Reviews for Canterbury Tales : A Retelling

Booklist Reviews 2009 September #1
Who better than Ackroyd to "retell" the tales of Chaucer's iconic pilgrims? A protean, creative, and prolific writer, historian, and critic, Ackroyd possesses an erudition that is matched by enthusiasm for his mission, that of bringing history to life for all to enjoy. It makes perfect sense that Ackroyd would relate to worldly-wise Chaucer so deeply, as evident in his superb Chaucer biography and in the novel The Clerkenwell Tales (2004), a takeoff on Chaucer's masterpiece, The Canterbury Tales. Now Ackroyd releases that indelible long poem from its confounding medieval English, replete with odd spellings and lost definitions--real, for instance, meant royal--and translates it into supple and poetic contemporary prose, a transformation Chaucer, himself a great believer in the vernacular, might well applaud. Cleverly illustrated by Nick Bantock, of Griffin and Sabine fame, Ackroyd's fresh and transporting retelling brings forward Chaucer's "salacious wit and scabrous humor," shrewd observations, and lustrous descriptions as well as the inimitable voices of the pilgrims, from the Knight to the Wife of Bath. This is, as Chaucer promised, a "feast of words," and Ackroyd 's translation, like Seamus Heaney's of Beowulf (2000) and W. S. Merwin's of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (2002), will become the much appreciated standard. Copyright 2009 Booklist Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2009 September #1
Continuing his apparent mission to refract the whole of English culture and history through his personal lens, Ackroyd (Thames: The Biography, 2008, etc.) offers an all-prose rendering of Chaucer's mixed-media masterpiece.While Burton Raffel's modern English version of The Canterbury Tales (2008) was unabridged, Ackroyd omits both "The Tale of Melibee" and "The Parson's Tale" on the undoubtedly correct assumption that these "standard narratives of pious exposition" hold little interest for contemporary readers. Dialing down the piety, the author dials up the raunch, freely tossing about the F-bomb and Anglo-Saxon words for various body parts that Chaucer prudently described in Latin. Since "The Wife of Bath's Tale" and "The Miller's Tale," for example, are both decidedly earthy in Middle English, the interpolated obscenities seem unnecessary as well as jarringly anachronistic. And it's anyone's guess why Ackroyd feels obliged redundantly to include the original titles ("Here bigynneth the Squieres Tales," etc.) directly underneath the new ones ("The Squires Tale," etc.); these one-line blasts of antique spelling and diction remind us what we're missing without adding anything in the way of comprehension. The author's other peculiar choice is to occasionally interject first-person comments by the narrator where none exist in the original, such as, "He asked me about myself then--where I had come from, where I had been--but I quickly turned the conversation to another course." There seems to be no reason for these arbitrary elaborations, which muffle the impact of those rare times in the original when Chaucer directly addresses the reader. Such quibbles would perhaps be unfair if Ackroyd were retelling some obscure gem of Old English, but they loom larger with Chaucer because there are many modern versions of The Canterbury Tales. Raffel's rendering captured a lot more of the poetry, while doing as good a job as Ackroyd with the vigorous prose. A not-very-illuminating updating of Chaucer's Tales. Copyright Kirkus 2009 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews 2009 November #1

Novelist and biographer Ackroyd (London: The Biography) offers a modern English prose "retelling" of The Canterbury Tales designed "to facilitate the experience of the poem." After an informative overview of Chaucer's life and the elements that "conspired to render Chaucer the most representative, as well as the most authoritative, poet of his time," he begins with the general prolog to the Tales and concludes with Chaucer's retractions. The body of the work is made up of 23 tales, starting with The Knight's Tale and ending with The Parson's Prologue. VERDICT Ackroyd's prose is not elegant: the sentences are generally short, with few transitional phrases to link these sentences to form a unified composition. Some of the language does not accurately reflect the flavor of Chaucer's original words. Fans of Ackroyd's previous works may appreciate this effort; other readers may prefer the classic modern English verse translation of Geoffrey Chaucer's great poem by Nevill Coghill.--Kathryn R. Bartelt, Univ. of Evansville Libs., IN

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2009 September #1

Ackroyd's retelling of Chaucer's classic isn't exactly like the Ethan Hawke'd film version of Hamlet, but it's not altogether different, either. Noting in his introduction that the source material "is as close to a contemporary novel as Wells Cathedral is to an apartment block," Ackroyd translates the original verse into clean and enjoyable prose that clears up the roadblocks readers could face in tackling the classic. "The Knight's Tale," the first of 24 stories, sets the pace by removing distracting tics but keeping those that are characteristic, if occasionally cringe-inducing, like the narrator's insistence on lines like, "Well. Enough of this rambling." The rest of the stories continue in kind, with shorter stories benefiting most from Ackroyd's treatment, though the longer entries tend to... ramble. The tales are a serious undertaking in any translation, and here, through no fault of Ackroyd's work, what is mostly apparent is the absence of the original text, making finishing this an accomplishment that seems diminished, even if the stories themselves prove more readable. (Nov.)

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