Book-reviewing the Fleet The Clerkenwell Tales, by Peter Ackroyd
The undisputed expert on all things Clerkenwell is historian Peter Ackroyd. If you thought I was obsessional about London, then you've not read any of his stuff (and you should). The ClerkenwellTales is the story of turbulent 14th century lives woven together at a time of mystery, prophecy and rebellion. Each chapter concentrates on a different character, echoing Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (and with some of the same characters). Prepare to meet a mad nun conceived on the dark banks of the Fleet, a secret quasi-religious organisation bent on carrying out dark deeds and several of the lowest members of medieval society. Ackroyd misses no opportunity to mention farts, belches and other animal smells, but then Ye Olde London always was a nasty and unsanitary place. This book appears to have been an excuse for Peter to write down every single fact he knows about London in 1399 in the disguise of a novel. That's not necessarily a bad thing, and your school history lessons might have been much more entertaining with Mr Ackroyd as a teacher, but sometimes excessive depth gets in the way of satisfactory breadth. I'm enjoying the book so far though, not least because my wanderings along the Fleet mean I know where most of it is set, and the story excellently illuminates of the minutiae of everyday life in London six centuries ago. [Read chapter one here] Clerkenwell maintains a literary tradition to this day, and if you're interested you might enjoy the annual literary festival (website here, blog here).