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Hawksmoor combines a number of styles and time shifts to paint an unusual tale of the edge of sanity and the darkness that can be found or generated when one leans too far over to stare into the abyss. The detail of the narrative is intense and can transport anyone at all familiar with London to its very soul. That being said, the story feels almost like an avant garde experiment in prose that some may find difficult to follow in spots and the historical alterations may be hard to understand. Everything knits together in the end but the reader must be prepared to elaborate the reality, or lack thereof, for themselves
15 of 15 people found this review helpful
Hawksmoor appeared on my Audible search results for a mystery. I was intrigued by a NY Times review which said that "this was a novel primarily of ideas", specifically a contrast between the superstitious and mystical beliefs of an earlier time and those coming of age in the 18th century dealing with the "new science of rationalism and experimental method" which "will eventually eradicate superstition". I did not really find much evidence of this debate in the novel. Instead, it seems preoccupied with the debased nature of mankind. Much of the text takes place inside the minds of the two main characters, Nicholas Dyer, a fictional version of the eponymous real life architect, Nicholas Hawksmore and the modern detective, recursively named Nicholas Hawksmore, who is investigating a series of child murders in London. The action takes place in the area of seven churches built by the real architect Hawksmore whose devotion to Christianity is called into question by the numerous pagan symbols he used to decorate his churches. This much is actually true and does add a note of interest to the text.
The internal musings of these two characters borders on the paranoid and the delusional. I am not especially drawn to this type of study of the human psyche, with characters speaking internally in an overheated emotional and irrational way, all the while afraid that their irrationality and indeed criminal nature is about to be discovered.
I found much of the work repetitious, especially so because the author chose the rather gimmicky device of repeating many of the thoughts and actions of the characters whose lives are separated by some 300 years to create a supernatural aura over his tale. And yet without the atmosphere created by this echo down the centuries, the book would lose much of its interest entirely. One saving grace was to be able to play the reading at 1.5x or even 2.0x time; if I were reading the book, I would have had to skim large sections too.
This is not to say that there are not entertaining moments, but they are few and far between. Even the brilliant acting of Derek Jacobi could not redeem this work for me.
16 of 18 people found this review helpful
I first read this book well over twenty years ago and immediately identified with Peter Ackroyd’s vison of London as being a place with a unique arcane character. Living in London's East end (having moved down from up North) I was immediately struck by the curiously elegant Hawksmoor churches that stood out brilliantly against the decay and grime of the City's edge and I often wondered if there was something behind their strange otherness. This is beautifully addressed in this novel where the author tells us about the building of the churches and mixes historical facts with a fictional story of mystery, arch villainy and magic. Here the architect is Nicholas Dyer; a man on one hand is firmly rooted in reality and with a very human and petty sense a rivalry with Sir Christopher Wren. In contrast he harbours dark and murderous secrets and beliefs that belong in the world of paganism and devil worship. The historical story is interlaced with the tale of the modern day Nicholas Hawksmoor who is a detective investigating a series of murders centred on the Hawksmoor churches and seems to have a link with the erstwhile Mr Dyer. This is a book that is difficult to describe but for those who enjoy chilling, imaginative and innovative fiction it is a wonderfully atmospheric experience which will entice you to find out more about London’s incredible history.
I think on balance I enjoyed reading the book more than listening, but I really liked Derek Jacobi's performance and in particular his interpretation of Nicholas Dyer which very neatly avoided the obvious temptation to make him sound too much like a pantomime villain. As an aside, if you want an easier introduction into Peter Ackroyd’s fiction, I recommend Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem and I think from that you could very easily develop an addiction to this very special author.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
One of the strangest and yet most compelling books I've listened to. About 45 minutes into this, I thought I would have to abandon it because the story seemed to be going nowhere. It was only the love of Sir Derek Jacobi's voice which kept me listening. And then I "got it". Well, sort of got it!. If you are expecting a conventional murder mystery, this is not it. The beauty of the book lays in the manipulation of words and images far more than it does the plot. I do not think I could read the print version of this, for me it only works because of Jacobi, I truly think he is the only actor who could narrate this. The speed, clarity and dexterity of his delivery is awesome. I shall listen to this one again, not for the story but for the comforting feeling of listening to well-written English prose read by one of the best actors ever.
9 of 10 people found this review helpful
Dark and mysterious, like nothing i've read before. The language captures an essense of London. However, the characters are so superficial, i felt apathetic for most of the book.
Although a certain apathy fits well with the theme i prefer and will remember a book longer when i am more involved.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful