The Plato Papers by Peter Ackroyd

519YQ0DE4KL._ Peter Ackroyd has written a number of books which sparkle like sunlight on the Thames. His ledger includes London: The Autobiography, Hawksmoor and Chatterton, for instance – wonderful tomes which make you see the world through a curious glass of his own devising and make fellow authors nauseous with envy. And then…there is The Plato Papers, a novel which looks as though it may have been cobbled together using scrawls which Ackroyd found at the back of his sock draw. If the first few chapters had been submitted by a bright sixth-former, it would be highly impressive. But Ackroyd has great talent allied to an original voice and this isn’t really good enough. So to the story, if we must. In a future London (where else?), where the inhabitants have no concept of time, the orator Plato stands and explains the past and present, using fragments of history, most – all – of which he misinterprets. The Origin of Species becomes a novel by Charles Dickens, the writings of Sigmund Freud were the stand-up comedy of the 20th century (in the time of Mouldwarp – no, no idea either) and Edgar Allan Poe’s horror writings are taken to be representative of the way people lived their day to day lives then. It’s hard to imagine that any Ackroyd book can be entirely devoid of entertainment, and indeed there is a nice section where Alfred Hitchcock’s film Frenzy is treated as documentary footage – but even here there is something of the student writing project about it. Then Plato goes through a wormhole, or has a dream, or a psychotic episode, or falls into a plot device, or whatever, and goes back to the Mouldwarp era. He realises that he has been largely wrong about everything and, on his return, tries to tell everyone the truth. He is put on trial for corrupting the youth of the present day. He is found guilty. He exiles himself. The End. The reader forgives Ackroyd. The Plato Papers is a minor work. That is the kindest thing to say about it. A bit crap would be another way of putting it. Mercifully short is yet another. Move along, there’s nothing more to see here.

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