The Clerkenwell Tales

The Clerkenwell Tales

by Peter Ackroyd
The Clerkenwell Tales

The story revolves around the apocalyptic prophesies of a mystical nun of Cleckenwell. A series of destructive events has the city on edge, leading many to see the nun as a visionary; others see her as simply mad.

It takes place in the deeply weird world of 1399 London. Tensions were already high because of Henry Bolingbroke’s invasion while Richard II was in Ireland and memories of Wat Tyler’s Rebellion still hung in the air. Although not directly mentioned in the book, this was a period of successive waves of plague that occurred after the Black Death that was itself the cause of much social and religious upheaval.

Successive layers of religious orders are at the heart of the mysteries including the Catholic Church itself, the Lollards, a group called Dominus and the most secret of all the “predestined men” who feel that they have transcended sin itself and may use any means including murder to justify their ends.

The filth, stench and compactness of the medieval world are brought forth though Ackroyd’s use of a rich template of archaic words, phrases and songs. He also paints an accurate picture of the layout of medieval London’s streets, walls and surrounding country side.

It’s a very enjoyable, tightly crafted book based loosely on the format of the Canterbury Tale’s - and even uses some of the same characters. The Author’s Tale, the final chapter of the book is a collection of extended end notes that provide a bit more detail of some of the subjects covered, including the fact that the basic outline of the story did in fact occur, and was only exposed through a letter discovered centuries later.

» Posted: Tuesday, February 15, 2005 | Permanent Link