This novel centres on the famous 16th-century alchemist and astrologer John Dee. Reputedly a black magician, he was imprisoned by Queen Mary for allegedly attempting to kill her through sorcery. When Matthew Palmer inherits an old house in Clerkenwell, he feels that he has become part of its past.
Genre: Science, Education
With , Peter Ackroyd is at his most magical and magisterial, presenting a glittering, evocative, fascinating, story-filled portrait of the ultimate city.
“Ackroyd provides a history of and meditation on the actual and imaginary Venice in a volume as opulent and paradoxical as the city itself. . . . How Ackroyd deftly catalogues the overabundance of the city’s real and literary tropes and touchstones is itself a kind of tribute to , as Venice is called, and his seductive voice is elegant and elegiac. The resulting book is, like Venice, something rich, labyrinthine and unique that makes itself and its subject both new and necessary.” —
The Venetians’ language and way of thinking set them aside from the rest of Italy. They are an island people, linked to the sea and to the tides rather than the land. This lat¬est work from the incomparable Peter Ackroyd, like a magic gondola, transports its readers to that sensual and surprising city.
His account embraces facts and romance, conjuring up the atmosphere of the canals, bridges, and sunlit squares, the churches and the markets, the festivals and the flowers. He leads us through the history of the city, from the first refugees arriving in the mists of the lagoon in the fourth century to the rise of a great mercantile state and its trading empire, the wars against Napoleon, and the tourist invasions of today. Everything is here: the merchants on the Rialto and the Jews in the ghetto; the glassblowers of Murano; the carnival masks and the sad colonies of lepers; the artists—Bellini, Titian, Tintoretto, Tiepolo. And the ever-present undertone of Venice’s shadowy corners and dead ends, of prisons and punishment, wars and sieges, scandals and seductions.
Ackroyd’s is a study of Venice much in the vein of his lauded . Like , is a fluid, writerly exploration organized around a number of themes. History and context are provided in each chapter, but Ackroyd’s portrait of Venice is a particularly novelistic one, both beautiful and rapturous. We could have no better guide—reading is, in itself, a glorious journey to the ultimate city.
Peter Ackroyd's imagination dazzles in this brilliant novel written in the voice of Victor Frankenstein himself. Mary Shelley and Shelley are characters in the novel.
It was at Oxford that I first met Bysshe. We arrived at our college on the same day; confusing to a mere foreigner, it is called University College. I had seen him from my window and had been struck by his auburn locks.
The long-haired poet – 'Mad Shelley' – and the serious-minded student from Switzerland spark each other's interest in the new philosophy of science which is overturning long-cherished beliefs. Perhaps there is no God. In which case, where is the divine spark, the soul? Can it be found in the human brain? The heart? The eyes?
Victor Frankenstein begins his anatomy experiments in a barn near Oxford. The coroner's office provides corpses – but they have often died of violence and drowning; they are damaged and putrifying. Victor moves his coils and jars and electrical fluids to a deserted pottery and from there, makes contact with the Doomesday Men – the resurrectionists.
Victor finds that perfect specimens are hard to come by… until that Thames-side dawn when, wrapped in his greatcoat, he hears the splashing of oars and sees in the half-light the approaching boat where, slung into the stern, is the corpse of a handsome young man, one hand trailing in the water…
Ackroyd's retelling of Chaucer's classic isn't exactly like the Ethan Hawke'd film version of Hamlet, but it's not altogether different, either. Noting in his introduction that the source material is as close to a contemporary novel as Wells Cathedral is to an apartment block, Ackroyd translates the original verse into clean and enjoyable prose that clears up the roadblocks readers could face in tackling the classic. The Knight's Tale, the first of 24 stories, sets the pace by removing distracting tics but keeping those that are characteristic, if occasionally cringe-inducing, like the narrator's insistence on lines like, Well. Enough of this rambling. The rest of the stories continue in kind, with shorter stories benefiting most from Ackroyd's treatment, though the longer entries tend to… ramble. The tales are a serious undertaking in any translation, and here, through no fault of Ackroyd's work, what is mostly apparent is the absence of the original text, making finishing this an accomplishment that seems diminished, even if the stories themselves prove more readable.
A fresh, modern prose retelling captures the vigorous and bawdy spirit of Chaucer's classic
Renowned critic, historian, and biographer Peter Ackroyd takes on what is arguably the greatest poem in the English language and presents the work in a prose vernacular that makes it accessible to modern readers while preserving the spirit of the original.
A mirror for medieval society, Chaucer's Canterbury Tales concerns a motley group of pilgrims who meet in a London inn on their way to Canterbury and agree to take part in a storytelling competition. Ranging from comedy to tragedy, pious sermon to ribald farce, heroic adventure to passionate romance, the tales serve not only as a summation of the sensibility of the Middle Ages but as a representation of the drama of the human condition.
Ackroyd's contemporary prose emphasizes the humanity of these characters-as well as explicitly rendering the naughty good humor of the writer whose comedy influenced Fielding and Dickens-yet still masterfully evokes the euphonies and harmonies of Chaucer's verse. This retelling is sure to delight modern readers and bring a new appreciation to those already familiar with the classic tales.
In recent years serial killer novels and films have become something of a cliche. It's a genre which has been done to death with only a few works standing above the herd. So Hawksmoor was a very refreshing change. A novel set in London, with two threads, one in the 1800's and one in contemporary times. The novel opens in the period following the Great Fire of London, with one Nicholas Dyer, an assistant surveyor in scotland yard who eventually becomes an apprentice to Christopher Wren. He is commissioned to rebuilt the lost churches of London. In the present we are introduced to a series of characters, including a young boy and a vagrant, whose stories are painted with a lavish brush, before we meet the eponymous hero of the novel.
Hawksmoor is the detective investigating a series of serial killings, located in the vicinity of a number of churches across London. It is here that the various sub plots are brought together, the story centring on Hawksmoor attempts at unravelling the mystery.
All the while the story of Dyer's architectural plans and the rebuilding of London unravel simultaneously. His true character is gradually exposed, revealing unexpected connections between the two disparate storylines.
The conclusion of the novel is both unexpected and uncomfortable, a brilliant conclusion to a work with a great psychological presence. Ackroyd brings the personalities of his characters to the fore, places them in a lushly drawn backdrop, and shows the story through their eyes.
One of the most impressive things about the novel is the way Ackroyd treats the serial killer storyline, keeping it very much in the background, shown only through the eyes of the characters and the ensuing investigation. It never dominates the proceedings, and Ackroyd instead concentrates his energy on exploring the eighteenth century events that hold a key to the present day. It is both chilling and filled with an aura of corruption, a reinvention of history and a fresh look at the present through the eyes of history.
It has been a while since I have read a novel this satisfying, an enthralling story on all levels with an ending that stays with you long after you've finished it.