1001 Group Read - January, 2013: Hawksmoor

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1001 Group Read - January, 2013: Hawksmoor

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1george1295
jan 2, 2013, 9:34am

Happy New Year to everyone! I hope you enjoy this month's group read.

Here's a question you might like to chew on. Why do you think the author put himself in the first person singular (ie. Nicholas Dyer) in the novel rather than one of the other characthers?

2arukiyomi
jan 2, 2013, 2:09pm

I'll take a stab at this one George: Is it because Ackroyd is dire?

3george1295
jan 3, 2013, 8:50am

That could be, but I don't know him personally.

4JonnySaunders
Redigeret: jan 3, 2013, 3:52pm

Hmmm, as I said over on my progress thread my first reaction when I read the last paragraph was that I didn't get it! I was foolishly drawn into the idea of it being a standard detective story so the resulting climax totally blind sided me. I enjoyed the ride very much up to that point, and haven't really stopped thinking about it since, so all in all a positive experience!

To have a clumsy attempt at your question george, I would say that perhaps that one of the more effective aspects of the novel was the use of archaic and quirky language to make a clear distinction between the 2 "Hawksmoor" characters. This use of language was only really possible in the form of a first person diary entry, or memoir. Since the narrators were describing identical places and comparable activities, the differing languages helped to create 2 different mental landscapes (for me anyway!). This first person/third person dialogue created enough distinction for me between the 2 stories to allow the obvious parallels to be very striking, and not confuse the reader too much!

And of course it allowed for the set piece final paragraph!

I would be interested to know if anyone had any thought about the high number of references to Dust?

5george1295
jan 4, 2013, 9:54am

I'll take a crack at your dust question. According to the Bible, dust is the final condition of the human body. I believe that the references to dust may have been used as a method of continually reminding the reader that this story focused on death. You may also have noticed that there are many references to spiders and insects. This is symbolic of the witch/wicken aspect of the story.

6george1295
jan 7, 2013, 12:38pm

How realistic was the characterization? Would you want to meet any of the characters? Did you like them? Hate them?

7annamorphic
jan 7, 2013, 4:37pm

This is a pretty amazing book so far (25 pages). I was completely not expecting the weird satanic religious turn after the plague... The early 18th-century style writing captivates me and the counter-historical story puzzles me. Ackroyd himself seems like a fascinating character and I can see ways that his background (poor, gay), development (Cambridge, Yale), and intellectual passion (history of London) will all inform this book in different ways. Excited to keep reading. Thanks to whomever nominated this one!!

8arukiyomi
jan 8, 2013, 7:09pm

my review from when I read it back in 2008:

http://johnandsheena.co.uk/books/?p=144

not one of my favourites.

9socialpages
jan 8, 2013, 9:10pm

Your review made me laugh.... loved the comment you made about Ackroyd's dinner getting cold so he had to finish the book in a hurry.

The writing style as shown in the first & last lines you quote is really fascinating. Is the book written completely in early English? Does it make it harder to read and comprehend?

10annamorphic
jan 11, 2013, 8:03pm

The visit to Stonehenge was worth the bother of reading the rest of the book.
I actually like the language and the sense of the bizarre mind of an architect. His life story is strangely plausible, too. But the eerie creepy side of the book completely puts me off.

11george1295
jan 11, 2013, 9:11pm

Anna, I agree fully. The part I liked least was the murders of the children. Just couldn't get my head around that.

12amerynth
jan 13, 2013, 8:34am

I finished the book today and really didn't like it at all. I admired Ackroyd's use of voice and his creation of 18th century London, but that was really all I liked about it. I felt like he was just too bogged down in little details and trying to make the story as obscure as possible and the overall story never really came together for me.

13arukiyomi
jan 14, 2013, 5:21pm

no, it's not completely in 17th c English, but a lot of the dialogue is, if I recall correctly.

14annamorphic
jan 17, 2013, 5:00pm

I'm about 3/4 of the way through this now and it's both brilliant and incredibly disturbing. The modern part is much less satisfactory than the 18th-century part and I'm trying to figure out why Ackroyd bothered with it. I suppose it's a way of saying that although the Enlightenment values of "Chris." and his friends are the ones we think of as having won out and formed modern civilization, the darkness of Nick's disturbed certainties was never so easy to dismiss. I'm reading now the debate between Nick and Wren -- the Royal Academy scene -- and, again, it's just amazing. This clash of the old (and even the ancient, the pre-Roman) and the new and logical. I hate being inside of Nick's head but it's also great writing, an unsettling success.

15annamorphic
jan 23, 2013, 5:20pm

Finished this a couple of days ago and posted a review on my own thread. But I had a thought about the book today in terms of Ackroyd's odd balance between the real, the plausible, and the invented. His Dyer builds seven churches whereas the real 18th-century architect Nicholas Hawksmoor only built six. The one that was not really built is Dyer's "Little Saint Hugh." A great name, sounds so genuine, but what it refers to is St. Hugh of Lincoln, known from an early folksong as "Little Sir Hugh." An innocent, saintly young child, he was murdered by members of a terrible cult (the Jews, back in the Middle Ages) who drained the blood from his body and threw it down a deep well -- whence it miraculously cried out until it was found.
If you've read Hawksmoor you get how this matters.
Brilliant.

16JonnySaunders
jan 24, 2013, 5:33am

That's a lovely little detail, anna. Thanks for bringing it to our attention!

17george1295
jan 24, 2013, 9:18am

#15 - Wow!! Whoda thunk! As I read the book, I had a feeling there was some signifigance behind there being 7 churches. I tried to think how it might relate to the number 7 in the Christian religion, which according to numeroligy is one of the numbers of perfection/completion, and how that might be a twisted symbol in Dyer's demonic world.

18Nickelini
aug 8, 2013, 3:05pm

I'm happy this thread exists. Even though I couldn't participate in the group read, it's here to help later readers. I just finished this book and have mixed feelings about it, but I do think it was clever. Not a particularly enjoyable read for me, other than the references to places I was seeing on my trip to London. The Limehouse area, and particularly Narrow Street and Shoulder-of-Mutton Alley that Ned walk down in chapter 4, are unrecognizable. In the novel it is an area of abandoned warehouses and derelict houses, and now these streets are lined with million-pound condos and gastro-pubs run by Gordon Ramsey and Ian McKellen.

#15 - His Dyer builds seven churches whereas the real 18th-century architect Nicholas Hawksmoor only built six. The one that was not really built is Dyer's "Little Saint Hugh." A great name, sounds so genuine, but what it refers to is St. Hugh of Lincoln, known from an early folksong as "Little Sir Hugh." An innocent, saintly young child, he was murdered by members of a terrible cult (the Jews, back in the Middle Ages) who drained the blood from his body and threw it down a deep well -- whence it miraculously cried out until it was found. If you've read Hawksmoor you get how this matters.

Annamorphic, thanks for sharing that detail. It fits perfectly--I remember the story of Little Saint Hugh from when I studied Chaucer. Ackroyd wrote a biography on Geoffrey Chaucer. I always enjoy that sort of intertextuality. I think this novel is full of it, although most of it probably went right over my head.

Wikipedia actually has an excellent article on this novel that I found very helpful. I appreciated this quotation that they used:

Peter Ackroyd himself is a harsh critic of his novel:

"I certainly haven’t looked at Hawksmoor again, I wouldn’t dare; I’m so aware of all the weaknesses in it, it’s an embarrassment. ... The modern sections are weak, not in terms of language, but weak in terms of those old-fashioned characteristics of plot, action, character, story; they are rather sketches, or scenarios, and that rather disappoints me about it. But at the time I didn’t know anything about writing fiction, so I just went ahead and did it. It’s only recently I’ve come to realize you’re meant to have plots and stories and so on. (Nicholas Dyer’s voice is) strong, but in part it is a patchwork of other people’s voices as well as my own. Actually it’s not really strong at all ... but what it is, is an echo from about three hundred different books as well as my own. He doesn’t really exist as a character—he’s just a little patchwork figure, like his author. ... You see, I was very young then and I didn’t realize that people had to have definite characters when they appeared in fiction. I saw it as a sort of linguistic exercise; it never occurred to me that they had to have a life beyond words."