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English Music Paperback – June 14, 1994

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Paperback, June 14, 1994
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--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books (June 14, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345376137
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345376138
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,280,397 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Ackroyd's rich imagination and literary inventiveness have never been showcased so deliberately and provocatively as in this impassioned paean to English culture--but not with complete success. Perhaps the book's liability is the tone of lassitude and melancholy that permeates protagonist Tim Harcombe's narrative of his strange life with his healer/magician father during the days following WW I in London. Tim's recollections alternate with third-person accounts of his visions, dreams in which he encounters some of the dead masters of English literature, music and art and enters into their works and worlds. In this fashion, Tim comprehends the intellectual heritage that binds Britons through the centuries, and also the cyclical nature of human existence, the inheritance of family characteristics from generation to generation. Ackroyd's rendering of Tim's fugue states ranges from the charming and whimsical to the heavily didactic. In the best of them, he captures the surreal quality of dreams while cleverly adopting the style of the writers to whom he pays homage: Dickens, Blake (he has written biographies of both), Lewis Carroll, A. Conan Doyle. In other cases, where he tries to convey the essential characteristic of music (Henry Purcell) or of art (Hogarth, Gainsborough, Constable) the conceit can wear thin. The artifice of the plot device--Tim must fall into his trances at regular intervals--becomes too predietable, and the constant repetition of the theme of cultural heritage somewhat overwrought. Yet the novel remains intriguing, and certainly enlightening. Illustrations.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

Outside the hall in 1920s London where Timothy Harcombe works nightly with his father, a sign reads, "Clement Harcombe. Medium and Healer." But it is Timothy who seems to have the greater power. Periodically falling into dreamlike states, he enters into "English music"--here signifying all the great accomplishments of English culture--where he encounters various literary figures, becomes part of a Gainsborough painting, and is instructed in music by William Byrd. Fearful of his son's gift, the father ships him off to his maternal grandparents in the country. But ultimately Timothy rejoins his father--for "everyone belongs somewhere"--and discovers the true extent of his miraculous powers. Ackroyd suggests that we all belong to culture. His book is both charming and ambitious, but it is more successful in concept than in execution. The transitions between Timothy's real and imagined worlds aren't seamless, and Ackroyd's lovely prose is sometimes weighed down by his message. Still, this work is more intriguing than much contemporary fiction and should appeal especially to those who appreciate the art Ackroyd celebrates.
-Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal"
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Mr. D. James on August 21, 2012
Format: Paperback
Peter Ackroyd, English Music
I couldn't get through Hawksmoor or Chatterton, but found Ackroyd's Dickens superb. Of course as a Londoner who is obsessed by Dickens, Ackroyd is to some extent pre-programmed. The same themes keep coming up - mystery,nightwalking, dreams, nightmares, spiritualism etc, but always with a new slant. He's certainly an acquired taste and those who love him will love him. Not sure I could ever be one of their number.

However, I picked up English Music at a charity stall a few weeks ago, and remembering the reviews from way back - and particularly a ferociously panning one by Peter Kemp on Radio 3 - I determined to be fair to the man and give it a go. The verdict? Well, as always with Ackroyd's novels, I was fascinated at the beginning, charmed along the way but not exactly panting to get to the end of the road 400 pages later.

English Music is, as Ackroyd addicts would expect, 'a literary novel,' meaning one written in elegant prose and not produced to formula. It aims above all and like all such literary novels to reveal the consciouness of a central character. Ackroyd, however, unlike, say, Henry James, is quirky and bizarre, mixing genres - farce, melodrama, philosophical ramblings, sermon and pastiche with straight narrative that tells a story. English Music recalled for me a totally different kind of fictional mish-mash - Melville's Moby Dick. Each new chapter seems to embark on a fresh track, often dipping into our (i.e. English) literary heritage, to show the reader how much life is a dream, a recurring fiction whose forms change but whose message is always the same - that life is a dream etc.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 26, 1998
Format: Paperback
Existential foray into father\son relationship, exploring the richness of the traditions in English art, music and literature in the process. The father, a former circus magician entertainer, uses the son's latent psychic abilities to get in touch with other people's pain in order to become a healer. The chapters alternate between fantasy and reality, and it is sometimes hard to evauluate which is which, as the main character, Timothy, romps around with a host of imaginary literary figures and real life misfits. Is Ackroyd making a sly commentary here about his predecessors or merely weaving the web of his current story? The effect is to relive some of your exposure to the classics, rechanneling Alice in Wonderland, Robinson Crueso, and Dickens (to name a few of the references) into a new scenario of discomfort. The enjoyment of this book, in the final estimate, is in entering into strange dreamlands of childhood hopes. Timothy hears the music, but he can't explai! n it. Does this failure ultimately signify that we are on the verge of composing a new song? In the end, Timothy settles for the simplicity of birdsong, leaving the discipline of continued searching for us, if we choose to make the journey onward. The spirituality in this novel is undeniable, but one can't put a finger on it. God with us, not God over and above or beyond us, may be the proposition.
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By Burroughs Anderson on October 28, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Not what I expected but Peter Ackroyd is still one of mky favor.ite authors
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