Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Murk, Muck and Mystery; the Thames: The Reason for London's Existence and Its Main Artery

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Murk, Muck and Mystery; the Thames: The Reason for London's Existence and Its Main Artery

Article excerpt

Byline: ROWAN MOORE

Thames: Sacred River by Peter Ackroyd (Chatto, [pounds sterling]25)

PETER Ackroyd's London has always been a city of murk, muck and mystery. In hisnovels Hawksmoor and The House of Doctor Dee, and his fat factual tome London:The Biography, he has created a literary version of the city as distinctive asDickens's or Arthur Conan Doyle's. He is not the only one in this territory, asIain Sinclair has delved it with wit and originality, but Ackroyd's writing hasa vividness which is all his own.

The Thames, being murky, spa with mucky and mysterious, is a perfect subjectfor Ackroyd. It offers delightful stories of stinks and filth and of a privyfalling off old London Bridge, taking to their deaths some men unfortunateenough to have been using it at the time. Also of Celtic gods, of executions bydrowning, of crime, smuggling, prostitution, floods, wars and disasters.

The book is about the whole Thames, from its source in Gloucestershire to thesea, but it's clear that Ackroyd is less interested in its pleasant upperreaches than in the bigger, nastier version that flows through London.

Because the Thames was both the reason for London's existence, with 14 shadesand its main artery, and because London is the capital of England, a largenumber of resounding and shocking events in English history can be connected toit.

Thames: Sacred River follows the pattern of London: The Biography, being animpressive pile of information ordered thematically ("A stream of pleasure";"The river of art") and coloured by Ackroyd's interest in the macabre, thesullied and the inexplicable.

Like the London book, it presents itself as a story or a narrative, but canactually be read equally well as a non-alphabetised encyclopaedia. You can putyour hand in at any point shades of and bring out a fistful of diverting facts. …

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