoint presentation?), but I think this is going to be one of those books that divides opinion. Unfortunately I fall into neither camp – I’m going to sit on the fence for this one. For the best music related show and all simply go and check this.

A Visit from the Goon Squad shows an array of characters at various important moments in their lives. The book flips forwards and backwards in time and it is often hard to know who is narrating, let alone what period of time each character is in. Things do eventually fall into place, but a great deal of concentration is required to piece everything together.

The writing was easy to read and allowed an instant connection to be formed to each character, but I’m afraid I didn’t have any real interest in what the characters did. The music and PR industries have never interested me and so all the wonderful satire went over my head.

Very little actually happens in the book and although some of the scenes were fantastic I reached the end feeling a little bit let down. It all felt a bit too gimmicky for me.

Charlie doesn’t know herself. Four years from now, at eighteen, she’ll join a cult across the Mexican border whose charismatic leader promotes a diet of raw eggs; she’ll nearly die from salmonella poisoning before Lou rescues her. A cocaine habit will require partial reconstruction of her nose, changing her appearance, and a series of feckless, domineering men will leave her solitary in her late twenties, trying to broker peace between Rolph and Lou, who will have stopped speaking.

There was no real message behind the book and so I didn’t think the effort was worth it.

The best thing about this book is that it is impossible to read without forming an opinion on it – you’ll love it or hate it, or perhaps, like me, you’ll find you do both in equal measure.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

…it just might make your brain explode…but in a very pleasing way. The Book Lady’s Blog

I recognize the genius of what Egan is doing but my main reaction after many of the chapters was “Huh.” Life with Books

There is a very, very fine line between quirky, original, and ambitious and plain old annoying. I think that A Visit From the Goon Squad is firmly on the side of awesome. Amused, Bemused and Confused.

….it was a bitter disappointment. Always Cooking Up Something

Chunkster Classics Fantasy Other

Gormenghast Read-along: Week 3

Titus Groan (Gormenghast trilogy)

Titus Groan

The Grotto – The Bloody Cheekbone

(p194 – p277) 


Steerpike’s evil plan actually worked! I thought that something would go wrong with his fire setting, so was quite surprised that everything went like clockwork. It is quite appropriate that things seem to be unravelling for him now though – Fuchsia is giving little hints about the convenience of the pre-cut ladder and those evil twins are demanding their reward. I like the way these seeds of trouble are spreading throughout the castle – it is giving the plot a fantastic sense of foreboding.

Despite his misdemeanors I still love Steerpike and this was especially evident when I felt sympathy for him during the cat attack.


The air is filled at once with the screaming of a hundred cats which, swarming the walls and furniture, leaping and circling the blue carpet with the speed of light, give the appearance of a white maelstrom. The blood streaming down Steerpike’s neck, feels as warm as tea as it slides to his belly.

Throughout the library fire I didn’t care whether any of the other characters were killed or injured. Steerpike is still the only character I connect with. Do you feel empathy for any of the characters?

I was never a big fan of Keda, but this week I realised that I don’t like her character. She seems out of place in this novel and the scene in which her lovers battled with each other made me think I was reading a different book. I had to stop and re-read the beginning of this chapter to remind myself who these strange men were, and once I realised, I found the whole episode a bit bizarre. It was like something from a Western and the outcome was so convenient that it reduced my opinion of the section even further. Did anyone else have a problem with the lover’s battle?

Photo Credit: KellyandRoger, Flickr

This week everything seems to have stepped up a level. The plot is getting more complex, the language appears to be increasingly dense and there is a greater frequency of events that make no sense to me. I am used to reading books based in reality and so I am finding some of the plot a bit strange. I am hoping that everything will be explained at some point as I don’t like this feeling that I’m not quite getting it. One example of this is the Sourdust’s burial. Why was he buried with the calf’s head? That seemed very weird to me.

Another is the Earl’s transformation into an owl. I feel as though there must be some symbolism behind this, but I haven’t quite worked it out yet.

This all sounds as though I’m being a bit negative, but that is not the case. I am still in love with this book and actually like the fact it is making me think; living in my thoughts long after I have closed the pages.

I’ll finish with the best quote about Titus Groan that I’ve found this week:

Titus Groan is not so much a book as it is a sensual feast for the brain. The Night Land Journal

2011 Historical Fiction

Pure – Andrew Miller


Five words from the blurb: Paris, cemetery, clear, bones, death

Andrew Miller’s debut novel, Ingenious Pain, is one of my favourite books and so I was excited to read his latest release, Pure. Miller is one of those writers with the rare ability to make even the dullest scenes spring to life. I had hoped that Pure would come close to the magic of his first novel, but unfortunately it didn’t quite make it, only equalling the quality of his other good, but not outstanding books.

Pure is set in Paris at the end of the 18th century.  Les Innocents cemetery, in the middle of the city, is overflowing and the stench of the dead is spreading to the surrounding area.

“They tell me that during a single outbreak of the plague fifty thousand corpses were buried at les Innocents in less than a month. And so it continued, corpse upon corpse, the death-carts queuing along the rue Saint-Denis. There were even burials at night, by torchlight. Corpse upon corpse. A number beyond any computation. Vast legions packed into a smudge of earth no bigger than a potato field. Yet no one seemed troubled by it. There were no protests, no expressions of disgust. It may even have seemed normal. And then, perhaps it was a generation ago, we began to receive complaints. Some of those who lived beside the cemetery had started to find the proximity an unpleasant one. Food would not keep. Candles were extinguished as if by the pinch of unseen fingers. People descending their stairs in the morning fell into a swoon….”

A young engineer, Jean-Baptiste Baratte, is summoned by the king and given the grim task of destroying the cemetery; moving all human remains away from the city centre.

This is a fantastic piece of historical fiction, perfectly capturing the destruction of the cemetery. The descriptions were so vivid that I could picture exactly what life was like  and the characters were so well drawn that it was impossible not to develop an attachment to them.

The only problem was that the plot was quite simple. A few events occurred along the way, but the book basically took 300 pages to describe the way in which the cemetery was removed. I enjoyed being transported to 18th century France, but the book’s limited scope means that I am unlikely to recommend it to anyone. Instead I advise you to try Ingenious Pain and after reading that I’m sure you’ll want to read all his other books anyway!


Other Richard and Judy Book Club TV Book Club

Richard and Judy v The TV Book Club: Which has picked the best books this Summer?

Richard and Judy  and The TV Book Club and have both revealed their latest book club choices recently, but are either of them worth following and who is winning the battle of the book club?

Richard and Judy’s 2011 Summer Reads

The Confession of Katherine HowardThe Return of Captain John EmmettThe Novel in the ViolaEvery Last One

When God Was a RabbitThe Poison TreeThe Summer of the BearThe Death Instinct

After attempting to read Richard and Judy’s last selection of books I stated that I would no longer be following their suggestions with the dedication that I used to. So the big question is: Have they improved?

I was disappointed to see that Richard and Judy are continuing to come up with unoriginal choices; both Jed Rubenfeld and Bella Pollen have had previous books on the original TV show (Bella Pollen’s Hunting Unicorns in 2004 and Jed Rubenfeld’s The Interpretation of Murder in 2007). I didn’t find either of these books particularly entertaining and so I’m not very excited about reading The Death Instinct by Jed Rubenfeldor The Summer of the Bear by Bella Pollen. -2

The only book from the list that I’ve read is When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman which I found original and entertaining. I think this is a fantastic choice and I am really pleased that this debut novel will reach a wider audience. +1

 The Novel in the Viola by Natasha Solomons sounds like an interesting read, but I think it will be too charming for me and so I won’t be reading it. 0

I have wanted to read The Poison Tree by Erin Kellyever since I first heard about it on Steph and Tony Investigate. I have a copy here and so will read it next time I’m in the mood for a thriller. +1

The Confession of Katherine Howard by Suzannah Dunn sounded interesting and so I attempted to read a few weeks ago. Unfortunately the writing style grated on me so I gave up very quickly. -1

The Return of Captain John Emmett by Elizabeth Speller is another book that I’m interested in reading. I have a copy here, but it hasn’t quite made it to the top of the pile yet. +1

Every Last One by Anna Quindlen is the only book that I hadn’t heard of when the list was announced. I still know very little about it, but for now I’ll take that as a positive. +1

Total score: +1

The TV Book Club 2011 Summer Reads

The LanternThe Hidden ChildMoonlight MileA Visit From the Goon Squad

Night RoadThe RadleysThe Book of Human SkinGrace Williams Says it Loud

I don’t normally enjoy books containing vampires but numerous positive reviews have added The Radleys by Matt Haig to my wishlist. This is a book I plan to try before the TV series begins. +1

I wasn’t a big fan of Grace Williams Says it Loud by Emma Henderson, but it is an original debut so I’m happy to see it on this list. +1

The Lantern by Deborah Lawrensonis a book I hadn’t heard of before this list was revealed. That is what shows like this are supposed to do. +1

Night Road by Kristin Hannahdoesn’t look like a very original book, but I haven’t read it so will give it the benefit of the doubt. 0

The Hidden Childby Camilla Lackberg is a book in translation – I can’t possibly complain about that! +1

Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane seems like a fairly typical thriller, but I have always wanted to read some Lehane. I probably wont read this one, but I don’t feel I can deduct a point for its selection. 0

A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan won the Pulitzer prize, but it hasn’t received that much attention here in the UK. It will divide opinion, but I think that will make a very interesting discussion on the show. +1

The Book of Human Skin by Michelle Lovric captured my attention from the moment I read the title. I don’t know anything else about it, but I do know I want to read it. +1

Total Score: +6


Richard and Judy: +1

TV Book Club: +6

Richard and Judy do seem to have improved their selection, but they are still failing to pick titles that excite me. Time and again The TV Book Club are outshining them with lists that I am really interested in reading/discussing. I think both could benefit from picking some titles from smaller publishers and a wider range of books in translation, but I shouldn’t complain too much – anything that persuades reluctant readers to pick up a few extra books is a good thing.

Long may they continue to pick books that we can all read and discuss together!

What do you think of the book club selections?

Which is your favourite list?