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Make the music mute

John Barrell, 9 July 1992

English Music 
by Peter Ackroyd.
Hamish Hamilton, 400 pp., £14.99, May 1992, 0 241 12501 4
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... Peter Ackroyd’s new novel is partly a narrative, partly a series of rhapsodies and meditations on the nature of English culture, written in the styles of various great authors. It is an important and a depressing book, its importance more or less in direct proportion to the depth of the gloom it sheds. With luck we may one day look back on it as the last ‘English’ novel ...


Sean French: Fortress Wapping, 6 March 1986

... off the number 46 bus expecting to be greeted on the front steps of the Sunday Times building by Peter Roberts, the Managing Editor, dispensing dismissal notices like handbills. Everything seems quite normal, however, though the building is thinly populated. I meet one friend who tells me that he has lived through the worst night of his life but has opted ...

Homage to Ezra Pound

C.K. Stead, 19 March 1981

The Poetic Achievement of Ezra Pound 
by Michael Alexander.
Faber, 247 pp., £7.95, April 1979, 0 571 10560 2
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Ezra Pound and the Pisan Cantos 
by Anthony Woodward.
Routledge, 128 pp., £7.95, April 1980, 0 7100 0372 2
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Ezra Pound and the Cantos: A Record of Struggle 
by Wendy Stallard Flory.
Yale, 321 pp., £12.60, July 1980, 0 300 02392 8
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Ezra Pound and His World 
by Peter Ackroyd.
Thames and Hudson, 127 pp., £5.95, February 1981, 0 500 13069 8
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End to Torment: A Memoir of Ezra Pound with Poems from Ezra Pound’s H.D. Book 
edited by Norman Holmes Pearson and Michael King.
Carcanet, 84 pp., £2.95, February 1980, 0 85635 318 3
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... all the poetry. None of these books has the scope or importance of Hugh Kenner’s The Pound Era. Peter Ackroyd’s Ezra Pound and His World brings together 111 photographs, drawings and other illustrations and offers a linking text summarising the poet’s life and literary career. The biography – inevitably, I suppose – draws heavily on the work of ...


Iain Sinclair: The Thames, 25 June 2009

Thames: Sacred River 
by Peter Ackroyd.
Vintage, 608 pp., £14.99, August 2008, 978 0 09 942255 6
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... landscape at the mouth of the Thames Estuary. I should be out there now. I have been brooding on Peter Ackroyd’s notion that the Thames is a river like the Ganges or the Jordan, a place of pilgrimage, a source of spiritual renewal. ‘The river itself becomes a tremulous deity,’ he asserts. I carried Ackroyd’s ...


Frank Kermode, 27 July 1989

The Pleasures of Peace: Art and Imagination in Post-War Britain 
by Bryan Appleyard.
Faber, 367 pp., £12.99, June 1989, 0 571 13722 9
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... the rejection of Modernism, ‘the impoverishment of national culture’, as the admired Peter Ackroyd calls it, dominate the final section. But the period has its heroes, and Appleyard’s choices of hero seem to coincide with those of Ackroyd: they are J.H. Prynne, ‘the most comprehensively gifted of ...


Graham Coster: Crop Circles, 28 September 1989

... celebrated painting ‘Solstice of the Sunflower’ currently prominent on the jacket of the new Peter Ackroyd novel itself perhaps not unconnectedly both published at this very time and much preoccupied with the notion of co-terminous strata of existence from the Neolithic period to our own features a perfect catherine-wheel-configured crop circle ...

Silly Willy

Jonathan Bate, 25 April 1991

William Blake: His Life 
by James King.
Weidenfeld, 263 pp., £25, March 1991, 0 297 81160 6
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... manufactured a French infiltrator called Spy Nozy. How, then, should a Life of Blake be written? Peter Ackroyd is having a go at one, and I suspect that what attracts him is Blake’s London, for which King has very little feeling. The poetry is crowded with London voices and London places. I remember my delight as a student when a supervisor remarked ...

The Cadaver Club

Iain Sinclair, 22 December 1994

Original Sin 
by P.D. James.
Faber, 426 pp., £14.99, October 1994, 0 571 17253 9
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Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem 
by Peter Ackroyd.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 282 pp., £14.99, September 1994, 1 85619 507 4
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The Hidden Files: An Autobiography 
by Derek Raymond.
Warner, 342 pp., £5.99, December 1994, 0 7515 1184 6
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Not till the Red Fog Rises 
by Derek Raymond.
Little, Brown, 248 pp., £15.99, December 1994, 0 316 91014 7
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... watch it, will find himself taken up by the Modern Painters crowd, the disciples of the late Peter Fuller. As a high-profile poet with atrophied tastes, he can expect a commission to do something tasteful on Glynn Williams. The Commander has become the ashy residue of Neo-Romanticism, out there in the Fens, a John Piper with backbone, silhouetted against ...

Vermin Correspondence

Iain Sinclair, 20 October 1994

Frank Zappa: The Negative Dialectics of Poodle Play 
by Ben Watson.
Quartet, 597 pp., £25, May 1994, 0 7043 7066 2
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Her Weasels Wild Returning 
by J.H. Prynne.
Equipage, 12 pp., £2, May 1994
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... Strong) to put enough of a dent in multinational budgets to command serious media attention was Peter Ackroyd, a meticulously re-invented Man of Letters. The others, until Ben Watson elbowed his way onto the scene, have had to settle for a succès d’estime, quasi-academic projects with spin (such as the provocative series edited by Denise Riley for ...

The Great Dissembler

James Wood: Thomas More’s Bad Character, 16 April 1998

The Life of Thomas More 
by Peter Ackroyd.
Chatto, 435 pp., £20, March 1998, 1 85619 711 5
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... a secular one, and represents nothing more than the religious yearning of a non-religious age. Peter Ackroyd’s dignified, often eloquent biography offers a picture of More which is a combination of Catholic admiration and scholarly determinism. Ackroyd has soaked himself in late medieval history; happily, he does ...

Hiatus at 4 a.m.

David Trotter: What scared Hitchcock?, 4 June 2015

Alfred Hitchcock 
by Peter Ackroyd.
Chatto, 279 pp., £12.99, April 2015, 978 0 7011 6993 0
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Alfred Hitchcock: The Man Who Knew Too Much 
by Michael Wood.
New Harvest, 129 pp., £15, March 2015, 978 1 4778 0134 5
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Hitchcock à la carte 
by Jan Olsson.
Duke, 261 pp., £16.99, March 2015, 978 0 8223 5804 6
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Hitchcock on Hitchcock: Selected Writings and Interviews, Vol. II 
edited by Sidney Gottlieb.
California, 274 pp., £24.95, February 2015, 978 0 520 27960 5
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... fear, but supplies little by way of evidence of its ultimate cause, and draws no conclusions. Peter Ackroyd, however, is firmly of the Truffaut school. His Hitchcock trembles from the outset: ‘Fear fell upon him in early life.’ At the age of four (or 11, or …), his father had him locked up for a few minutes in a police cell, an episode that ...

Exit Humbug

David Edgar: Theatrical Families, 1 January 2009

A Strange Eventful History: The Dramatic Lives of Ellen Terry, Henry Irving and Their Remarkable Families 
by Michael Holroyd.
Chatto, 620 pp., £25, September 2008, 978 0 7011 7987 8
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... and concluding that it could go either way. Formally, too, he errs on the side of prudence. Unlike Peter Ackroyd, Holroyd doesn’t insert fictional passages; nor does he emulate Edmund Morris’s insertion of himself – as a schoolboy – into a life of Ronald Reagan. But he’s there nonetheless. It’s been possible to detect Holroyd’s presence in ...


Andrew O’Hagan: A City of Prose, 4 August 2005

... House, with characters who struggled to agree about how to live in the world and what to believe. Peter Ackroyd provides a nice picture of the novelist in the agonies of trying to complete his new house, sitting disconsolately on a stepladder while ‘Irish labourers stare in through the very slates.’ A later visitor, Hans Christian Andersen, saw a ...
... think I don’t need to. My first reading, before any reviews appeared, concurs with what I took Peter Ackroyd to be saying on Kaleidoscope, that the bulk of the narrative can be read and enjoyed in a moderately literal way as a mystery story set in London, even though the mystery turns out to be not soluble at this level. My second reading was helped ...

Saints on Sundays, Devils All the Week After

Patrick Collinson: London Burnings, 19 September 2002

The Antichrist’s Lewd Hat: Protestants, Papists and Players in Post-Reformation England 
by Peter Lake and Michael Questier.
Yale, 731 pp., £30, February 2002, 0 300 08884 1
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... Dryasdust has had his day and good riddance. Don’t be deceived by the slick subtitles, however. Peter Lake knows more than anyone else about the religious culture of the secondary and tertiary stages of the English Reformation. This is not only a book of dazzling brilliance and acute intelligence, it has many important things to say about the ...

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