Brilliant historical novel set in London in the late 14th century.
Peter Ackroyd is an award-winning historian, biographer, novelist, poet and broadcaster. He is the author of the acclaimed non-fiction bestsellers London: The Biography, Thames: Sacred River and London Under; biographies of figures including Charles Dickens, William Blake, Charlie Chaplin and Alfred Hitchcock; and a multi-volume history of England. He has won the Whitbread Biography Award, the Royal Society of Literature's William Heinemann Award, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, the Guardian Fiction Prize, the Somerset Maugham Award and the South Bank Prize for Literature. He holds a CBE for services to literature.
Ackroyd (The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde; Hawksmoor; etc.) brings late medieval London to life in this latest of his fascinating historical novels. Working with a cast of characters drawn from The Canterbury Tales, Ackroyd deploys his usual meticulous research to reconstruct the background of Chaucer's England in a prose idiom congenial to modern readers. The thriller plot concerns a visionary nun, a sect of violent religious heretics and a shadowy group of power brokers trying to orchestrate the ouster of King Richard II by Henry Bolingbroke. But the rather creaky conspiracy narrative, supposedly based in fact, is just a peg on which to hang a panorama of 14th-century life that takes in the cathedrals, cloisters, brothels, taverns and law courts while instructing readers on all things medieval, from medicine (dove droppings applied to the feet is the recommended cure for insomnia) to fast food (at street stands, roast finches can be had two for a penny). It's a society where elaborate courtesy balances gross indecency, pious ritual shades into sadomasochistic fetish, reflexive orthodoxy is troubled by new philosophies from the universities, corrupt and worldly churchmen contend with anti-clerical revolutionaries and science struggles to be born from a morass of superstition, alchemy and astrology. The characters seem both secure within and frustrated by the confines and mysteries of their narrow worldview and are badly in need of a renaissance. Ackroyd's brilliant evocation of their ideology and psychology lets us recognize the traces of our own time in this archaic past. Agent, Giles Gordon at Curtis Brown Group Ltd. (Sept.) Forecast: Readers of history as well as fiction will be drawn to this city portrait by the bestselling author of London: The Biography. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
The Clerkenwell Tales is a truly extraordinary feat of
historical imagination: a slim novel, straining at the seams with a
sort of macabre relish, in which disgust and enthusiasm jostle *
Sunday Telegraph *
Historical fiction of the utmost potency * Daily Mail *
A tour-de-force, full of rich imaginings and strange happenings. It is as finely wrought as an illuminated manuscript * Scotsman *
A brilliantly imagined thriller * Guardian *
Roars and leaps through the London streets with thrilling energy...the result is tremendous. Ackroyd is a wonderful guide and torchbearer, bringing light to the darkest corners of humanity * Independent *