ACKROYD, Peter (born 1949), British writer
Ackroyd is a biographer as well as a novelist – his Dickens is 1,200 pages long, sumptuously detailed, and acclaimed – and his fiction benefits from a researcher’s eye for extraordinary and revealing detail about the past. Often, he blends a modern story with a historical one, and characters from the past move in and out of the contemporary narrative like ghosts. He sets many stories in London (he is the author of London: A Biography), and superbly evokes its people and atmosphere, both today and in different periods of the past.
This remains the most exhilarating and adventurous of Ackroyd’s explorations of a London in which past and present endlessly intertwine. A contemporary detective (the namesake of the seventeenth-century architect) is driven towards a mystical encounter with forces from the past through his investigations of a series of murders in London churches. Part of the narrative is written in a prose which demonstrates Ackroyd’s chameleon-like ability to mimic the English of past centuries and its rhythms.
Ackroyd’s other novels include Chatterton (about the eighteenth-century literary forger who committed suicide at the age of 17), The House of Doctor Dee (in which the central character inherits a Clerkenwell house once owned by the Elizabethan magus John Dee), Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem (blending the stories of the real Dan Leno, ‘the funniest man in England’ in nineteenth-century music hall, such literary figures as George Gissing and Karl Marx, and the mysterious serial killer of the 1890s nicknamed the Limehouse Golem and The Lambs of London (in which he provides his own fictional version of the lives of Charles and Mary Lamb). He has also written poetry, prize-winning biographies of T.S. Eliot, William Blake and Shakespeare and, in addition to his London ‘biography’, Albion , a characteristically idiosyncratic investigation of the English imagination.
to Hawksmoor: David Liss, A Conspiracy of Paper; Iain Pears, An Instance of the Fingerpost; >> Iain Sinclair, White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings.
to Ackroyd’s work in general: >> Michael Moorcock, Mother London; >> Iain Sinclair, Downriver; >> Rose Tremain, Restoration; >> Jeanette Winterson, Sexing the Cherry
Source Credits: Nick Rennison, Good Reading Guide: Discover Your Next Great Read, Bloomsbury Publishing, Seventh Edition