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The Clerkenwell Tales

3.22  ·  Rating Details ·  543 Ratings  ·  64 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
ebook, 155 pages
Published November 8th 2005 by Anchor (first published 2003)
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Jan 20, 2013 Shovelmonkey1 rated it liked it  ·  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
Ron Charles
Dec 17, 2013 Ron Charles rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 01, 2009 Chris rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Dec 09, 2013 Venetia Green rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 18, 2015 Sam rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
One uses salt to enhance the flavour of foods, to bring out nuances and contrasts. Too much salt overpowers the palate and leaves one with a bitter, dry taste in the mouth. So too the use of archaic words in writing. In this novel, in an attempt to enhance the mood and setting of the work, Mr. Ackroyd has over-salted the text with archaic words and phrases that leave the reader either reaching for water (in this case a dictionary) to ingest it all, or trying to slog through and doing their best ...more
Alison C
Oct 17, 2016 Alison C rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"The Clerkenwell Tales," by Peter Ackroyd, is set in 1399 London; a young nun starts hearing the voice of God and she becomes a prophet, foretelling, among other things, the death of Richard II. Meanwhile, there are hidden groups of men, conspirators, working toward making the nun’s prophecies come true, by whatever means necessary…. This is a nicely constructed novel, modeled on Chaucer with each chapter being someone’s tale, or the part that individual plays in the overall plot - there’s even ...more

I read this shortish book on a trip from Switzerland to Glasgow. It had been a long time since I'd read anything set in this period, and even longer since I'd read the Shakespeare play about Bolingbroke and co...
If ever I go time-travelling, I do not want to land in that period. Between the religious fanatics and other crazies, the rampant disease and skewed ideas about the workings of the human body, that was not a healthy time to live.
I can't say I loved the book. The most interesting bits
Jan 03, 2016 Anita rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: british-lit, library, 2016
This book was hard for me to understand. I got that there were hints planted throughout the text concerning the ending, but I felt that those were to veiled for me to understand; the author didn't give much information in the added appendix to help me make connections as to the eventual resolution of Clarice's or the Richard II/Henry Bolingbroke story.
That being said, I did like the novel. Ackroyd sets his version of The Canterbury Tales to give the reader a tour of the people and places of Lon
The Clerkenwell Tales by Peter Ackroyd - ok

Really not sure how to assess this. Peter Ackroyd picks such interesting subjects, but somehow I find him hard to read. Hawksmoor almost defeated me. This one was easier, but still not a quick read.

This is London at the turn of the century - 1399. Henry Bollingbrook is about to replace Richard II on the thrown of England, there are mysterious portents in the city and the citizens are restless and nervous. In amongst this there is Sister Clarice, a Nun i
May 05, 2016 Pat rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Very disappointed; the reviews on the cover led me to expect great things. The author obviously knows a lot about medieval London, which provides a few weeks interesting moments, but the book's structure is actually a major weakness in my view. The chapter headings lead you to believe you are getting something akin to the marvellous Canterbury Tales. However all it does is keep introducing more and more characters who are involved in some way with a dastardly plot that I never got to grips with. ...more
Mar 08, 2015 Shari rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ackroyd's historical accuracy and deep knowledge of the social milieu of the late Middle Ages in England is the reason these 'tales,' this story, is so magical and on point. His dialectical cadences and the sprinkling of old words bring us to the place and the time. Taking THE CANTERBURY TALES as his model, he gives us the 'under history' of the period on the cusp of the 15th century that held the demise of Richard II and the rise of Bolingbroke in his quest for the throne. Minor historical char ...more
Jul 13, 2014 Carmen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Fiona Robson
Sep 07, 2013 Fiona Robson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: peter-ackroyd
“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
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
Theresa Sjoquist
Sep 07, 2014 Theresa Sjoquist rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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.
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
John Yeoman
Sep 07, 2014 John Yeoman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Geoff Boxell
Feb 24, 2016 Geoff Boxell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found the book entertaining. Others have described the contents, so I won't tread a worn path on that. Some found the odd bits of Middle English tricky. I didn't, but then I often read books written in Middle English.
If you fancy something different - give it a go.
Franklin L Greene
Choppy presentation

Basically a series of short stories revolve ing around the rise oh Henry IV to replace Richard II. There is a vague continuity between the stories but, overall, extremely fragmented.
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
Apr 24, 2012 Karen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historical, book-club
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
Jennifer Everard
I've read many of these types of medieval murder mystery type books but this was certainly different. Aping the Canterbury Tales by Chaucer it tries to write the book in a similar style of prose to the fourteen century. This does not make an easy read and I did feel like I was ploughing through it at times. The story was good and the ending satisfying though. If you can be bothered to work quite hard, go for it.
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.
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
Ed Dodson
Enjoyable read, but omly for those who have read The Canterbury Tales and the history of Plantagenant England
Sep 13, 2015 Ian rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting re-imagining of a time (1399) from which not a lot of historical evidence has survived.
Feb 19, 2015 Tony rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Loved Hawksmoor but just couldn't get into this. A re-reading is in order I feel.
No one else's medieval environs *smell* quite so vividly as Ackroyd's.
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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
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