The first two books – Titus Groan and Gormenghast – work together but the only thing this book has in common with those two is Titus. The slight problem with that is that Titus is not really fully formed as an adult character in either of the first two books or particularly worthy of a reader’s emotional attachment. Having said that he is of course meant to be a physical embodiment of the world of Gormenghast and has to be seen more in that light in this book.
For those people who enjoyed the first two books Titus Alone comes as a disapointment and there is a constant hope that the world you enjoyed will reappear at some point but it never really does.
Titus has left his ancestral home and heads off into the wilderness and is spotted by some police buts makes his getaway but falls asleep in his boat and is finally washed ashore and rescued by a larger than life animal lover called Muzzlehatch. The man helps Titus but is repaid with the boy again walking off and stumbling across a factory complex where planes are being flown and there are numerous people, some of which start to chase him. Hiding up on a roof Titus observes a party and then falls through the roof and despite the efforts of Muzzlehatch and a former lover called Juno to save him Titus would prefer to stay and face the music. At his trial Juno asks that he be given over to her care. Again though after a few months Titus grows restless and leaves and on his way to Muzzlehatch’s destroys a spy globe that the scientists in the factory have made. To protect him Muzzlehatch tells him of the under-river world where he can hide but once there Titus is caught up in a fight and only the reappearance of Muzzlehatch can save him. He again makes for freedom once back in the normal world but is picked up by the scientist’s daughter Cheeta who plots his downfall after Titus rejects her. In a stage managed scene in a remote ruin she tries to make Titus go mad but Muzzlehatch reappears and saves him for the last time blowing up the factory, reducing the scientist to a babbling wreck and Cheeta runs off madly into the forest. Titus then wanders for months finally finding Gormenghast castle, proving to himself he is not mad, but turns his back on it and keeps wandering.
Is it well written?
On the positive side the depth of characterisation is phenomenal and the ability to keep coming up with fully formed worlds like the City inhabited by Juno and Muzzlehatch as well as the Under-River world is imagination working overtime. There is a sense of rhythm and the plot climaxes not so much with the rediscovery of Gormenghast but the scene in the Black House before that because the consequences for the world Titus has entered will be dramatic with the scientist and his daughter mentally damaged and Muzzlehatch killed by the police. The negative is the constant restlessness of Titus, which forces you to constantly be on your guard against investing too much effort picturing a location. One of the best scenes of the book is when ironically Titus is cornered and not allowed to move at the Black House. There is also a problem going from the medieval world of Gormenghast into something scientific with cars, planes and spying globes. It is a step too far to believe that Titus would just adapt without more disruption and although there is a constant theme of madness it is based around his memories not his reaction to the modern city, which would be more understandable.
Should it be read?
Unlike other trilogy’s it would be quite easy to read the first two books and skip this one. That statement alone shows how much out of kilter this is with the first two volumes. The completeness of the world described in the first two volumes is not as complete here and while there is still depth there are also parts where it feels sketched out and as a result hard to relate to. Finally the lead character is not someone that inspires emotional investment, as he cannot do that himself. It is not my nature to tell people not to read a book but you could easily get through life without reading this one.
Wandering earl discovers his past is in himself as he wanders through a city dominated by a scientist and his creations
Version read – Vintage paperback