1001 Group Read - January, 2013: Hawksmoor
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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?
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?
not one of my favourites.
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?
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.
If you've read Hawksmoor you get how this matters.
#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."