Gormenghast Read-along: Week One

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Titus Groan (Gormenghast trilogy)

Titus Groan

The Hall of the Bright Carvings – Near and Far (p1 – p100)



Welcome to the first installment of the Gormenghast readalong!

What were your first impressions of this book?

Mine were:

 arrrghhhh! What have I let myself in for?!

The first page was very difficult to follow and I was beginning to regret putting myself forward to host this read-along. I don’t think I could have coped if the entire book had continued in the same vein as the initial paragraph:

Gormenghast, that is, the main massing of the original stone, taken by itself would have displayed a certain ponderous architectural quality were it possible to have ignored the circumfusion of those mean dwellings that swarmed like an epidemic around its outer walls.

Luckily, the writing quickly became easier to read and after about 10 pages I had been drawn into the wonderfully creepy world of Gormenghast castle.  I agree with those who mentioned the vividness of the descriptions in this book. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything that creates an atmosphere as impressive or as visual as this one. I almost feel as though I’ve been there myself, instead of just having read about it.

I have no idea what is going to happen over the course of these four books, but a dark sense of foreboding is building. Evil seems to be everywhere, despite the fact there is no real evidence of it yet.

Photo credit: Poecile05, Flickr

The one thing I am intrigued by is the fact that all the animals seem to be white. I did a double-take when I discovered that the raven was described as “a bunch of feathered whiteness.” I’ll be interested to see if Master Chalk plays a greater role later in the book.

Does anyone know why the animals are white?


I am finding the cats very creepy:

As they passed through a carved archway at the far end of the room and had closed the door behind them he heard the vibration of their throats, for now the white cats were once more alone it was revived, and the deep unhurried purring was like the voice of an ocean in the throat of a shell.

Photo Credit: Rsndn, Flickr

I am normally more of a dog person, but this book looks as though it will push me further in that direction – those cats are sending shivers down my spine!.






I was pleasantly surprised to see some gentle humour mixed with the darker sense of foreboding and I particularly liked this quote:

….I said she was wicked, and then she said that everyone was – everyone and everything except rivers, clouds, and some rabbits. She makes me frightened sometimes.

Does anyone know why some rabbits avoid the “wicked” label?
I have mentioned a lot of the animals, but I also love the human characters. Every member of society seems to be present – from the new born baby to the elderly; from twins to lonely eccentrics. I’m particularly loving Steerpike at the moment. I always seem to be drawn towards characters that start off with nothing and use their cunning to elevate their position. I have a feeling that he is going to take things a little too far, but I am looking forward to seeing how his character develops.
Who is your favourite character so far?
Which scene have you liked the most?
Are you enjoying the book so far?
Use the comment section below to discuss any aspect of the first 100 pages, but please don’t mention anything that could be a spoiler for a later part in the book. Thank you!
Posts from fellow read-alongers:
(please let me know if I’ve missed yours)

Send to Kindle


  1. Bellezza says:

    My favourite character so far is Fuchsia, even though she might have many ‘brat’ qualities, I can relate to her mane of curly hair, her eldest sister status, her affection for the unique and special. But, I’m enjoying all of the characters’ names. What an imagination Peake has! The names seem witty and forboding all at the same time.

    I love this sentence in your post: ” I don’t think I’ve ever read anything that creates an atmosphere as impressive or as visual as this one.” Spot on! I feel like I’m living in Gormenghast, too. I love seeing each character develop and each scene slowly unfold. I feel we’re in for quite a few surprises! (I like Steerpike, too, however. I like the wise, but rebellious nature I suspect he has.)

    This is a wonderful read-along, Jackie, and I’m glad to be reading with you.

    1. Jackie says:

      Bellezza, I’m not a big fan of Fucshia at the moment – I can see that she is going to be a fabulous character, but her spoilt brattish nature isn’t endearing her to me. It will be interesting to see how our attitudes to all these characters change as we read more.

      I’m really pleased that you are enjoying the read-along – I have a feeling this could become one of my favourite books.

      1. Bellezza says:

        Fucshia (it’s always hard for me to write, with this unorthodox spelling of the colour!) is perhaps not quite endearing, but interesting. I guess I can relate to her less than perfect qualities because I see some of them in myself; that loving to be alone, collecting stones from nature, resenting a little brother. Hopefully, some of those traits are more in connection with my childhood than my adulthood!

        1. Jackie says:

          Bellezza, I had a little sister and we were too close in age for me to even notice her turning up – perhaps that is why I’m not connecting with Fuchsia as much as you so far. :-)

  2. Falaise says:

    I too found the first few pages quite hard going. It was a repeat of the first time I tried to read the book years ago, when I gave up very quickly. This time, though, I persevered and it is starting to improve. I’m pretty sure, though, that if it weren’t for the readalong, I would have fallen at the first hurdle again!

    I completely agree that the description is incredibly visual – maybe because Peake was an artist as well as a writer. I was also surprised by the odd touch of humour amongst the heavy gloom of the book so far.

    So far, I’ve found all of the characters so grotesque that I can’t say that I’ve taken to any of them. I can see how they are interesting but, at this point, I’m curious to see what happens to them rather than emotionally engaged with any of them. I do particularly dislike Swelter, though.

    Like Bellezza, I’m very taken with the names of the characters. Peake was a big Dickens fan, apparently, and I think there’s something Dickensian in the naming of the characters.

    The one thing I am hoping for the next installment is that a bit more happens!

    1. Bellezza says:

      Falaise, I tried to visit your blog and something is preventing me from getting there. I’ll try again. (?!) I like how you connect Peake and Dickens; it’s true to me as well, that there is something about Dickens represented here. Perhaps it’s in the juxtaposition of humour and darkness?

      I dislike Swelter, too. Although, what a good name for someone in the hot, hot kitchen. :)

      1. Falaise says:

        I hope you managed to visit in the end, Bellezza. I think best name so far is Sourdust. It really sums up his character and role.

        1. Bellezza says:

          Falaise, when I click on your site it says, “There is aproblem with the site security.” Then, I got in today, but Google would not let me leave my comment. So, I’m posting it here, hoping Jackie won’t mind I’m using her platform. I just wanted to respond to your excellent post:

          You have written such an excellent review, uncovering all kinds of details and information and connections that were so interesting to me. I like this line from your post, ” Peake’s use of language is extraordinary and lends itself perfectly to the depth of imagery so far.” I can see why an earlier attempt to read this novel would have failed; it takes a certain mood, and maturity perhaps, to read such a novel as this.

          Another point you make, which I find so true, is that while Tolkein looked outward, Peake looked inward. He does have a dark focus to me as well, and really draws the characters out. It’s almost as though we really were in the kitchen, or at the very least, inside the castle walls. (Does that make us the “Castles” and every one who hasn’t yet read it the “Dwellers”? :)

          1. Bellezza – thanks for persevering! I don’t know what is going on with my blog. I wonder whether I put in something wrong when I did my original response. Thank you also for the kind comment about my post.

            If we are “castles”, I wonder which of the characters we are closest to. I have a horrible feeling I am a little like Rottcodd!

    2. Jackie says:

      Falaise, I’m so pleased that you persevered with this book. I know that the plot is quite slow moving, but looking back on the section we’ve read I don’t think I’d have liked to see anything edited out. I’m sure that the pace will pick up soon and we have all that wonderful imagery already in place for that to happen.

      I agree with you about the grotesqueness of the characters – I’m not emotionally engaged with any of them at the moment, but (and this is unusual for me) I don’t care.

      I hope that the pace picks up for you in the next section and that your effort is rewarded. :-)

      1. Jackie says:

        Falaise/Bellezza, I hadn’t thought about the Dickensian connection, but you’re right – it is there. I think the short chapters, ripe for serialisation, help with that too.

    3. Jackie says:

      Falaise, I can’t make it onto your blog either :-( I have the same security risk message as Bellezza. I’ll keep trying in the hope I can read your Gormenghast post.

  3. Heidi says:

    I saw your read along and hadn’t heard of the book– but the next day noticed it at the library as I was browsing and thought it looks interesting I’ll try it. It is defintely a unique reading experience that is for sure. However the book is definetly not easy to carry and read (huge)-worried I won’t be able to keep up with the read along because I can’t tote it everywhere. Ah well….My favorite character is Keda – although I don’t know how much she is going to play in the story. I keep waiting to find out more about the dwellers- what is up with the carvings? It seemed so important the ritual at the start of the book- imagine working a year on the carving only to lose and have to have it burned. Yes the cats and the Countess are creepy. The love of birds and cats doesn’t seem like a good combination. I was worried the cats were going to come in and have a big bird fest at one point! And the fact that she feeds the birds from her own mouth is really kinda gross and contrast that with she doesn’t want to see the baby again until it is six I believe is what she said. She may not be my favortie character but the Countess is the most fascinating to me.

    1. Jackie says:

      Heidi, I’m so pleassed that you’re joining in too! I feel your pain on the weight of this one – it hurts my wrists if I read it for too long and I agree that you can’t take it anywhere – I think this is one of the few ocassions when I wish I had an ereader.

      It is interesting that so far we have each picked different characters as favourites – I think that shows a real strength of characterisation.

      I never thought the cats would eat the birds, but now that you mention it I can see that as a distinct possibility. :-( The countess is a bit too weird for me at the moment, but she is adding to the atmosphere!

      1. Falaise says:

        Actually, I thought both the Earl and the Countess were recognisable as warped caricatures of aristocrats!

        Keda is probably the most “normal” character so far and so is the easiest one for us to identify with – certainly she’s the one I find most sympathetic!

        1. Jackie says:

          Heidi/Falaise, I’m actually finding Keda so normal that she is fading into the background. I have a lot of sympathy for her position, but in comparison to the other characters she is a bit boring at the moment.

  4. LizzySiddal says:

    The book has yet to weave its spell on me. I struggled to make it to the 100 pages. Visual descriptions are all well and good but the prose is simply too dense for me at the moment. I had to read this section in short 3 chapter snatches. Hopefully when the plot gets established, things will pick up.

    Fortunately I saw the BBC adaptation way back in 2000 and memories from that persuaded me to keep reading. Just like Dickens really. I can’t read a long Dickens without having first seen the series.

    I am, however, a fan of the purple-clad twins. There’s nothing duplicitous about them even if they’re very negative. I have a feeling they will prove dangerous in their stupidity.

    1. Jackie says:

      LizzySiddal, Sorry to hear that you are struggling a bit. I am finding that I can’t read too much of it at once too – there is so much going on that I find I need time between chapters to digest everything that has happened. I also found re-reading it a bit to create this post helped a lot.

      I hope that you find yourself under the Gormenghast spell soon. :-)

  5. Ellie says:

    Well I only started reading half an hour ago so I’m not up to page 100 yet but wanted to stop by. It is very “wordy” but after a few pages it all knits together to become a wonderfully descriptive world. One thing I wasn’t expecting was it to be funny. I have laughed a few times during the kitchen scene and I like the idea of the Grey Scrubbers getting legless under the table and them trying to stuff the oven full of roasts.

    I will stop back after I get to page 100 (probably tomorrow now).

    1. Jackie says:

      Ellie, I didn’t expect the humour either – it is all very cleverly done. Sentences like the one I highlighted in the post are a masterclass in how to combine humour with evil in the same sentence.

      I’m impressed that you are managing to read it all in two days – I found I couldn’t read much more than 20 pages a day, so I’m really glad I didn’t pick a faster pace! I hope that you enjoy the rest of this section.

      1. Ellie says:

        I’m back to pick my favourite character now I’ve caught up. I think it is probably Fuchsia, who has an understandable reaction to her brother’s birth considering the circumstances but comes round when she meets him. I have pictured her room as up in a fairytale-esque tower and I’m loving it. I can just imagine her finding fantastic things in her hiding places.

        I did really like Nannie Slagg at first but she got a little creepy with her obessession over baby Groan. I think the names show real humour too!

        I’m thinking the traditons are going to play a huge part in the story. They seem to be very strict about them even though they seem a little pointless and Titus has already shown that he can rock the boat.

        Overall, really enjoying the dark and surreal feel to Gormenghast, glad I joined in!

        1. Jackie says:

          Ellie, I wonder what our favourite character says about us? I am still amazed at how we are all picking different favourites. I’m not a big fan of Fuschia at the moment, but I would have loved to have her secret tower as a child (or even now!)

          I’m so pleased you are enjoying it.

  6. I haven’t quite got to the 100 page mark yet and will write my own post on it tomorrow – busy today looking after sick granddaughters!

    I’m enjoying it greatly – love the descriptions and personalities. So far I haven’t got a favourite, unless it’s baby Titus – what a start to life. He appears to be the unknowing herald of change in a rigid ritual bound traditional society.

    1. Jackie says:

      Margaret, Sorry you’ve had to look after your sick granddaughters – I hope they get better quickly.

      I love the descriptions of baby Titus – I’m sure he is going to grow up into a very interesting character. His violet eyes are quite disturbing to imagine. I look forward to reading your post :-)

  7. Birdie says:

    Peake does tend to use a lot of what my undergrad director used to call 75-cent words (though, probably $1.50 with inflation), doesn’t he? This is the first book in quite a while that I’ve had to crack out the dictionary for.

    I’m enjoying the book so far, after I got through the kitchens that is…I got squicked by them and by Swelter. They just scream “food poisoning” at me. Clearly I hadn’t manage to suspend disbelief by that point ;)

    Who is your favourite character so far? So far, the only character of whom I’m fond is Keda, though I don’t suspect she’ll play a very large part in the narrative. I’m having a nice time disliking the others, though.

    Which scene have you liked the most? strangely enough, the description and scene in Lady Gormenghast’s bedroom. I think I’m simply fascinated by the white rook. Oh, and on the subject of albino animals–I suspect the cats, like everything else at Gormenghast, are a tradition. I imagine they are kind of like the 6-toed “Hemingway cats”. They are white partly because everything at Gormenghast is devoid of color (except the Hall of Bright Carvings and Fuschia’s room), and they are white because they are all descendants of the original white cats that some long-forgotten Earl had. That’s my guess anyway.

    Are you enjoying the book so far? Except for the kitchen, yes.

    1. Jackie says:

      Birdie, Yes – I admit that I’ve had the dictionary out a few times too :-) I found it hard to adjust to the wordiness at first, but now it seems to flow naturally.

      I love your comments about food poisoning – I guess that just shows what strong stomachs they all must have!

      I take your point about everything being devoid of colour and I can see that ginger cats or tabbys just wouldn’t work, but I guess I just expected them all to be black. For some reason the fact they are white makes them feel a bit more creepy – no idea why though!

    2. Ellie says:

      I think the kitchen might have been one of my favourite scenes. It does sound awful but I found it quite amusing and I can vividly picture the heat and disarray.

  8. gavin says:

    I read the trilogy years ago and am excited to be reading it again. What atmosphere, all I can think of is Dickens and Tim Burton movies. I’m loving it.

    My favorite character so far is Fuschia, a bright flower in all that darkness. (I do love the name Prunesquallor). My favorite scene is the prelude to the naming ceremony, the description of that room opening out to the green lawns, Pentecost and his flowers and his walk into the cedars.

    Eventually I will write something about Titus Groan for my blog, it may just be many wonderful quotes from the book.

    1. Jackie says:

      gavin, I think writing a post full of quotes is a wonderful idea! I stopped making a note of quotes after about page 10 as I realised there were too many good ones. This is one of those books that you can open on any page and know that you’re bound to find a stunning sentence. I’m glad you’re liking this book just as much second time around.

  9. parrish says:

    Hi Jackie, as you’ve realised this is a book you don’t read but have to inhabit, move in lock stock & barrel. peake was an artist/ illustrator which could explain the vividness of the descriptions, glad you are enjoying.

    1. Jackie says:

      parrish, LOL! I agree – total immersion in the world – it is what books are all about, but so few manage to do it. I have seen some of Peake’s illustrations, but I have to say I think his writing is far more vivid that his (excellent) illustrations.

  10. Annabel says:

    Argh! I’ve managed to bury my copy somewhere in my double-stacked bookshelves and have yet to relocate it. I will catch up I hope in time for the end of book 1 round-up. I should say I loved it the first time around when I was in my twenties – let’s hope it continues to weave its spell.

    1. Jackie says:

      Annabel, I hope that you find it soon. I often lose books in the same way, so I feel your pain. :-)

      1. Annabel says:

        I’ve ordered a used copy from Amazon – so problem will be solved!

        1. Jackie says:

          Annabel, …and you know your old copy will turn up now! Enjoy!

  11. Dot says:

    I haven’t even got to the 100 page mark yet I’m afraid! I have been ever so busy this week though so have been really distracted when reading it so going to give it another go at the weekend.

    1. Jackie says:

      Dot, Don’t worry – just read it at your own pace. There is nothing worse than time pressure for spoiling a good book, so don’t rush – these posts will always be here. :-)

  12. Beth F says:

    Ooops! I guess never gave this book even 10 pages. I remember trying this years ago and putting it down quickly, wondering what all the buzz was about.

    1. Jackie says:

      Beth, Yes. I think it is worth giving it another try. I really struggled with the first few pages, but am loving it now. It is living up to all the hype.

    2. I too tried it years ago and gave up after just a few pages. I suspect I would have done the same this time if I hadn’t been reading it it as part of a readalong. Now I’d agree with jackie that it’s worth persevering with.

      1. Jackie says:

        Falaise, I think I might have given up if I wasn’t hosting this read-along :-( I’m VERY pleased that I persevered.

  13. Amy says:

    I’m sorry I wasn’t able to join you for this readalong…the book sounds fascinating so far.

    Creepy cats, uh?…poor kitties, look at that adorable fuzzy face you posted lol I admit I’m a bit biased in favor of cats, though. lol
    A cat’s purr is often a very rich, sound deep in their throat that signifies contentment and happiness.

    In fiction, especially where there are ancient kingdoms or fairy tale like settings or castles and gothic themes, a queen with evil thoughts or designs always seems to have a harem of cats. I suppose because cats are known to be selfish animals who do whatever they want whenever they want!

    This book sounds like it has a lot of interesting characters and great elements that provide a lot of material for discussion.
    Enjoy, Jackie! I’ll probably come by to read your updates as this readalong progresses, if that’s okay?!

    1. Jackie says:

      Amy, I hadn’t thought about cats being selfish, but that is a very good point. It sounds as though the Countess is going to be a very selfish person, so I guess the cats reflect that.

      I’m sorry you aren’t able to join in the read-along (it isn’t too late to catch up if you want to get a copy from the library and jump in) but you are more than welcome to follow the updates either way.

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