I have read a few books by Peter Ackroyd – London: A biography, Hawksmoor and The Clerkenwell Tales – and all share this sort of mystical knowledge of London that you find in just a small handful of writers including Iain Sinclair and Michael Moorcock. It makes reading the books a challenge because time is warped, locations are layered and sometimes the obvious can be inverted to make you think.
You know what type of book you are dealing with based on the cover image, which I am sure is upside down because it looks like tunnel lighting in a tube station
The location is London but the date is 1,000 years plus into the future and our era, known as the age of Mouldwarp, is the stuff of history lessons given by the town’s orator Plato. In a series of orations Plato starts to have doubts that his view of the past is actually right and after questioning his soul is given an opportunity to travel into a cave and find the remnants of the Mouldwarp people living under the city. His discovery lands him in trouble with the authorities and after clearing his name he decides to embrace self imposed exile after getting a glimpse of the truth that his forefathers created Mouldwarp.
Is it well written?
It is not always obvious what is going on and there is a certain level of knowledge of London’s geography and past that is needed to get a feel for the place but it is possible to follow the main story of Plato and his discovery of the truth. It is written by someone who knows they are supremely clever, know their subject inside out and can make jokes, that sometimes feel they are being made at the expense of the reader. Coming to the end of the book I felt, just as London has its different layers so did this book and I missed out on some of them completely.
Should it be read?
For those who love history there is a warning here about interpreting the past and most of Plato’s mistakes are made because he has a fragment on the past and then builds assumptions around it that seem logical but of course are far of the mark. It makes you think about how future generations will view our time and what assumptions they will make about us.
Version read: Vintage paperback