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
After having returned from the past and explained the mysteries of Mouldwarp Plato faces his trial for misleading the young and lying but fights his corner in a bid to keep a hold on his sanity and his position
Highlights from pages 110 – 139
* Plato starts arguing with the guardians of the city and as he argues he is feeling his way round what he has discovered and he frustrates those trying to pin him down to some sort of admission of guilt
* Plato’s old friends despair about his slip into trouble and wonder if he has gone mad, a likely outcome after Plato starts talking about communicating with his soul, but hope that he will come through unscathed
* The guardians ask the citizens of London to make a judgement and they clear Plato of the charges but in response he demands that he been thrown into exile and as he is leaving hints that he believes that they are the founding fathers of Mouldwarp, a point completely lost on his old friend
Review will come in the next couple of days…
Things change dramatically for Plato but the outcome is not too good landing him in trouble with the authorities.
Highlights from pages 86 – 110
* Plato discovers that the inhabitants of Mouldwarp still exist in a cave under the City with the roof of the cave covered in stars, the limits of their perception, and he discovers that a lot of what he assumed is wrong
* He comes back and starts talking about what he discovered wearing a watch and rolling a dice for example but that soon lands him in trouble and he is put under trial for spreading fear and deceit
* In his trial Plato argues that he has not called on anyone to reject the principles of society but has discovered the joy of stumbling on individualism but his defence appears to be rejected and he is accused of going against “the way” and disturbing people, particularly children
Final instalment lunchtime tomorrow…
As more relics from the past are found the uncertainty in Plato increases as he doubts he is giving a true reflection of what happened in the past. Meanwhile the almost comical presumptions continue as Plato tries to fill in the blanks of an unknown past.
Highlights between pages 52 – 86
* Plato talks to his audience about what happened when the age of Mouldwarp ended and the age of Witspell began with a return of unicorns, pixies and Atlantis, which had all been hidden by the collective consciousness of the Mouldwarp population
* He then continues the dialogue with his should trying to ascertain whether or not the vision of the past he is painting is correct but his should is not prepared to be drawn on the subject
* The subject of his public lectures then returns to Mouldwarp and he extrapolates based on a film poster found on the South Bank advertising a Hitchcock film and so you get moments when he describes those in a pub worshiping the fire god by putting lit sticks in their mouths (cigarettes)
* But the doubts continue and he questions his soul again who announces that he will leave Plato to discover the truth but warns him that perhaps he has been used to keep the population content regardless of the truth of his proclamations
* Plato then starts to see visions of the past and tells his friend that he is going on a journey
Plato starts to weave his way through more of the history of our age as he explains to his audience how primitive we all were.
Bullet points between pages 30 – 52
* The main way you discover what Plato is thinking is through a dialogue he has with his soul which reveals that he was chosen to be the orator on history because he had the ability to make people feel comfortable with the past
* Most of the interest in the past has to be substantiated with supporting discoveries so he tells the story of Orpheus and his trip into Hades and mentions that some of the remains of Hades have been found
* Plato then tells of the end of the Mouldwarp era as they discovered that the night sky was a creation of their own perception and the people panicked and smashed up the machines that underpinned the system
* But you sense Plato has doubts about his version of the past because he asks his soul if the versions of history he has been sharing are correct
I have read a few book by Peter Ackroyd with his biography of London being one of the most enjoyable. Like his other fiction this is based on a knowledge of London that can often become a character in its own right. This is slightly different from some of the books I have read before because it is set in the future rather than the past.
Highlights from pages 1 – 30
* Before the book even starts there are quotes taken from various fictional sources in the years 3000 plus to indicate that there is a great deal of soul searching going on in the present, which is defined as from the year 3700 onwards
* You are introduced to a few characters who are discussing Plato’s speeches on the age of Mouldwarp – the current era – mocking some of the beliefs that were held in Victorian times and by our generation still
* Everything is mixed up though: Plato of course is not a figure from London’s history, he describes Origin of the Species as a comic book by Charles Dickens and then there are entries from his glossary of terms that at first seem comically wide of the mark but at the same time are a comment on perhaps our own stupidity?
“Literature: a word of unknown provenance, generally attributed to ‘litter’ or waste.”
* Plato seems to be seen as someone who can hold the answers and keep the city as a source of protection for its inhabitants and whenever relics of the past are found he is the one people go to for an explanation