Book review

Boy in Darkness by Mervyn Peake (1956)

This extraordinary story is based on Titus Groan from the Gormenghast trilogy. A real horror book, it is an account of how Titus suddenly can bear no more of the senseless ritual of Gormenghast. He breaks for freedom through the disturbing castle maze only to find himself in a nightmare landscape of grey. Haunted by bewitched characters he is lured and driven by hunger and fatigue to another maze of underground tunnels in a disused mine. There he begins to fall under the spell of something blind and nauseatingly evil.

The atmosphere is oppressive and as I read on I abandoned all hope for Titus who had made such a vital escape bid from one form of imprisonment only to succumb to a worse one. Did he break the ghastly spell? Did he call brute strength or ingenuity to his aid in his direst need? Did he achieve any kind of freedom for himself? Well, you'll have to read it for yourself to find out but don't expect an Enid Blyton ending.

And while you struggle with the inevitable depression, isn't 'ghast' a good word? It's a kind of poetic back form taken from 'ghastly' which we all know means frightful, horrible etc. And so as soon as we come across that name Gormenghast we should know what kind of place we're heading into. Philip Pullman also uses the word in Northern Lights. As you float along in the arctic airs with Lee Scoresby you are viciously attacked by atrocious cliff-ghasts who try to pull you out of the balloon. Nasty experience!

What can I read next?

If you find that Boy in Darkness is to your taste, and you are a mature reader, you might like to try Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast trilogy:

  • Titus Groan
  • Gormenghast
  • Titus Alone

If it is the horror which appeals to you, you might like to look at Rachel Anderson's book:

And if it is the dreamlike, or nightmarish, quality of the writing, you should perhaps look at these books by David Almond:

Actually, for sheer achievement in imagination, you might like to compare Boy in Darkness with Philip Pullman's trilogy, His Dark Materials:

Also, the Bookchooser has found these books with a similar profile:

Boy in Darkness features in these lists: