Saturday, March 07, 2009

Chaucer, by Peter Ackroyd


I have just been reading through the list of author’s works provided in Peter Ackroyd’s ‘brief lives’ biography of Geoffrey Chaucer. I could certainly remember his enjoyable novel The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde, but was certain I had read something else by him. Ah-hah. It was his biography of Charles Dickens. To tell the truth, it was a truncated version I read that ran to some 500 pages. The memory of those two enjoyable reads probably spurred me to pick this short biography up off the library shelf as a sort of ‘interlude read’, something to keep me busy whilst I had run out of things to read.
I’ve long been a fan of Chaucer, especially his amazing Wife of Bath. I agree with critic Harold Bloom that a lot of his characters are pre-Shakespearian in their three dimensionality (is ‘dimensionality’ a word? My spell check did not reject it so I’m keeping it.)

In this book the prolific author Peter Ackroyd marshals his considerable erudition on the subjects of London and poetry to give us a kind of essay, history, biography and all round appreciation of the life and work of Chaucer.

It’s all good as far as it goes, but I found there was something a little bit missing. Ackroyd goes from one topic to the next, from England in the fourteenth century to critical discussions of Chaucer's poetry, and in the deft skips the author took from one biographical aspect to another, I found myself falling through the cracks.

I should perhaps here admit that my attention did waver, and so the fault may lie more with this reader than the writer. I guess what I’m saying is that I found some parts of the book a bit obtuse, like they’d been written with a more specialist audience in mind.

My favourite parts were the descriptions of England in Chaucer’s day, which I found fascinating.

If anything, it’s made me want to read his biography of London.

This book however, I’m sorry to say, I found a little dull.

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