Wednesday, 4 February 2015

hawksmoor [peter ackroyd]

It's interesting to note what Ackroyd himself has to say about Hawksmoor. (You can find it on his Wiki page.) This is a messy, half-formed novel, full of strands and ideas which barely hold together. The historical architect, Hawksmoor, is reinvented as Nicholas Dyer, whose alter-ego is Hawksmoor, a 20th Century policeman who never looks like getting close to solving his case. The book increasingly resembles a shaggy dog story, whose captivating elements will never coalesce into a coherent narrative.

Nevertheless...I read it whilst staying down the road from Hawksmoor's grand Spitalfields church. In my lifetime East London has mutated perhaps as much as it did in the gap between the book's 18th century world and the one Ackroyd was writing in, in the 1980s. When I first came to London this was still a zone which maybe belonged to murderers and alchemists. Now it belongs to bankers and ersatz artists. The warehouses are full of designer goods. The streets pine for the days they were desolate, not so long ago. Ackroyd's book helps to take you back to its former anti-glories. Walk down to the churchyard, and even though a new visitor centre is being built there, it manages to retain, in Winter, a down-at-heel feel which is in juxtaposition with the grandeur of the architect's vision. One day, the wheel will turn again and the shiny new world will start to lose its gloss. Meanwhile, Ackroyd's book, flawed as it may be, will be there to act as a bridge, linking the origins of our flawed enlightenment with the seeds of its demonic demise, which, the book suggests, is concealed within the architect's vision, hidden behind its glory.

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