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Sunday, March 05, 2017

Hawksmoor (1985) by Peter Ackroyd


Book Review
Hawksmoor (1985)
by Peter Ackroyd

  Author Peter Ackroyd is the kind of writer who is so successful and prolific that one suspects him of having a staff of unrecognized assistants who crank the stuff out for him.  His fame doesn't quite span the Atlantic ocean.   I'm familiar with his non-fiction works about the city of London and the work of Charles Dickens, but I was surprised to learn that his output is nearly as prolific in the world of fiction.

  And, I'm not quite sure how to say this politely, but Ackroyd seems to turned into a bit of a hack in his old age.  Example:  Between 1999 and 2010, he published seven novels, all of which had titles which started with the word "The."  Perhaps that isn't conclusive proof that an author has become a hack, but I would say it does serve as a proper supporting exhibit to support that proposition.   Ackroyd, I would imagine, is a victim of success and his later day decline shouldn't obscure what got him to the top in the first place: Several excellent works of non-fiction about the area of London and it's inhabitants, and Hawksmoor, his excellent novel of "meta-historical" fiction about the construction of several 18th century churches and some modern murders which take place in those same churches.

  Ackroyd alternates his narration between that of 18th century architect Nicholas Dyer (also some sort of satanist) and several modern narrators, including the police detective, Nicholas Hawksmoor. It should go, almost without saying, that in any work of fiction by Ackroyd, London plays a starring role.   That is the case with Hawksmoor, where Ackroyd alternates his descriptions of the 18th century, post-fire London of Nicholas Dyer with modern London.

  The chapter narrated by 18th century architect-satanist Nicolas Dyer are written in the style of 18th century fiction, with unfamiliar diction and capitalization.  The spelling and orthography are standardized, but even if you are familiar with the style of 18th century prose fiction, Dyer is likely to keep you gasping for air. 

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