NB I read this on paper, but the review is tied to the MP3 because that has the right cover (which I find helpful when skimming my shelves).
Peake's widow wrote this Titus story, based on a few short pages and a few very brief notes, initially as a homage to him, rather than with the intention of publishing it. It has the distinct air of making peace and laying ghosts. I hadn't expected (or wanted) to like this, but I read it for completeness.
But joy of joys, and to my great surprise, it is wonderful, and it made me appreciate "Titus Alone" more than I had previously: it brings things together rather well, and unexpectedly. Although it opens with Gertrude back at Gormenghast, it feels like a very natural continuation of "Titus Alone" (http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/23324032), and ultimately, a natural end. "There was an aura of something he knew: something from the past; something that surrounded his whole being. Was it a caul or a shroud?" (birth or death?).
Gormenghast and its characters still loom large ("The withdrawn magnitude of his mother who he could not love, but whose mental elegance chastened him" and Flay who "wore faithfulness like a garment"): no matter where he goes, as his mother previously told him in the second book, “There is nowhere else... you will only tread a circle... everything comes to Gormenghast.” Whereas Gormenghast is all about structure, ritual and meaning, those elements are now absent from Titus' life.
The descriptions are still very visual and Titus is still a vagrant, relying on the kindness of strangers and very rudimentary survival skills. He is disoriented (suffering "haunted sleep"), wandering aimlessly, surviving dangers and friendships along the way, emphasising the themes of isolation, reinforced by incomprehension and inability to communicate. He is lonely, but doesn't want attachments: "I want other company and when it comes I shall want it to go. I shall want to flee from it. I am no longer, or perhaps never was, a part of the human race". Yet even when he lives in a small hamlet for nearly a year, he never learns the language - or is that purely a metaphor for his isolation and incomprehension? "Am I an onlooker or am I a catalyst?" He is searching, for he knows not what; "I must not live in the past, but how else can I live?". There is constant uncertainty about whether people are friend or foe: if the former, he is in their debt, and if the latter, he is in danger.
In the later parts of the book, the echoes of Peake's own life become more obvious: when Ruth Saxon explains her love of painting and how it brings serenity; Herbert's very physical, balletic way of applying paint to paper; the descriptions of life in a unit for the mentally ill where "Each man was an island. Each island was too remote to link with any other."; the frustration of being physically unable to draw when "drawings were the sustenance of life"
Fittingly, this book ends with a paraphrase of Gertrude's earlier message, "There's not a road, not a track, but will lead him home."
* "The bells continued to plague him, making sounds he should understand, but could not."
* "There was an echo of something familiar, but it was hidden beneath the layers of memory as delicately poised as mille-feuilles."
* Of his sister, Fuchsia, "I'll never know again the ardour of a love that knows no physical desire."
* "He ploughed into life, as though was water, diving and coming up again into the air, breathing life, new and rare."
* "There is always a hope, hidden subterraneaously. Hope keeps man alive amidst all horrors." But what does Titus hope for?
* "Let him sleep away the past and present, until his stirring would lead him into a future."
* Regarding girls who cover their breasts, "What he had always thought of as a coy and provocative gesture in then was actually a wish to belong to themselves until they succumbed to a sensation of which they were no longer mistress."
* "A dizziness both spiritual and temporal... a supernatural ice immobilized Titus."
* "Titus has a strong feeling that he would forever be an onlooker in life and death."
* "He gathered experiences as a child might pick daisies, yet his daisy-chain was destined for no one's necklace or crown" People who knew him concluded "he was not there... In whatever company he found himself, he adapted to it, but he was no chameleon, and he remained an outsider."
All my Peake/Gormenghast reviews now have their own shelf: