Happy Ninth Day of the Month, Readers! I am having a week of mixed reviews in grand, historical Charleston, South Carolina. I will go into more detail about some of the amazing sights to be seen.
This Ninth Day, the Ninth Day of November I am proud to bring you another mixed review: that of Maeve Gilmore's new novel, Titus Awakes: The Lost Book of Gormenghast. I will be outlining how I felt about the novel in general, plus a look at how this lost book of Gormenghast is definitely Titus Groan's awakening. I wish I had the book to hand for this review, but unfortunately I had to leave it behind to make way for the novels I would need for my trip. I will do what I can without quotes and add them when I get back to Austin. For those who don't know, Maeve Gilmore is Mervyn Peake's widow, and her novel is an attempt to bring closure to the Gormenghast novels.
As I stated, I am of two differing minds about Titus Awakes. On the one hand I am immensely disappointed. On the other hand I was glorying in the little ways this novel reminded me of Peake's works. Not that I felt like I was reading a Peake novel, but that it was a pleasant reminder of how Peake's novels were, and the fact that my friend was reading Titus Groan in the backseat as we were headed towards New Orleans was, in a way, part of the disappointment.Several times I borrowed my friend's books and flipped through to my favorite parts of Titus Groan and Gormenghast. I then went back to reading Titus Awakes, and my few pleasant reminders, and the subtle tinge of disappointment.
The novel starts out with a small fragment from Mervyn Peake--how I wish I had the novel in front of me--that was meant to be part of something after the events of Titus Alone. I was happy to have read that, as it described Countess Gertrude and Doctor Prunesquallor. The next chapter never returned to them. Occasionally Titus would recall names, like Steerpike, Muzzlehatch and Prunesquallor, and many times Fuschia. My disappointment may stem from the fact that I really do not consider this novel to be a Gormenghast novel. As I understand it, a Gormenghast novel has to take place in a Gormenghast setting, which is either within the decadent confines of the citadel or the surrounding areas within the setting of the original novels. I don't really consider this book to be an actual Gormenghast novel, aside from the fact that the fictional timeline is the same and it follows the adventures of Titus Groan. I had thought that a "lost book of Gormenghast" would follow events that took place within the original fictional reality. I had been looking forward to the original cast of characters, or even a snippet of Titus' childhood. Apparently this was not the intention of this novel, and that was a hard pill for me to swallow. Had the tagline not followed the title of the novel, I think I could have looked on this book as a separate work designed to illustrate Titus' awakening into a functioning reality as if he had been sleeping his way through his life, his random encounters seeming almost like dreams. This, I feel, is what Maeve Gilmore was trying to accomplish. I would hate to think that "The Lost Book of Gormenghast" was tacked onto the novel to get it to sell, though my good friend seems to think that might have been the case.
As I said, this novel seems to take place at a time when Titus is between realities: the one he has left behind and the one that is before him. He takes several mental hiatus' while he is traveling in the wilderness. He is perpetually between meals, he nearly freezes several times and is kidnapped more than once. The arrival and departure of a golden retriever companion does nothing to influence his feelings on his self-inflicted exile, nor do the many people who enter Titus' life that he leaves with hardly more than a backward glance. There are several moments of the novel in which it seems that Titus wakes up more fully, even when he is actually awake. I believe the first time Titus wakes up is when he meets the man in the mental hospital, the artist who wanders with a restlessness that can never be fully satisfied, and who's desire to rove is mistaken for a type of madness, in which his personality is drugged into submission. He is taken from the mental hospital and released. Titus attempts to find him, though it is a futile effort that eventually leads to his wandering again. I believe that Titus begins to rise up from his self-inflicted stupor when he meets the restless spirit again at what appears to be a church where men go to find themselves. When the restless spirit is asked to leave, Titus decides to follow him, and makes the first real step towards deciding his own future, instead of allowing others to decide it for him. Titus' sea adventure opens his eyes to what coming home looks like, as he discovers the restless spirit has finally found his. Though speculation could be made about what may lay in Titus Groan's future, it is safe to say that whatever came before, Titus is finally fully awake and in control in a way that he has never experienced before. Titus has always been asleep, in a way. He was led by the hand through his childhood, always staring and dreaming, and in his adulthood, when he had lost all that he held dear, he moved through life as if he were in a dream, letting encounters come, leaving whenever he chose to and knowing that he would be causing pain if stayed or went, knowing that he was powerless to prevent that.
Titus' true awakening made me forget my disappointment with the novel's description, and put me at ease with the premise. I finally realized that I was looking for the wrong thing with this novel, and though I am not afraid to say that I was disappointed, I feel that it is unfair for me to remain so. Maeve Gilmore's novel is a Gormenghast novel of a different sort, and I was happy to have read it. I encourage everyone familiar with Peake's Gormenghast novels to pick up Maeve Gilmore's Titus Awakes.
As usual, I encourage us all to keep the Ninth Day in our own way. I am happy that I was able to review Titus Awakes this time. Have a Happy Ninth Day of the Month, and I will return in one month's time.