Peter Ackroyd is a phenomenon: he writes good books and he writes lots of them. A fervent Londoner, he has written some wonderful novels and many biographies, including Dickens, Chaucer and Blake (he specialises in Londoners). My favourite Peter Ackroyd book is the novel Hawksmoor which purports to be written by the architect Nicholas Hawksmoor who built churches with and alongside Christopher Wren (but Hawksmoor churches always contain something a little sinister). The novel is written in seventeenth century prose which is a little difficult for the first page but then you race along.
Thames Sacred River is also well written and has many points of interest. I was particularly interested because of my walk along the Thames from the Barrier upstream to Windsor (see pictures here). Otherwise I would have found it terribly heavy going.
Part of the problem is that I was much interested in the history of the communities alongside the Thames than in the sanctity of the river. Ackroyd goes overboard on the mystical communion between man and water citing Celtic deities to Stanley Spencer's paintings. There are many pages about these themes. Sometimes the work degenerates into lists such as the three pages of churches named for St Mary.
There are many points of interest in this book and Ackroyd's reading has clearly been immense but it is eclectic. The Hell Fire club receives about two sentences whilst Lewis Carroll's boat trip on the river recurs again and again. As a work of reference it is patchy and marred by its meandering organisation; I would rather have had a chapter on every town along the river or the material organised into centuries or something rather than this thematic approach: sacred river, river of trade, working river, stream of pleasure etc.
April 2009 447 pages
- Having reviewed over 1100 books on this blog, I have now written one myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. It is available on Kindle through Amazon. Read it and find out whether this critic can write. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57