The Clerkenwell Tales - Peter Ackroyd

This story is situated in London in the 14th century. According to the introduction, the characters in this book are also to be found in The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. But to my shame I have not yet read this book, although it has been sitting on the shelf for some years now. Maybe a good book to read for the letter C of my abc-challenge... Maybe.

Why did I choose this book?
I like historical novels. I mostely read books set in the time of Henry VIII or Elizabeth I. But this time I decided to go even further back in time. Looking at all the authors starting with A in the library, this book first struck me because of its cover with medieval type pictures on it. Then I read it was about 14th century London, about the King and the church and a conspiracy with large consequences, and I was sold.

About the autor:
Peter Ackroyd is an English writer born in 1949. He has always shown a great interest in London. He started his career as a writer of poetry, but later moved on to writing fiction. His book Chatterton was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1987. He has also written non-fiction books for both adults and children and has been involved in television documentaries for the BBC.

The Story:
A nun, who has been born illegitimately under the convent of Clerkenwell, starts having visions about the downfall of King Richard II and of fire and death in London.
Then the sect of the Lollards sets about to bring fire and explosions to religious sites in London. What they don't know is that they are used by another group that wants to bring about the downfall of King Richard II and put Henry Bolingbroke on the throne.

Each chapter, like in the Canterbury Tales, is told from the perspective of a different person. This is a nice idea, although it does make things a bit complicated to follow, especially in the first few chapters.
I never really got into the story. All the time I was thinking; "when is it going to start?" Even when I was in the last few chapters. Some chapters were really good, making you think; this is it. But then the next chapter would be about something completely different and I would be thinking; "what has this got to do with the story?" There were a lot of characters, and it was hard to see the connection between some of them.
The story itself was rather complicated itself with one secret group of people infiltrating another secret group of people. The goal of the Lollards was rather obvious; to damage the Roman Catholic Church. But the goal of the other group was a bit confusing. They wanted to help Henry to the throne, but that seemed to be happening anyway. Richard has already abdicated before the plot is finished, so why go through all the trouble and risk of using the Lollards? I still don't understand.
What I did like about the book is that it paints a very good picture of medieval life. You can almost hear the sounds and smell the smells! There is a lot of detail about medieval costums; how people dressed, what medicines they used, how their churches were used, the way justice was served, etc. Which is nice, but at the same time diverts the attention from the main story.


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