Friday, July 5, 2013

London Under

London Under, by Peter Ackroyd

I love books about London, and in particular I love books about London under the ground, so when Kristen M. mentioned this little book, I went looking for it.

It's a short, quick read in which Ackroyd devotes a chapter to the various elements making up the underworld of London: hidden rivers and streams, remains of ancient buildings, tunnels, sewers, and of course the Tube.  There's some nice history and it's very evocative.

To be honest, it was a little too evocative for my taste.  Peter Ackroyd's style is always discursive and poetic, and here he goes on and on and ON about the chthonic nature of the underworld with sentences like "This was the anxiety that created the Minotaur, half man and half bull, with his own kingdom beneath the earth."

These flights of fancy were paired with a distinct lack of detail.  To be fair, most people probably aren't as willing to read hundreds of pages about this topic as I am.  Ackroyd is purposely writing a short book that just gives the reader an idea of what is there, and there is lots of interesting stuff here, especially odd little stories and facts
.  But I was irritated by the way he would show, say, a really neat vault and then leave it without spending any time there.

There's a bibliography at the end, which mentions MY favorite book about London's underground world, London Under London.  It's hard to get, though.  I was amazed to see just how many books have been written about this.  I think Ackroyd picked the title because every single other possible combination of the words London, under, and underground had already been used several times each.

I also checked out Ackroyd's giant history of London, but I'm not sure I'll read it.  I probably won't be able to resist, though.  Some people are obsessed with Paris, and some folks love New York, but give me London every time.

Oh!  Ackroyd does talk a lot about the Tube and he mentions the iconic tube map that we all know.  I wondered if I could find out what the Tube tunnels really look like on a real map and look what I found: What does London's Tube Map Really Look Like?

3 comments:

Monika said...

Ummmm yeah... if there was a cool vault like thing under there, I would be ticked if nothing more was said about it, too! That sounds fascinating!

Jean said...

I know right? So I recommend the other title. ILL is your friend. :)

Jenny @ Reading the End said...

I have Ackroyd's giant history of London! I'm excited to read it even though Ackroyd hasn't always been my favorite guy, and also I get him mixed up with Peter Carey (also not my favorite guy).