“The House of Doctor Dee” begins with the researcher Matthew Palmer who inherits a house from his father. The house itself is a strange combination of ancient and modern, somewhere in Clerkenwell and seems to be cut off of the real world. Time is an abstract notion between the walls of the house.
The story itself is told from two separate first person narrations – Palmer’s & Doctor Dee’s which result in the interlocking of the lives of the two men. Palmer starts digging in old documents, hoping to find out the truth about the house and its connection to his family, while Doctor Dee dedicates his time on researching the history of London, convinced in the existence of a different ancient London beneath its modern look.
Although the character of Dee is based on an existing real life scientist, Ackroyd manages to even more depth into it through the use of authentic dialogues within the novel. He adapts Dee’s own language and transfers it by adapting it to the modern readers’ expectations. In fact, the richness of the vocabulary used in the narration of the Doctor makes his part of the book far more intriguing than Matthew’s.
The thing with this Ackroyd is that it definitely is NOT an easy read. And I believe that for someone to fully appreciate the merits of this historical novel, one has to have a particular interest first of all in the life of John Dee himself and a little bit of historical knowledge of the era. For John Dee has always been a secret interest and my humble knowledge of Elizabethan culture and language made the reading that more exciting for me! Plus, I have already had my try at “Conversations with Angels”. This made Ackroyd’s Dee much more of a pleasure than a torture for me than for the average newbie to historical novels.