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Peake, Mervyn (Laurence)

titus gormenghast trilogy landscape

(British, 1911–68)

Peake was born in China to missionary parents. A brilliant artist and illustrator, he was among those who liberated Belsen, the concentration camp. What he saw there never left him, and he died in London after struggling with mental disturbance and Parkinson's disease. The Gormenghast trilogy has elements of the Gothic, the fantastic, and the Kafka-esque. Titus Groan (1946), set in a world resembling our own, is the first book and concerns the birth of Titus. It introduces us to extraordinary characters like Swelter, the hideous palace cook, Barquentine, and Flay. The rise and fall of the dreadful scullion, Steerpike, is the main plot of the trilogy, and Peake creates an arcane society where atmosphere and landscape are as important as events. Gormenghast (1950) examines the world of the castle, whose landscape has much in common with Sark, where Peake lived for some years. Titus Alone (1959) describes the hero's exile from Gormenghast and the author's deteriorating state of mind is evident in this surreal dystopia. These remarkable books are unlike anything else in literature.

Karen Blixen (writing as Isak Dinesen), Edgar Allan Poe, Franz Kafka  AG

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