Many years ago, I came across a strange miniseries on the Canadian science fiction cable channel Space. I could not make heads or tails of it, but its atmosphere was captivating. Later, when all four episodes were broadcast in a late night marathon, I taped them all (yes, taped them; it was that long ago). A few weeks later, I came across that same tape, began watching, and I was forever hooked.
This is how I first encountered Mervyn Peake’s remarkable trilogy, Gormenghast.
Needless to say, I soon bought the book and read it in no time from cover to cover. It was an amazing read. There are only a few books that I can think of in my (admittedly limited) reading experience that I found as profound as this one: for instance, Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita, or Marquez’s 100 Years Solitude.
The omnibus edition of the Gormenghast trilogy that I read contained more than just the three novels. It also contained a brief fragment from a fourth novel. A novel Peake never had a chance to write, due to his debilitating illness and eventual untimely death.
Nonetheless, the fourth novel, Titus Awakes, did end up being written. Not by Peake but by his wife and life partner, Maeve Gilmore. Shortly after Peake’s death, Gilmore attempted the impossible: she tried to finish the novel that her husband was not able to complete.
The remarkable thing is that she succeeded. In every respect, Titus Awakes is a true continuation of the Gormenghast cycle. It is a poignant novel that even incorporates a marginally autobiographical element, an attempt by Gilmore to turn back the clock to happier times and to tie the story of the protagonist, Titus Groan, to that of her own family.
This manuscript sat hiding in an attic for decades until it was recently found by Peake’s descendants. Gilmore herself passed away almost thirty years ago. What are the odds that a manuscript of such significance is found after all this time? Yet it is here, and for fans of Gormenghast, it is well worth reading.
I have read the Gormenghast trilogy twice already, and undoubtedly I will read it again. But the next time, I’ll not stop reading at the end of the third novel; I will also re-read Titus Awakes.