Peter Ackroyd’s The Clerkenwell Tales (2005)


Peter Ackroyd, bestselling author of London: The Biography and Albion: The Origins of the English Imagination (as well as dozens of other fiction and nonfiction titles) offers readers a wonderful book in The Clerkenwell Tales.

This mind-boggling mixture of fact and fiction uses Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales as the foundational framework for an intellectual story of political and religious intrigues in medieval fourteenth-century England. Using many of Chaucer’s pilgrims as his characters for this fascinating adventure, with quite a few others thrown in to make it all even more interesting, Ackroyd  creates a riveting story. Readers will become reacquainted with Chaucer’s wonderful pilgrims. The Miller is there. So is the Wife of Bath. And in addition to the Prioress, the Pardoner, and the Nun’s Priest, readers will encounter dozens of Chaucer’s (and Ackroyd’s) characters in new and surprising situations.

As we are introduced to each character in his or her own chapter (twenty-three, in all), we learn that conspiracies of unimaginable complexity and profound implications abound in England. Opponents and supporters of the monarch (King Richard II), the exiled Henry Bolingbroke, the Church, and other secular as well as non-secular interests are moving through the dangerous medieval streets of London. Strange alliances are embroiled against each other in a number of clandestine, mysterious conflicts. They hope to wrest power from each other and assert themselves and their causes as powers throughout England.

Full of wonderful imagery – pungent, disturbing, and staggering in its scope and detail – The Clerkenwell Tales is a suspense-filled tale with an amazing plot and provocative themes. Paradoxically, while very entertaining and informative, it is also rather demanding at times because of the profusion of cultural and historical details, and readers – if at all like me – will constantly (albeit enjoyably) get distracted by the urgent need to seek out explanations for those arcane details from other research sources.

Just as readers, upon first encountering Chaucer, were entertained and informed by his representation of medieval England, readers now – once they have read The Clerkenwell Tales – will have a new perspective, and will never again think of Chaucer or pre-Renaissance England in quite the same way. This book is history with a wonderful twist. It is unforgettable.


Find the original version of this review and many other book reviews at BookLoons via this link.



3 thoughts on “Peter Ackroyd’s The Clerkenwell Tales (2005)

  1. i liked the original Canterbury Tales quite a bit once i got used to the language… and i’ve seen this advertised for years; i hope to read it before too long…


    1. I’ve read a few books by Ackroyd….always good writing ….. my future review postings may include repeats from earlier blog efforts … I hope you will forgive the annoying redundancies…..


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s