‘Hawksmoor’ Revisited

Anna Aslanyan in the London Review of Books:

51jD-dxI4wL._SX319_BO1 204 203 200_‘There’s a writer in England called … er, Peter Ackroyd,’ David Bowie said in a short film he made in 2003, ‘who wrote a book called … Hawksmoor I think it was. Wasn’t it? Yeah.’ Ackroyd’s 1985 novel struck him as ‘a very powerful book, and quite scary’, and in 2013 Bowie included it on a list of his favourite 100 books, ranging from the Beanoto The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. His son, the filmmaker Duncan Jones, recently launched #BowieBookClubto discuss ‘dad’s favs’ on Twitter, choosing Hawksmoor as ‘an amuse cerveau before we get into the heavy stuff’.

The novel’s protagonist, Nick Dyer, partly based on the architect Nicholas Hawksmoor, is a follower of a Satanic cult who consecrates his churches with human sacrifices. Hawksmoor is the name of his pale shadow, a modern-day detective investigating a series of murders that mirror those committed in the name of Dyer’s art. (Bowie had a longstanding interest in the occult. ‘I was up to the neck in magick,’ he said of his Thin White Duke period, when he lived in ‘that whole dark and rather fearsome never-world of the wrong side of the brain’.)

Ackroyd’s narrative shifts between the early 18th century and the 1980s, as does the idiom. ‘In each of my Churches I put a Signe,’ Dyer says, ‘so that he who sees the Fabrick may see also the Shaddowe of the Reality of which it is the Pattern or Figure.’ Hawksmoor’s speech, by contrast, ‘came out of him like vomit … carried him forward without rhyme or meaning’: ‘Sign? I know nothing about signs.’ When I translated Hawksmoor into Russian in 2010, I used a pastiche of late 18th-century Russian as the closest analogue to Ackroyd’s stylisation of early 18th-century English.

More here.