Monday, 3 December 2007

The House of Doctor Dee - Peter Ackroyd

Man wanders round London a bit, has visions, and solves a riddle or two. It could be any Ackroyd book. But whilst not much happens in an Ackroyd book in a physical sense, he manages to treat his explorations of the psychogeography of London as if they were action.

I am a sucker for Ackroyd’s work as it mirrors my own interests and increases my understanding of those things. It is sometimes difficult to remember they are fiction (and given the truth of some of his subjects, one does at times wonder why he feels the need to invent – vide The Lambs of London).

And this is where my question about Doctor Dee lies. There is an incident in the book, albeit brief, that seemed to me to be there for no good reason other than to shock the reader. Perhaps it had some abstruse alchemical symbolism, but if that was the case it was never drawn upon or developed. Indeed, it seemed a flash of cruelty for the sake of cruelty and it nearly made me give up on the book. I persisted to see if the wanton destruction of an animal led somewhere. It did not.

I do not object to violence in books, any more than I object to sex or any other ‘contentious’ content. That is, I do not object to it if is essential to the work and serves a purpose other than titillation. Otherwise, like any other story element, if it does not serve to further the story, it should be removed as it is bad writing. This is not normally something of which Peter Ackroyd can be accused. I believe that in this instance it is.