As with all things Ackroyd, this novel suffers from not only an obsession with London now, but, as if that wasn’t ethnocentric enough, London then.
Even though it’s been 8 years since he published Hawksmoor, he’s still playing the same old riff. Any reader coming to Ackroyd for the first time is going to find it enchanting to consider the same geographical space inhabited by characters centuries apart. But for those who’ve already gone through it, it starts to get a bit tired.
This is particularly because Dee, like Hawksmoor before it, doesn’t really communicate why Ackroyd has to draw parallels in the space-time continuum. I think most of us have enough imagination to realise that there were people who lived many years ago where we are sitting right now who may have had things in common with us. And?
The eponymous Doctor Dee did actually exist as a polymath alchemist-cum-philosopher. It’s interesting to read about him, and the Tudor era parts are very well written.
Why on earth we have to bother coming back to the modern day is lost on me. Nothing of any consequence seems to happen there, and nothing is of any interest whatsoever. I have no idea why Ackroyd just doesn’t stay in the past. He’s much better at it.
Towards the end, it all kind of falls apart a bit as Ackroyd gaze gets more and more captivated by his navel (more parallels with Hawksmoor), and by then most readers will be glad to find it doesn’t last much longer.