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House of Doctor Dee by Peter Ackroyd

House of Doctor Dee (original 1993; edition 1994)

by Peter Ackroyd

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5771617,144 (3.44)52
Title:House of Doctor Dee
Authors:Peter Ackroyd
Info:Penguin Books Ltd (1994), Paperback, 288 pages
Collections:Read but unowned

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The House of Doctor Dee by Peter Ackroyd (Author) (1993)


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A young man inherits the house of his father in London. He knows London by heart is nevertheless astonished that he has never been before in this neighborhood. As historian he quickly discovers that the fundaments of the house are quite old. The house generates strange feelings.
Parallel to this develops the story of Doctor Dee a previous owner? He was a scientists - astrologer with a knack for magic. ( )
  albertkep | Jan 21, 2014 |
Dr. Dee was a sort of Free-lance intellectual and astrologer in London at the time of Queen Elizabeth I. He had an unconventional marriage, and the framing tale of the novel has much imaging set in a bombed out Clerkenwell. I'm intending a reread of a good Akroyd experience. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Sep 28, 2013 |
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 [b:The Da Vinci Code|968|The Da Vinci Code (Robert Langdon, #2)|Dan Brown|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1303252999s/968.jpg|2982101] 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. ( )
  AlCracka | Apr 2, 2013 |
I finished this book weeks ago and I am still rolling it over in my mind. So I am going along reading this book and thinking it is a darker more difficult riff on Zafon until I get to the final pages. Then I am blown away to learn all my assumptions have been wrong. Recommended to readers who are looking for the offbeat and weird. FYI: John Dee wrote preface to 1570 Billingsly translation of Euclid's "Elements." ( )
  mtnmdjd | May 20, 2012 |
This strange fictional biography about a strange man of the English Renaissance tries to focus on the actual elements of Doctor John Dee's life rather than the overwrought legends that have been perpetuated about him. While it is true he was deeply involved in occult investigations, specifically with reference to alchemy and scrying (crystal-gazing), his most ardent wish was to thereby get nearer to the presence of God rather than to the Devil as many have asserted.

Doctor John Dee (1527-1608) was one of the most learned men of his time. He was a book collector without equal, his collection, the largest nonacademic library in England at the time. He was an advisor to Queen Elizabeth I, and he had an international reputation as an astronomer, astrologer and navigator. But he also devoted himself to the study of alchemy and the Renaissance philosophy of Marsilio Ficino, Pico della Mirandola and Giordano Bruno. He was involved in both scientific and magical pursuits at the very time when they were becoming separate fields of knowledge. Such was his reputation that it is believed that the character Prospero in Shakespeare's The Tempest was modeled after him, and in modern times, the Aegypt tetralogy of John Crowley features Doctor Dee.

Ackroyd has attempted to arrive at a kind of truth that might be palatable to the tastes of modern readers who may or may not be captivated by the supernatural, by combining two stories that focus on the London house Doctor Dee owned in Clerkenwell. One is a first person account of Dee himself, much of it adapted from his own writings; the second, also in first person, brings us into the twentieth century and concerns a young man who inherits the house and finds himself absorbed by the mysteries surrounding the good doctor.

In a post-modern way, both stories eventually merge and reach a highly visionary and somewhat enigmatic conclusion, in keeping with the subject matter. One memorable chapter near the end called "The Garden" puts one in mind of either a dream vision or a directed meditation.

In the course of the book, Ackroyd considers the true nature of history. At one point he steps from behind the veil of author and injects himself in medias res, asking:

And what is the past, after all? Is it that which is created in the formal act of writing, or does it have some substantial reality? Am I discovering it, or inventing it? Or could it be that I am discovering it within myself, so that it bears both the authenticity of surviving evidence and the immediacy of present intuition?

One can easily relate to these questions because of the wide chasm that separates the pros and cons that have come down to us and continue to this day in both factual and fictional accounts of Doctor Dee. The question is: wherein lies the truth?

Ackroyd also seems fascinated with the imagination and how it impacts each individual person's perceptions of reality. He puts the following into the mouths of his characters:

It is true . . . that the imagination is immortal, and that thereby we each create our own eternity.

. . . though the blazing stars had gone for ever, the light of the imagination filled every corner and every quarter, every street and every house of this place . . . . The imagination is the spiritual body and exists eternally.

This book will probably not have a wide appeal because of its subject matter, but it does afford a fictional glimpse into the mind of a highly influential historical figure with a mystical turn of mind. ( )
2 vote Poquette | Feb 28, 2012 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ackroyd, PeterAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Silcox, PaulaCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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I inherited the house from my father. That was how it all began.
I had grown up in a world without love--a world of magic, of money, of possession--and so I had none for myself or for others.
There is no way to conquer time and live eternally except through vision. The vision, not the body, transcends this life.
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