Category: Romance, Sagas & Historical / General
Publication date: 1 April 2004
Number of pages: 224
The scene is London, in 1399. It is the last year of the fourteenth century, and there is talk of an apocalypse. Richard II is on the throne, yet strange signs and portents are troubling the latter part of his reign. By the side of the River Fleet in Clerkenwell the people are restless, disenchanted with the church and their King. The streets of London are rife with rumour, heresy, espionage and murder and at the centre of the confusion is the nun, Sister Clarice, who has been vouchsafed visions of the future. Is she a genuine prophet, or the tool of earthly powers? This is a story of adventure and suspense set in the late medieval world. As in many of Peter Ackroyd's novels the distant past is no longer a foreign country but something alarmingly close and authentic. As one critic has put it, 'he is our age's greatest London imagination'.
It is 1399 and England is a hotbed of conspiracy and unrest: King Richard has snatched the throne and the Lancastrian legacy and consigned Henry to perpetual banishment. Various factions meet and plot in corners and the church is at the very heart of the matter: Sister Clarice, a nun at the House of St Mary at Clerkenwell, babbles of death and destruction, and foresees the overthrow of Richard II. Some conspirators, such as the Dominus group, seize on the confusion her prophecies arouse in the people to fan the unrest, hoping to challenge the bishops and even the pope himself and bring about the destruction of the king whose depredations are threatening their land and their wealth. As ever, money and the church are inextricably linked. No one knows more about London than novelist and historian Peter Ackroyd, and this novel is resonant with the copious research that informed his 'biography' of London. Here he chooses Chaucer's Canterbury Tales as the framework for his tale, with each chapter given over to a 'pilgrim' though few of them share even a notional common purpose. Ackroyd has a confident but subtle touch when it comes to using his vast wealth of knowledge, and his occasionally ironic touch pays tribute to the source of his inspiration:('April was the month, too, when folk longed to go on pilgrimages'). We learn of the Lollards, the debate that raged over transubstantiation and predestination; we see the physician inspect the eyes of a corpse hoping to find the image of its murderer; we enter taverns under Ackroyd's guidance, and walk the streets of his beloved London with him. He has managed to combine a mediaeval murder mystery with a compelling portrait of a London in turmoil brought vividly to life. (Kirkus UK)
What the papers say:
"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
Peter Ackroyd has written acclaimed biographies of Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, Charles Dickens, William Blake, Shakespeare, Thomas More and, most recently, Wilkie Collins, as well as short books about Chaucer, J.M.W. Turner, Isaac Newton and Edgar Allen Poe. A bestselling biographer, historian, novelist and broadcaster, he holds a CBE for services to literature. He is the author of London: The Biography and Thames: Sacred River, and lives in London.
In Stock: 11 copies