“Flashback Challenge: Titus Groan/Gormenghast: First impressions”


As soon as I read or should I say re read, the first few pages of the ‘Gormenghast’ novel, I was immediately back among the ghosts: the characters that had died.  Lord Sepulchrave among the bats, Sourdust, Clarice and Cora and others all lost in the first book Titus Groan.  I realised then that I just HAD to start from the beginning, even though ‘Gormenghast‘ is my favorite of the two books.  The level I have chosen for the ‘Flashback Challenge’ is the Literati, that’s over 6 books.   Well, I guess that  ‘Titus Groan’ will be the ‘over’.  I am going to chart my progress and review my hopefully new impressions as I go along. Originally I had planned to put this on the Echostains blog but I fear it shall take up a lot of room.  Here is what I’ve written so far.  I started reading last night (7th January 2010) 

Well I am reading the first of my books for the Flashback challenge, Titus Groan.  At the moment I am deeply ensconced in the room of Bright Carvings with a strange little fellow with a bullet shaped head, I believe his name is Rottcodd.  He is the curator of this room.  I must say he is really keeping these halls immaculate.  No sooner does a  mote  of dust fall,  it is smitten by Rottcodd.  That feather duster of his is a formidable weapon, he even sleeps with it under his arm  – I really must be careful he doesn’t see me. 

 I wonder at all these bright carvings.  These are the cream of the crop: the others are burned.  The prize? The prize awarded to the winning three carvers is  the absolute privilege of  being allowed to walk the battlements of Gormenghast castle on a certain day of alternate months, PLUS the honour of having their work displayed in this museum (which is really nothing more than a long loft).  How loudly  the little man snores in his hammock, undisturbed, forgotten by the rest of the castle.  Doesn’t he know that today is a special day?  This eighth day of the eighth month is the day a Groan is born and Lord Groan’s butler is here to bring the news.

flay the faithful retainer

  Creaky, shiny coated loyal Flay, the master’s personal servant.  How old is this man? the book doesn’t say.  He cannot be so old really because despite his creaking joints, he manages to live in the woods for some time when he gets banished.  Christopher Lee played this part in the BBC adaptation with great success – inspired casting!

Going down into the kitchen, the senses are assaulted by a steamy quagmire of broths, blood from the slaughterhouse and sweet loaves, mingled with drunken singing and revelry all celebrating the birth of the son and heir to Gormenghast, Titus Groan. 

 I love this first re encounter of the castle kitchen.  The grey scrubbers with faces all alike scrubbing away as one huge wave.   The sounds, the smells – and I haven’t even met the gigantic Swelter yet – and I am really looking forward to seeing him after a few years absence.

Best description of the kitchen (lots to choose from);- 

“On a fixed table running along a length of the wall were huge bowls capable of holding fifty portions.  The stock-pots were perpetually simmering, having boiled over, and the floor about them was a mess of sepia fluid and egg shells that had been floating in the pots for the purpose of clearing the soup.  The sawdust that was spread neatly over the floor each morning was by now kicked into heaps and soaked in the splashings of wine.  And where scattered about the floor little blobs of fat had been rolled or trodden in, the sawdust stuck to them giving them the appearence of rissoles.  Hanging along the dripping walls were rows of sticking knives and steels, boning knives, skinning knives and two-handed cleavers, and beneath them a twelve foot by nine foot chopping block, cross hatched and hollowed by decades of long wounds. 

 Rissoles – a very descriptive image, like they’ve been dipped in flour ready to fry. It is taken for granted that all these knives are razor-sharp by the idea of them giving ‘ long wounds’ 

 Best dialogue;- none in ‘The Great Kitchen’ chapter as Flay who doesn’t say much at the best of time is merely observing.  

Best dialogue from ‘The Hall of the Bright Carvings’;-  

Rottcodd flicked ash from his shoes with a feather duster and tilted his bullet head.  ‘Ah’ he said in a non-committal way.    

 ‘You say ‘ah’, said Flay, turning his back on Rottcodd and beginning to walk down the coloured avenue, ‘but I tell you, it is more than “ah”  

 “Of course,’ said Rottcodd. “Much more, I dare say.  But I fail to understand.  I am a curator.’  At this he drew his body up to full height and stood on the tips of his toes in the dust.  

 A what?’ said Flay, straggling above him for he had returned.  ‘A curator?’  

 ‘That is so’, said Rottcodd, shaking his head.  

 Flay made a hard noise in his throat.  To Rottcodd it signified a complete lack of understanding and it annoyed him that the man should invade his province.  

 ‘Curator’ said Flay, after a ghastly silence, ‘I will tell you something, I know something.  Eh?’  

‘Well?’ said Roddcodd  ‘I’ll tell you’ said Flay.  ‘But first, what day is it?  what month and what year is it? Answer me.’  Rottcodd was puzzled at this question, but he was beginning to become a little intrigued……..’Come closer Rottcodd, I will tell you.  You don’t understand Gormenghast, what happens in Gormenghast – the things that happen – no, no.  Below you, that’s where it all is, under this north wing…..’  

 There is not a lot of dialogue in this first chapter, but from what there is you can get an impression of Rottcodd’s personality (insular and mostly disinterested in anything which invades his world or disrupts his routine) and a bit of a false impression of Flay’s.  Flay doesn’t make long speeches, this is probably the most he has said all day.  

 Gormenghast itself is a puzzle, there are many descriptions that give an impression of the castle.  I shall put these together in a separate post.    


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