Archive for Big Readers A place for discussing books and all things bookish.

       Big Readers Forum Index -> Author, author! A forum for threads about individual authors.

Peter Ackroyd

Message 1 - posted by Melanie D (U1706889) , Sep 2, 2005
What a writer for our times - and our past times! How brilliantly Peter Ackroyd illuminates the connections between those different times, and binds their significance together with vivid immediacy. People, place, period - all are brought so marvellously to life!
From my experience so far of Ackroyd's work, he has quickly become a favourite. I've read First Light and English Music (both some years ago); seen the amazing performance by Simon Callow in Ackroyd's superb, moving play "The Mystery of Charles Dickens" (both live in the theatre and twice on DVD - can't get enough of it!); seen his TV programmes linked to his Biography of London, and dipped into his enormous tome about Dickens...
....And now I see that he has a new book out - a biography of Shakespeare (on sale from yesterday!) Yippee! A book by one of my favourite contemporary writers written about my *most* favourite writer of all time! How good can it get! I know what's going to go on my Christmas list!
Mind you, I haven't finished his Dickens biography yet - or started his book on Blake etc....
What do others think of Peter Ackroyd's writing?
I must get round to reading Hawksmoor and The House of Doctor Dee soon....
Anyone read The Lambs of London?
Anyway, I just thought that the release of his Shakespeare biography was definitely something to shout about! I have a feeling it's going to be a goodie!
Message 2 - posted by LancastrianNomad (U1684416) , Sep 2, 2005
I've only read The Clerkenwell Tales and, to be honest, I found it rather dull.
But then again, I probably don't know enough about Chaucer and the Canterbury Tales to appreciate its finer points.
I am seriously tempted by The Lambs of London though and his mini biography of Turner, my favourite artist.

Message 3 - posted by Pendolino (U1771473) , Sep 3, 2005
I read Hawksmoor, Chatterton and First Light when they were first published.
Hawksmoor is quite challenging in places, due to the language, but it was my favourite of the three.
Message 4 - posted by Evie (U1708016) , Sep 3, 2005
I have read Hawksmoor and Chatterton (read the latter first, in fact, due to the poet's connection with Bristol, which is where I live) - didn't enjoy either of them much, but can't remember why! It's about 15 years since I read them. I am not a fan of historical fiction, so it may be more to do with that than anything specific to Peter Ackroyd - though I have never fancied reading anything else by him since then.
Message 5 - posted by Laura S (U1755642) , Sep 3, 2005
Hi Melanie - I haven't really considered reading anything by him before, but I think I would now! Is there anything particular you would recommend - fact or fiction? I've sometimes thought about reading his biography of Blake as I studied him for A Level and really enjoyed it. Thanks!

Message 6 - posted by Melanie D (U1706889) , Sep 3, 2005
Hi everyone! Thanks for your replies. A bit of a mixed reaction to Ackroyd so far.
19th Century Girl, others may be better able to advise on which of his books to sample first, as I've read a very limited number so far. But my introduction to Ackroyd was First Light - which I absolutely loved. It actually got me understanding astrophysics - which has got to be some kind of miracle in itself!!!! It's a wonderful tale, weaving the stories of an archaeologist delving into the secrets of an ancient tumulus, and of an astronomer puzzling the mysteries of the skies - and signals from a distant star, which may be linked to the prehistoric site....
The blurb on the back of my copy calls the novel:
Part archaeological detective story, part metaphysical extravaganza and quotes Time Out as saying:
It is a beautiful book...a remarkable novel; anyone looking up or digging down will never feel quite the same again.
....and that's exactly the effect it had on me! I suppose this bare description of a story about tombs and stars may make it sound kinda mad - but it's not at all - it's so moving and involving. There's a very tender story about a couple longing for a child...and a collection of characters bound together by the bigger movement and connection of what's all around them, as they find their individual ways through their lives and dilemmas.
Alas, though - I'm not sure if it's still in print. If not, I definitely think it's worth getting hold of a copy secondhand or from a library.
I haven't read the Blake biography yet - but it's on my tbr list...and I really think, if anyone could get into the life and motivation of Blake, it would be Ackroyd.
One thing I would definitely urge anyone to do though is to get hold of the DVD of Simon Callow's performance in The Mystery of Charles Dickens.
Both Callow, in his mesmerising performance - and Ackroyd, in his faultless capturing, and deep, deep understanding of the very spirit of the man who was Dickens - present us with something sooo sublime. I laugh out loud, cry and am transported to the world of Dickens's life and novels every time I watch it. Seeing the production live at the Bath Theatre Royal was an *amazing* experience.
Message 7 - posted by Muad'Dib (U1598888) , Sep 3, 2005
I actually think the two novels you mention in your original post here are two of his weakest, so you are in for a treat, although The Lambs of London and The Plato Papers weren't up to his usual quality in my opinion.
I've never known a writer to mix fact and fiction so well, and Hawksmoor and Dan Leno are both amazing examples of this.
On the other side, his biographies often read like novels and are always a good read as well as being informative. I finally got a round to the Dickens biography earlier this year, and it has to be the best I've ever read (and I've read a few including his of Blake and London, which are also excellent).
He is also a master of pastiche (see the Dickens biography for examples).
To my mind, he is the greatest living writer in the English language, and I am convinced that he will be read in 100 years time.
Message 8 - posted by Melanie D (U1706889) , Sep 3, 2005
You've made me want to go and start reading Hawksmoor right now! We have a copy in the house, and my husband read it a while back and really enjoyed it...
I've had the Dickens biography on my bookcase for so long now. I'm such a slow reader nowadays, with the children giving me so little time to curl up with a book, that I've just felt there's never time enough to devote to it. I did start it a long while ago - and was so loving it. But, having interrupted my progress through it, with such a long intervening gap, I now feel I should start it again. Not that that would be any hardship! I agree, it does read like a novel - and, in the biography and The Mystery of Charles Dickens, Ackroyd shows such an acute, awesome understanding of his subject. Truly amongst the greats, I feel.
(I'm trying to work out whether, if I start Hawksmoor now, I'll manage to get Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn read in time for the group read!)
Message 10 - posted by Evie (U1708016) , Sep 4, 2005
You have both certainly got me keener to read Ackroyd again - I was particularly taken with your precis of First Light, Melanie, and am sorry to see it is out of print. Will look for it in the library and secondhand shops.
Message 11 - posted by Scousedog (U1706613) , Sep 4, 2005
Hello Melanie. I did see the TV programme you refer to which was excellent. However I've yet to read any of his books, though I too have Hawksmoor (as you can't walk into a charity shop without seeing it on the shelves). I've heard that the Dickens biography is excellent though I am waiting until I have actually read a bit more Dickens before I read the biography. As it happens I'm starting Tom Sawyer this evening too, then Effi Briest, then Huckleberry Finn, all for group reads.
Message 13 - posted by Evie (U1708016) , Sep 4, 2005
I have just checked the library for copies of First Light - they only seem to have one copy, and it's in the Prison library! Won't request it, as I don't want to deprive the prisoners of some decent reading material!
Like Scousedog, I have a few other things to read (including Effi Briest, and maybe Huck Finn again), but will add it to my TBR list. Though I really should work through a few more of the books physically on my TBR shelf!
Message 14 - posted by third-doctor (U1538046) , Sep 4, 2005
Loved Hawksmoor and Firstlight - but my all time favourite has to be The House of Dr Dee. Clearly, Ackroyd has a passion for London and its history (although he puts a somewhat mystical spin on it - I think he may actually belief in the myth of Albion). The way in which he connects the past with the present to make history a living thing is particularly effective.
Message 16 - posted by Melanie D (U1706889) , Sep 4, 2005
Hi third-doctor,Glad you enjoyed Hawksmoor and First Light so much. Yes, that passion for London and its history is very evident in his writing, isn't it? He loves to peel away the layers of time and place and reveal the connections between past and present. The echoes of the past are very loud for the modern day characters in his books - and yet so subtly woven into the fabric of his novels. Very effectively done, as you say. I was intrigued to learn, reading Hawksmoor last night that an ancient temple exists under Bath Abbey (not far from where I live)....and, of course, with the Roman Baths just around the corner - it's easy to see that protrusion of the past into our modern lives. Fascinating to think how so much more is hidden - and yet somehow felt. I guess that's part of the rather mystical element he seems to tune into....
Message 27 - posted by Muad'Dib (U1598888) , Sep 4, 2005
Someone I know met Ackroyd once and, yes, he does believe in the mysticism of London!
Suddenly I want to reread loads of Ackroyd, but there's still so much more to read on my TBR list, including Tom Jones which I have to read this year as it was one of my new year's resolutions! Ackroyd may have to take a back seat!

Message 43 - posted by third-doctor (U1538046) , Sep 7, 2005
Ackroyd is also something of an authority on the various odd groups that have existed in London's history (at least one of which appears in The House of Dr Dee).
Doctor Dee actually existed - he was the court astrologer to Queen Elizabeth I and was, by all accounts, a highly intelligent man who nonetheless got duped into believing in a spiritualist con trick.
Albion? It's the UK. I heard that it means roughly 'islands of the mighty.' The early history of the UK is lost in legend and covered over by Roman propaganda (conquerors tend to denigrate the achievements of the defeated peoples). Whether or not the earliest inhabitants of Britain really did leave behind massive impressively advanced buildings is a matter for debate (but there appears to be archeological evidence of large structures - you only need to check the Guinness Book of Records - but they look pretty 'basic'). The temple in Bath certainly did/does exist and venerated a goddess of the sacred springs - so the Romans on hearing this took interest and the goddess worshipped there in their time was an amalgamation of British and Roman goddesses. Ackroyd apparently believes that a great city of the 'giant' original inhabitants of London still exists somewhere deep beneath the streets of the modern metropolis (and its tube system, presumably).
And as for Britain, there was a belief that London was founded by Brutus, a leader of a group fleeing from the destruction of Troy. Silly, I know, but at one stage London very nearly got renamed New Troy.
Message 44 - posted by spidernick (U1390196) , Sep 7, 2005
Interesting, Third Doctor - thanks.
At the end of Julian Barnes' England, England, England reverts to being called Albion, from what I remember.

Message 70 - posted by Melanie D (U1706889) , Sep 9, 2005
Hi third-doctor,
Many thanks from me too for your very interesting post about Albion etc. I really enjoyed reading it.
I'm sure Ackroyd's interest in Albion must be strongly linked to his being drawn so much to the poetry and preoccupations of William Blake. I'm thinking of Blake's poetry such as Visions of the Daughters of Albion etc...
John Dee is a fascinating figure isn't he? And one whose mixture of 'magick' and science would have enormous to appeal to Ackroyd! In fact, Ackroyd's books often read like some kind of alchemy themselves - with all the transmutation from one time to another, one character to another, as in Hawksmoor (which I'm about half way through at the moment). I'm loving 'the wheels within wheels' turnings of the story and themes. Wonderfully done!
Message 73 - posted by county lady (U1756685) , Apr 10, 2007
I've finally obtained a copy of First Light, so I'll re-read these posts and add my thoughts when it's read.
On first impression every character has at least one serious personality flaw.
Message 77 - posted by county lady (U1756685) , Apr 12, 2007
I finished First Light (at 01:45!) quite quickly, was this supposed to be humourous?


I was not greatly amused, characters were grotesque stereotypes, almost without exception, they were written with exaggerated faults, no subtlety at all.
Martha Temple would be horrific to work with, always stirring up trouble and dissatisfaction.
Evangeline Tupper would surely never hold down any important job.
They made the Mints, in contrast appear completely normal.
Joey Hanover's search for his roots, Damian Fall's descent into madness and Kathleen Clare's reasons for suicide were well portrayed, but the intrusive manic behaviour written large by Ackroyd drowned any human feeling that evoked.

The next edition of the BBC World Book Club is on Saturday 5th May at 21.05 GMT when the guest is Peter Ackroyd talking about his book Hawksmoor. I read this novel years ago so I am looking forward to hearing what he thinks of it now. The programme is repeated on Sunday at 02.05.

Thanks, I'll have to see if I can catch that.

       Big Readers Forum Index -> Author, author! A forum for threads about individual authors.
Page 1 of 1
Create your own free forum | Buy a domain to use with your forum