13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Hornblower, Flashman, Sharpe, Gerard...Doctor Dee,
This review is from: The House of Doctor Dee (Paperback)
The author would probably be horribly offended to be compared to historical novelists like C S Forester, but at the end of this novel, that was what I felt I'd read.
Ackroyd is beyond brilliant at knocking out the prose of the past. The sixteenth-century tone of this is spot on - but when all's said and done, it still feels like a bit of schtick done in almost every book he's written.
What we have here is the usual Ackroyd formula of alternating narrators each chapter. The modern-day one goes through the plot feeling poetically ill, and dizzy, and hearing things, but not actually doing anything beyond reporting ghostly experiences in the alchemist's old house. He's there simply because the story requires things from the past to happen to someone - anyone - in the present, and he gets the short straw.
The main action is that set in the past, in which Doctor Dee is attempting to grow an immortal "homunculus", or artificial human, inside a glass tube. Given the past / present split and the two narrators, it seems fairly obvious who this eternal homunculus is going to turn out to be; so much so that the plot changes direction at the last moment, and more or less peters out, rather than resolving itself.
I'd love someone to tell me what this book is actually about. I've read it twice, perhaps three times over 15 years. It certainly isn't a bad book, nor is it ever boring; it's perhaps what Orwell called a "good bad book", meaning there's really nothing there but it still works as entertainment at least.
It's deeply atmospheric, and presents a cogent analysis of how an Elizabethan sage could possibly practise both mathematics and magic, and still somehow manage to hold both in equal intellectual regard. The thought one is left with seems simply to be that the present repeats and bleeds into the past; but really, if so - so what?
If you're new to Ackroyd, Dan Leno And The Limehouse Golem is a far better place to start - it's every bit as creepy and has a genuine murder mysery embedded in it, with a brilliant full-circle twist at the end. Doctor Dee, though, is "hardcore" Ackroyd, for the true devotee only.