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Read The House Of Doctor Dee (1994)

The House of Doctor Dee (1994)

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3.38 of 5 Votes: 1
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0140171177 (ISBN13: 9780140171174)
penguin books

The House Of Doctor Dee (1994) - Plot & Excerpts

If ever a book was written that reads like a dream, feels like a dream and which you will remember as a dream then it's this novel written by Peter Ackroyd. Instead of a dream I should say nightmare because after finishing the novel I felt like I had woken up from one. The first part of the book is claustrophobic and even boring but it is an important setup and devised mechanic. This mode of writing allows Ackroyd to slowly spin you into the stream of the story, something he never quite intended if I interpret the interviews correctly. According to the author this novel is about London as so many of his books are. Not many readers have interpreted it in such a way.We start by reading a plain and rather claustrophobic stream of consciousness-like description of how the main character Matthew inherits an old and dilapidated building from his father in an area of London called Clerkenwell. Through the meanderings of Matthew through the streets surrounding his inheritance we learn slightly more about the setting and the zeitgeist of the area in the now. From a reader perspective something wasn't quite right, It didn't read like the real description of someone walking around a neighbourhood and that is exactly the intention, although I doubt Ackroyd ever realized himself how clever all of this turned out to be. The text reads as a diary entry where someone reminisces about an important place and time but using words and explanations that are too personal for anyone else to understand. Soon enough the perspective of the narrator switches to that of Doctor John Dee, a late medieval alchemist and early scientist who is becoming obsessed with constructing a homunculus, an artificial being made from chemicals and magic. Matthew and John's lives start to run parallel when Matthew becomes aware that his house is the house of the former Doctor Dee and when strangely enough Doctor Dee appears to become aware of a future and far earlier London in which there is a Matthew.There are two ways in which an author can intertwine related narratives. Either everything is explained and put in order in a logical manner, or the author can use a more stream of consciousness or associative approach in which that what was before unrelated is now closely connected. An example of the logical twist for a purely psychological plot would be Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk. An example of a novel where everything makes sense because of wild associations is Briefing for a Descent Into Hell by Doris Lessing or Watch the North Wind Rise by Robert Graves. Explaining and linking incidentally seems to work better for psychological thrillers and horror novels. Peter Ackroyd attempts to use both techniques, although he does not use straightforward logical explanations much, which is a shame because there is a very clever and innovative plot twist to be gleaned here.I'm eager to explain the ending because Ackroyd has stumbled upon quite a novel story structure, but that would ruin the book for anyone else. A strong hint would be: who is really telling the narrative here?

The House of Doctor Dee is a pretty decent book that mixes up historic facts and events, mystery, esoteric stuff and introspective thoughts from the author about time and history. As such it demands a lot of the reader, and it doesn't work as intended until well past half through the novel.Building a fiction story adapted from the life of renowned alchemist John Dee, Peter Ackroyd divides the book in 2 parallels with the other side talking about researcher Matthew Palmer in "present" time, who inherits the house where the events are taken from. At first it doesn't seem to be anything more than 2 separate diaries, with John Dee's experience being a lot more interesting than Matthew's introspections and the misterious and unexplained events on the house. The dense, detailed style of London at both ages being a highlight but still feeling irrelevant (even more if you don't know London as well as the author does, but the detail is amazing). On the second half of the book though the slow pacing gets ditched and things get very interesting for both sides, the connection between both is revealed and managed in an adequate way and both characters find the truth they were longing for, with some pretty great parts related to Dee's researches and goals as an alchemist and occult philosopher, somehow leaving a rewarding experience. But the change of pace also ditches things that should have been relevant to the story, in particular things on Matthew's side or even the strange events in the house. The book is pretty open with those topics, so if you're looking detailed explanations on those aspects, you're going to be dissappointed.In the end it gets 3/5 because the book has a good amount of flaws, and some of them are enough dealbreakers to not only divide opinion (as you can see by other reviews here) but let you wondering if a similar book could have the same impact without using themes that are bound to perk up the interest of most people (Alchemy, spirits, occultism, etc..) I'll certainly remember this for a while, anyway.

What do You think about The House Of Doctor Dee (1994)?

I really enjoyed most of this book. I have an interest in the life of John Dee and has been said this book is no good if you are hoping to learn much in the way of factual truth about his life! However it was full of surprises and I loved the period language and the way the worlds of Dee and Matthew overlapped. However at the end I have to confess that the shifts and slips were extremely confusing and I'm still not clear about the outcome (if there even was one) from Matthew's perspective.
—Hilary Greenleaf

Mmmm, difficult one this, as there were some things in the book I liked, notably the sense of London as a palimpsest with the Elizabethan city underlying the modern one. I also quite liked the way the character of Dr Dee emerged credibly. But, against that, I found it sloppily plotted and self-indulgent. Chunks of the text seemed a regurgitation of research and others, the 'visionary' sections, a chance to let his hair down and enter his own world. That would have been fine if he could take me with him, but I basically lost trust in the author. I particularly found the ending a total cop-out, seemed he was admitting defeat in being unable to resolve the loose ends of a scrappy plot and just wanted to get it over, somehow. Well, I must admit I felt the same by that stage.

This review contains spoilers, but I want you to read it anyway to make sure you never make the mistake of trying this horrible, horrible book.As a history of John Dee, it gets the most basic facts wrong: for one example, it ends after the death of his first wife with his partner Kelley burning his library down and fleeing. Kelley did no such thing; they continued to work together for years after Dee remarried. They only split up after Kelley announced that the archangel Uriel had told him through a crystal ball that he and Dee should experiment with wife-swapping. (And not before they tried it. So yes, this is a book about John Dee that skips the most interesting thing about him.)As a book on its own merits, it's equally bad. It's set up as a mystery, and mysteries tend to succeed or fail based on how well they wrap up their threads at the end. Here almost none of them are wrapped up, and those that are, unsatisfyingly. Again, just as one example: what happened to the Act III revelation that the protagonist's father sexually abused him? What was that for? He never mentions it again! I gave The Da Vinci Code two stars because while it's terrible history, it's at least effective junk food. This book gets nothing right. It's bad history and it's bad reading. I hate it.

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