Sunday, November 20, 2011

446. Hawksmoor – Peter Ackroyd

History: This book was written in 1985. It is a work of fiction, but is set in the Spitalfields area of London, and features several churches in the area and adjacent, including: Christ Church, Spitalfields, St. Mary Woolnoth, St George in the East and St Anne's Limehouse.
Nicholas Dyer is a fictional reworking of the real seventeenth century architect Nicholas Hawksmoor, who bears the same name as the modern-day detective.
Plot: Set in the late seventeenth century, architect Nicholas Dyer is progressing work on several churches in London's East End. He is, however, involved in Satanic practices (something inculcated in him as an orphan), a fact which he must keep secret from all his associates, including his supervisor Sir Christopher Wren. This is all the more challenging since he indulges in human sacrifice as part of the construction of the buildings. Dyer's simmering contempt for Wren is brought closest to the surface in discussions they have concerning rationalism versus Dyer's own carefully disguised brand of mysticism.
In the twentieth century, DCS Nicholas Hawksmoor is called in to investigate a bizarre series of murders by strangulation which have occurred in and around the churches designed by Dyer. The murders are all the more mystifying since the murderer appeared to have left no identifying traces, not even fingerprints on the victims' necks.
However the area is stalked by mysterious shadows, and it becomes clear that not only the weight of the investigation, but unseen forces from the past come to bear on Hawksmoor in a powerful, destructive manner.
Review: Much of the novel is concerned with the disconnect between the twentieth-century London of DCS Hawksmoor and its past, with Dyer's churches being both banal and mysterious to Hawksmoor. Wren's rationalism has succeeded in Hawksmoor's world, but we see Dyer's mysticism reassert itself in the form of murder and mystery. One critic has argued that Dyer's churches come to stand for the persistence of popular history and culture, in opposition to Wren's devotion to a rational progress driven by power and money
Opening Line: “And so let us beginne; and, as the Fabrick takes its Shape in front of you, alwaies keep the Structure interely in Mind as you inscribe it.”
Closing Line: “And then in my dream I looked down at myself and saw in what rags I stood; and I am a child again, begging on the threshold of eternity.”
Quotes: ''I like to make Merry among the Fallen and there is pleasure to be had in the Observation of the Deformity of Things,''
Rating: Not good.

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