It remains essentially a work of the closed imagination, in which a world parallel to our own is presented in almost paraoniac denseness of detail.”–Anthony Burgess, Introduction to Overlook edition of Mervyn Peake’s Titus Groan
Wednesday on Pop-up To-Do List: Finish Titus Groan!
1. Brew pot of Darjeeling so you can concentrate on finishing Titus Groan before book club tonight!
2. Take notes in cute new notebook. You chose the book, and must be prepared to drone on in awkward silences.
a. A great modernist masterpiece, but is it fantasy???
b. Portrait of decadent inert civilization, but not an allegory.
3. Cat chews cover of your vintage ’60s paperback while you fetch your pink post-its. (You feel more important when you mark pages with post-its.) Reward cat’s bad behavior with snack so she will let you read Titus Groan.
4. Find your other used copy of Titus Groan, which is as yet unchewed by cat.
5. Your cousin calls to say she on her way over with two venti Starbucks coffees so you can zip through Titus Groan.
6. In the back yard you distractedly read 10 pages while your cousin chortles over Twitter, Reddit (or is it Rabbit?), and Instagram.
7. She announces that Titus Groan is not available on Kindle Unlimited. (Alas!) But there is a great Clinique sale at Younkers!
8. You tell her you have to read Titus Groan, and doesn’t she have a lot of Clinique? (“You can never have too much Clinique.”) You tell her about the time you were hypnotized by ads in Cosmopolitan, bought $50 of Clinique, and discovered you were allergic to makeup.
9. You say you must stay home and finish Titus Groan , but she points out you have already read it.
10. You explain you haven’t read it since that vacation years ago in a fishing lodge in Wisconsin. (I didn’t fish! The lights went out! Scary guys with cross-bows! The fish museum! I mostly stayed inside and read.) Anyway, I’m an A- personality and must finish it.
11. She asks if B+ isn’t good enough for “a bunch of SF losers?”
12. You point out that B+ is a very good grade, and they’re not losers. The Game of Thrones fan with the braided beard is the only definitely odd one.
13. She asks if all the male members of my SF group are gay.
14. You tell her who knows, we don’t talk about it, but it’s probably 50/50.
15. She wonders if Mervyn Peake was gay.
16. She looks him up online and discovers he was married and decides he was “moderately cute” in a “terrifying English way.” (He looks like one of his caricatures.) But we are impressed when we learn he won the Heinemann Prize for Literature for Gormenghast and The Glassblowers.
17. Finally we go to Younkers and come home with two sweaters for the upcoming trip to Europe. We have another Venti Starbucks coffee.
18. You had 10 pages left to read, but nobody noticed because they spent most of the time deciding what to read next. Another night at Book Group!
P.S.. I just finished Titus Groan a few minutes ago, and it is the best fantasy/non-fantasy novel of the twentieth century. It is arguably one of the best modernist novels of the 20th century. And, joy oh joy, it is the first of a trilogy!
Your post did make me smile, and your book group sounds – interesting! As for Peake, no he wasn’t gay and he had quite a female following in his time. The Gormenghast books are another series that I would take to a desert island – they’re quite unique and utterly wonderful and far too neglected in my view. I love them to bits. Time for a re-read soon I think! 😀
He IS neglected: absolutely stunning, too. Why why? He’s shelved in the SF, but really should be in literature. My SF friends were not “keen.”
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Definitely not sci fi. They broke the mould with Peake!
Yes, though they shelve it in the SF section here! There are brilliant literary readers of SF, but I do think the greater audience would be literary.
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Europe? When and where?. We need to start telling you what to see and do.
It’s still in the very early stages of planning but I’ll let you know!
I thought I was the only one who had ever read Titus Groan until a friend visiting our house told me I reminded her of the Countess with her sea of cats, although we only had eight or nine and only one of them was white. I almost fainted when I found she’d read Titus! And now you and your group, too! I have to confess that as much as I loved Titus, I have but haven’t yet read the other two in the trilogy. Here’s to Titus!
I read and loved the entire trilogy, but Anthony Burgess in his intro claims the first is the best book. That is jus HIS opinion, though.:)
When you reread the trilogy don’t forget the fourth book TITUS AWAKES which was published about four years ago. It was written by Peake’s wife shortly after his death and the MS was found in an attic by their granddaughter. It does share a lot of the Gothicness (word?) of the trilogy but is not, I think, as memorable. Still, if you do not want the trilogy to end, it no longer has to!
Thank you for letting me know about the fourth book! I love sequels, even when not by the original authors: I have even written sequels to the Lucia series by Tom Holt and enjoyed them. The Titus Groan experience is wonderful.
There must be something wrong with me. I have never been able to come to terms with ‘Titus Groan’ and consequently have never tried to come to terms with the other two. However, I am relieved to find someone else who is allergic to Clinique. Not that I’m playing points here, but I spent £100 in order to find out it didn’t like me.
And to think it’s hypoallergenic! I had to go to the dermatologist, who forbade me to wear makeup.
Well, Titus Groan is one of those things like The Alexandria Quartet: really baroque language, a strange atmosphere (in this case of impending doom), and bizarre characters. A few things happen, but it does feel as though nothing happens. I love it, but only one other person in my book group was enthusiastic.
I can’t decide whether I’d like this book. Since you say it’s not sci-fi, I just might. You make it sound compelling.
It’s really literary fiction–Anthony Burgess writes the intro to my book–but it is marketed in the U.S. as fantasy. It’s a very weird book, all about the lush writing. You’d probably like it.