1. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    WF Book Club February Selection: Titus Groan

    Discussion in 'Book Discussion' started by thirdwind, Jan 27, 2011.

    For the month of February, we'll be reading and discussing Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake. It's a gothic novel about an heir to an ancient castle. It got lots of good reviews from readers on Amazon and Goodreads, so it should be an enjoyable book.
     
  2. LCC
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    LCC Member

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    Although I generally do not read fantasy, I liked Titus Groan, with its detailed world building. Gormenghast lives!

    Lonnie Courtney Clay
     
  3. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    That's awesome. You should read it again and join in on the discussion. ;)
     
  4. hiddennovelist
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    hiddennovelist Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ah, I just realized that I never bought a copy! Going to the store. Now.
     
  5. marina
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    marina Contributing Member Contributor

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    Surprisingly, neither the UW libraries or our county library has this book. I did find it available on audio download, but it's 17.5 hours long (the listening, not the downloading, ha).
     
  6. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I was lucky enough to find a copy at a used book store. I actually got it this morning, so I'll start reading tonight.
     
  7. hiddennovelist
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    hiddennovelist Contributing Member Contributor

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    I found a copy of all three books in one, so I've just started reading...I keep forgetting that the copy I have is three books and getting intimidated by how much I have left to finish.
     
  8. Gannon
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    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yup, I'm on the Trilogy edition too, so it's pretty weight alright. Thoughst so far: Pretty dense world Peake has created - it's got the scope of a 900 pager - and that's just what the Trilogy is, so no real suprises. Taking my time too coming around to his writing style - often fairly complex sentences with many subclauses. Different to what I've been tackling lately.
     
  9. hiddennovelist
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    hiddennovelist Contributing Member Contributor

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    Pretty different from everything I've been reading lately, too. I'm a couple chapters in, but it's been difficult to get into so far. Probably doesn't help that I'm on massive amounts of painkillers at the moment, I have a feeling that's making it more difficult to follow.
     
  10. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Love these books. I found that the first two serve to tell a good, self-contained story. The third book in the trilogy branches out after that. The first two were my favorites.
     
  11. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    His writing style is unique, that's for sure. But since I like unique writing styles, I'm liking his writing so far. One thing I've noticed is that he spends a lot of time describing the setting/environment.
     
  12. Gannon
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    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah, and characters' appearances too - of whom, I might add, there are many. This is what I meant above by Peake creating a pretty dense world - certain passages are like cinematic pans in their depth. Others, snapshots of chracters frozen in description. I've been bred out of the necessity of describing characters' appearances (particularly in this fairly flat, introductory manner) unless it truly adds to the story, which there are arguments for and against here, but nevertheless the level of detail is striking.
     
  13. Gannon
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    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

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    More on this, really.

    In the same way that I've now become accustomed to questioning why an author would take the time and space to describe a character, either unnecessarily or partially unnecessarily, so too have I been questioning in Titus Groan Peake's realist style, within what could yet be a fantasy novel. I've just read a passage in which the character bends down to adjust their laces that have come undone in climbing the stairs of a tower. Unless I'm missing something, this adds nothing in terms of plot furtherment, except a well-observed sense of realism, and, for lack of a better term, descriptive padding (or bombast, if I were being more critical). I actually used to write like this myself, overly describing at the cost of narrative thrust and purpose. It's therefore refreshing to spot it in another's work, and to question it. No doubt this is a stylistic choice, but it does jar against more pared back works I've read of late.
     
  14. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    This sort of thing is precisely what is great about Peake and unfortunate about so much literature written today. Which isn't to say that lean, modern fiction is unfortunate - I like a lot of it. It is unfortunate that writers now think they HAVE to write that way, and that every word HAS to further the plot. Writing as an "art" is often ignored by the modern writer who believes that the idea is to merely communicate the story as efficiently as possible.
     
  15. Gannon
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    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Just as there is art in great description, be that lengthy or brief, so too is there an art to mastering economy of language. Some would even argue that it's a still harder skill to make fewer words work harder.

    It's a real shame indeed that any writer feels he or she has to write in a particular manner, an argument that includes the point of plot furtherment. Yet, looking at both sides of the coin, I equally feel that when an author appreciates that he or she doesn't have follow Peake's lead, or someone stylistically similar - doesn't have to create his or her own art in meticulous detail - realises, perhaps, that there's a full toolbox open for exploitation and not all of it needs to be used - then, often, real results can start to flow.

    I think however that ultimately it comes down to taste. Some, including yourself, like Peake's style. Others do not. Whether they prefer the alternative you provide I can't say. That's also down to taste. General tastes also change over time, and hence popular styles change in response.

    I have recently read a lot of what falls under post-modernism, and I have enjoyed some of it greatly. No doubt, this flexible style is generally different from Peake's style. As a result, for me, reading Peake now jars only because it's not what I'm used to. There was a time when I would have appreciated his style more readily, but this is not to say that I don't appreciate it now. For, as this lengthy response began, it'd be difficult not to recognise its level of artistic accomplishment.
     
  16. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Peake's writing is undoubtedly on the verbose side, but I've actually grown to like it the more I read. The wordiness sort of reminds of me of Dickens. Dickens is wordy as well, but after a while you tend to appreciate his writing.

    There's no doubt that contemporary books don't have this sort of realism (or wordiness). Books today are getting shorter, so the writer is challenged in getting his story across in as few words as possible. The only exception I can think of at the moment is Don Delillo's Underworld, which is more than 800 pages. He strives to make his book very realistic as well.

    The next logical thing to ask is why Peake is so interested in realism, especially for a novel that's categorized as a gothic fantasy.
     
  17. Gannon
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    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm struggling for a reason other than because that is/was Peake's style. Clearly, he favoured description over overt action or pacing and thus ran with it. What I'd stress about his realist style is that although it is realist in the sense that it's super detailed, it's not realism in the sense of our (the actual reader's) day-to-day realm. The setting is not realist, not entirely anyway, the style arguably is.

    Me, I appreciate the style but I wish nevertheless that it had a great kick to start it snowballing. I'm only 100 pages in and that has happened of real note is that the newborn has been christened, albeit in a world presented in immaculate detail.
     
  18. hiddennovelist
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    hiddennovelist Contributing Member Contributor

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    I made some progress on reading while on vacation, but I'm still only roughly 100 pages in and struggling. I even tried describing the book to my brother in an attempt to like it more...it didn't work.
     
  19. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I think I'm in the same boat as you guys. I like his style, but I'm not a big fan of his pacing. I finished the book last night, and it sort of reminded me of Moby Dick and Les Miserables because in both these books the author steps out of the narrative to describe something (Melville describes whaling in great detail and Hugo talks about the vast sewer systems of Paris). Though Titus Groan isn't nearly quite like that, it has similar traits in that the author is concerned about painting as realistic a picture as possible.

    I think this book is great for those who like reading a lot of description, or those who want to improve their descriptive writing. Based on what I read, I'm iffy about reading the rest of the books. On the one hand, I appreciated his style, but I also thought he could have toned down the description.
     
  20. hiddennovelist
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    hiddennovelist Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree, it would be a great book to read if you wanted to work on how to be more descriptive. Which means I probably should read it for that...being in vacation mode for the last half of February, though, it was a tough read for my mindset. I'm determined to finish it, though!
     

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