The Clerkenwell Tales
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The Clerkenwell Tales

3.24 of 5 stars 3.24  ·  rating details  ·  414 ratings  ·  46 reviews
From the foremost contemporary chronicler of London’s history, a suspenseful novel that ingeniously draws on Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales to recreate the city’s 14th century religious and political intrigues. London, 1399. Sister Clarice, a nun born below Clerkenwell convent, is predicting the death of King Richard II and the demise of the Church. Her visions can be dism...more
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Published November 8th 2005 by Anchor (first published 2003)
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Shovelmonkey1
Jan 20, 2013 Shovelmonkey1 rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: die hard ackroyd fans
I've read a lot of Peter Ackroyd books since I was introduced to him via what is in my opinion one of his best books - Hawksmoor which is included on the 1001 books list. I heart <3 you 1001 books list!

The Clerkenwell Tales is slightly heavier on the brain and eyeballs than his other work including Hawksmoor and The Trial of Elizabeth Cree aka Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem and if you are not a fan of medieval literature, or have never read Chaucer's Canterbury Tales then you might wonder...more
Ron Charles
April, you may recall, is when folks long to go on pilgrimages. If you slipped into a funny accent when you read that sentence, or - worse - it launched you on a recitation of many more strange lines, then you've studied "The Canterbury Tales."

Making us memorize Chaucer's Prologue was a favorite torture among my teachers. In graduate school, Dr. Carter Revard stood over me as I plodded through the medieval verse, interrupting on every word, sometimes every syllable, to correct my chronic mispron...more
Chris
I would've given this 1.5 stars if I could.

I understand that Ackroyd is trying to present a version or a take of The Canterbury Tales. I love Ackroyd's writing, honestly.

This book proves one thing.

Only Chaucer can write Chaucer.

Ackroyd's tales are somewhat interesting, but dijointed. It feels like the ground is shifting all the time. Ackroyd, at least here, lacks Chaucer's humanism, his dirt, his grime, his humor, his sure touch.

If you haven't read Ackroyd before, do NOT read this as your first...more
Mel
For some reason I had a really hard time getting into this book. I think it may have been to do with the short chapters and the changing perspectives but I had a really hard time grasping the continuity between the stories and remembering who the conspirators were. I should have loved it, Ackroyd's style was as good as ever, and this book contained many things which I really enjoyed, secret societies, consipracies, spirit posession and yet somehow I found it wanting. The book seemed like a good...more
Venetia Green
This book deserves a 10-star rating for historical research. Unfortunately I would only give the plot and storytelling about a 3 out of 5.
Medieval London is brought to brilliant, exquisitely detailed life in Ackroyd's hands. I was constantly in awe of his grasp of the customs, the architecture, the modes of life and the language. Indeed, at times this verged on info-dump, but I was fascinated none-the-less.
However, a plot based on a Canterbury Tales sized cast with each chapter told from a diff...more
Michael
The Clerkenwell Tales has the feeling of a tableau. The story is spread in bits across several small stories mimicking the Canterbury Tales. At times you get flashes of Ackroyd's better books (aka Hawksmoor) but those flashes are rare.
Fiona Robson
“The scene is London, in 1399. It is the last year of the fourteenth century, and there is talk of an apocalypse. Richard II is on the throne, yet strange signs and portents are troubling the latter part of his reign. By the side of the River Fleet in Clerkenwell the people are restless, disenchanted with the church and their King. The streets of London are rife with rumour, heresy, espionage and murder and at the centre of the confusion is the nun, Sister Clarice, who has been vouchsafed vision...more
Isidor
The Clerkenwell Tales, a story about a religious/political sect in medieval London, in some respects reminds me of the paintings of Pieter Brueghel, with its bustling, colourful town scenes with loads of characters. In each of the short chapters a couple of persons are described, with sufficient overlapping so that I could follow the plot line.

The story imho wasn't exactly gripping, but still fun to read: the plot started furioso and con-tinued to be quite fast-paced, enhanced by a twist or a s...more
Theresa Sjoquist
I loved The Clerkenwell Tales. Beautifully written, with a fantastic evolving plot. I wasn't quite ready for the end. I learnt a great deal about medieval London in King Richard's time and was thoroughly drawn in to the place and times.

My only vague disappointment was in the frequent use of Latin phrases which were obviously in vogue at the time, but were not translated...and not just the Latin phrases, also some English terms of the day. Some were translated, others weren't and I was felt just...more
Chelsea Cahill
Though this book had great accuracy (I'd imagine) and imagery for the time period, it was difficult to start getting into the plot-- and even harder to connect to any of the characters. The book ran more like a history text than a novel that was difficult to follow at best. Not entirely sure how things wrapped up, but maybe that's just me. Might be more enjoyable with a greater background knowledge.
Ape
Ok, terrible confession. I have not read the Cantebury Tales. So I have no idea what baring they would have had on this book, had I already read them beforehand.

But I really loved this book. I liked the different way of telling this story as well, as we hope from one character's tale to another, and in telling their own story, we see the next stage of the main plot of this book growing. And despite the fact that there isn't one main character, narrator or anyone we're supposed to be following in...more
John Yeoman
A beguiling novel best reserved for history buffs and aficionados of period language! Those unacquainted with Chaucerisms will find it hard going. Its evocations of place, and rich-textured lyricisms, are at times utterly brilliant. Hilary Mantel, but more accessible. But it's not a story to read at a gulp.
Renée Heaton
For me this book started great. I was hooked instantly and very attached to the first character we meet Dame Agnes de Mordaunt. However after the first few 'tales' my interest waned, but not for the lack of quality writing. Peter Ackroyd definitely has the knack for historical fiction and it seems that he has not only great research skills but also that ability to apply a level of judgement about what is going to make good reading. Unfortunately for me I just think I wasn't overly interested in...more
Karen
Based around Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (but in a different order and with different story lines), this small book took me so long to read, but I am glad I eventually got through it. Its full of plots, twists and turns and I did have some trouble remembering some of the characters' roles. I also found I needed a large quantity of post-it notes so I could go back with a large dictionary and look up all the words that have long since disappeared from daily use. That may be why it took such an age...more
Georgia
The good: written with vocabulary and syntax that reflects the Dark Ages setting; beautiful, evocative descriptions of London and the life within it during that time.

The bad: This is supposed to be a thriller, but it lacks suspense, and the ending was just plain weird.
Steph
I quite enjoyed the Clerkenwell Tales; set out in a similar way to the Canterbury Tales (which I did some of for A-Level English Lit), it tells the story of events in a community in the Clerkenwell area of London at the end of the 14th Century. The central character linking the "tales" together is Clarice, a young nun who some consider to be mad. Each "tale" forms a very short chapter of the book, and it was a much quicker read than I had anticipated. I have read some of Peter Ackroyd's Biograph...more
PJ Ebbrell
A meandering through the end of one King Richard II and the arrival of another, Henry IV. Having read and seen Terry Jones take with on the 'murder of Chaucer', history proves that there is more than one tale to every story. Richard II might have been a better King, than supposed and Henry IV - a greedy, tyrant who just got lucky.

As a coherent whole, the novel, tries too hard, but the vignettes of each character from the Canterbury Tales is enjoyable. Easy to read and some fascinating insight to...more
Carmen
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, loved the language, the intrigue and now my route is clear. Must read more about Richard III and perhaps why not the Canterbury ttales
Carol
This brief novel's greatest strength is the way it brings 1399 London to life. The conspiracy/thriller storyline is actually kind of bland, but the vivid depiction of the city during the late middle ages is glorious - I could very nearly hear and smell the place as well as seeing it in my imagination. Ackroyd also cleverly riffs on Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, a facet that I probably would have enjoyed more if I'd read The Canterbury Tales.
Brenna
hmm. i have never read the canterbury tales and so did not have a lot to go on when approaching this book other than wikipedia's information! i think that if i had, and if i'd cared more about investing time and energy into this book, i probably would have gotten more out of it. instead, i tried to just breeze through it and therefore didn't get all the plot twists and turns because i couldn't keep the characters straight. oh well.
Cate
Not bad but I can't say I loved it or anything. As a fiction book it reads very much like non-fiction. Clarice is the mad nun of Clerkenwell, prophesying the end of the reign of king Richard and London is alive with heresy & heretics. The question is whether Clarice is truely a prophet or is she part of a more earthly political plot? It is a lively telling of 13th century London in all it's violent glory.
Jane
The conceit: write a mystery from the point of view of Chaucer's pilgrims.
The result: ho-fricking-hum.
Better books based upon classics? Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea (Jane Eyre).
George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman series (Tom Brown's School Days).
T.H. White's Darkness at Pemberley (P&P, P.D. James is just the latest in a long list of Austen imitators).
Ditto Mistress Masham's Repose (Gulliver's Travels).
Meri
For fans of British History, this is a delightful little gem. It doesn't have too much to do with the Canterbury Tales besides the chapter names and the character's professions, but it is a decently woven suspense tale. Ackroyd's descriptions of the minutia of life in fourteenth century London are what make the story worth reading. A satisfying way to spend a lazy afternoon or two.
Rob Atkinson
A great companion piece to read after Ackroyd's lively, earthy prose 'retelling' of Geoffrey Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales". Set in the London of the period and featuring the same storytellers, with a plot filled with intrigue and curious incident, as well as many surprising little details of medieval life and speech in England which make for a vivid tableau of Chaucer's time.
Donna Reeves
London is the stage for many of Ackroyd's books, both fiction & non-fiction, his research into , periods throughout London's history is extensive - BUT the books, including this one, are not weighed down with boring facts, but given a life & verve. This book is based on one of the Canterbury Tales - but you don't need to have read Chaucer to enjoy this book.
Denise
Despite great anticipation to read this, I couldn't get through it and put it down in the middle of the third chapter. The action just plodded along and when I found myself re-reading whole paragraphs because I'd skipped them out of boredom, I knew enough was enough.
Laurie Riley
Based on Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. So far, so good. But, unfortunately, as my semi-official motto says, "So many books. Too little time. And too much tech comm grad reading." Oh, well. I will get back to it. It's a library book. I have to.
Amber Skantz
A bit underwhelmed. I really like Chaucer, and was perhaps expecting something different. Although, I did appreciate the glossary/footnotes/index/what-have-you at the back of the book.
Mathias
Peter Ackroyd uses one of the most neglected senses in fiction, smell,
to breath life in his stories.

My favorite story in the book was the Shipman's Tale (Chapter 20).

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Peter Ackroyd CBE is an English novelist and biographer with a particular interest in the history and culture of London.

Peter Ackroyd's mother worked in the personnel department of an engineering firm, his father having left the family home when Ackroyd was a baby. He was reading newspapers by the age of 5 and, at 9, wrote a play about Guy Fawkes. Reputedly, he first realized he was gay at the age...more
More about Peter Ackroyd...
London: The Biography Hawksmoor London Under: The Secret History Beneath the Streets Shakespeare: The Biography Chatterton

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