Interesting, but a bit repetitive. Intriguing and yet often too dreamy. Towards the end, and especially in the last two chapters, it looks like on writing Ackroyd fell in love with the bowels of London.
Maybe I lived in that city too short a time, but before reading this book – mind you, I still think it’s rather intriguing in its genre! – I would never have dreamt of seeing Tube’s conducts the way the author sees them. I really never bothered. I jumped on my train and took for granted that it’d be dark and stinky and oppressive and dirty. What actually gave me a fright was the thought that London Underground often runs straight below the river Thames and, even when it isn’t that close, it still has conducts that are and connect to those located far from there. It’d take nothing for them to get flooded. It’d be extremely quick, extremely easy. This is the apocalyptic view that Peter Ackroyd presents in this book. Realistic and very frightening indeed.
It’s astonishing to discover how modern London rests on layers of history. The most common souvenirs diggers found in the deepness of the earth went back to Romans. Romans gave the city the shape it still shows from time to time nowadays. Romans were barbaric, but their engineers were genius. It doesn’t come as a surprise that many Roman architectures are still in use today – SPAs, waterworks, basins, etc. They even had running water in private houses, and, in well off houses, ancient heating system – something that some flats still have to achieve today, I know better!
Yet in late 19th Century they weren’t that bothered to preserve their own past. I was shocked when I read that, digging in the City to build the ground of a new building, workers found a Roman baptistery with water still running in the pool. It was thought to be built around 200AC and it was still in perfect conditions, yet it was demolished to carry on with the construction of the new building. Enough to be ashamed of men’s ignorance.
Where London does not lay on layers of history, it lays on layers of unspeakeable rubbish. Reading about sewers and subterranean channels and about what use they made of it was disgusting. Still, that’s the way things went back then. The Thames a brown melt of shit. The river Fleet a pool of rotten blood from butchers and slaughterhouses located in the middle of its course. The Walbrook a grave for forgotten skulls and murdered bodies. No one cared of what they were throwing in the water of the rivers. All ended under ground, filling the tunnels, rottening the air. Enough to be disgusted.
Ackroyd’s idea of the subterranean world and of how people tend to see it made me think a lot. In the past few years I wrote a book set 90% of time in a building buried deep into the earth and I couldn’t help thinking how I too have been fascinated by the idea of the under ground.
So yes, Ackroyd might be right with that, but I don’t really think so many people give a monkey to Hades and under ground ghosts while reading their copy of the Metro comfortably squeezed into a carriage of the Central line.
Not bad, but indeed I did expect more from this book. Three entire chapters gone talking of the lost/hidden rivers of London. Two chapters and a half on the Tube. Three chapters on the exploration of the subterranean world – more or less, same concepts put in different words: a bit too much.
Not exactly a 3 stars, but not a full 4 stars either. Still, I loved Ackroyd’s style, so simple and yet full of details. The book might have been repetitive sometimes, but somehow it was never boring. There was passion in it. At the end of the day, it’s all that matters.
Without a doubt this is the shortest Peter Ackroyd book I've read. It was also not one of the best. He really tried to make the London Underground seem mysterious and exciting, as if it was something people never think about, instead of something that millions of commuters use each year! While there are a lot of cities where no one things of what happens underground, London just really isn't one of them. The first and last chapters that tried to give off an atmosphere of danger and novelty just kinda failed. The book was part geography, part history and part folklore. (And as a history it really wasn't very good, how can you mention the danger of using the tube stations for shelter in WWII and not mention the Bethnal Green tube disaster?) The book started with looking at some of the Roman ruins and burials that had been found under the city, which was quite interesting. The next chapters covered springs, wells, rivers and honestly I found them a little dull. There was then an ok history of the tube that lasted for three chapters, but as I've already said left out some important events. This felt like a Christmas book, nothing really solid just little tid bits of interesting information or stories you could read out to people to be amusing or shocking. I must admit that I was quite disappointed! That's two of his books I've read in a row that I've not enjoyed so I think I might not read any more of his books....Continua