Keith Roberts Peter Ackroyd - Essay

Peter Ackroyd

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

I have always thought that atomic desolation will hasten the advent of true Christianity, when the poor will inherit what is left of the earth, but now, according to Mr Roberts, so will the emotionally unstable…. [In The Chalk Giants] Mr Roberts sanctifies death and perversity with an ironic, apocalyptic grandeur…. Mr Roberts has seen the future, and it almost works…. [There is a moral] somewhere, but I am not going to stop and look. Indeed as Mr Roberts's narrative escalates, there seem to be a great many morals but unfortunately they remain at the stage of grim caricature.

It is not that the writing does not have its moments of pathos and subtlety; the life and eventual death of Stan is sad enough to be interesting, and Mr Roberts interweaves his death-throes with the no less painful lacerations of future shock. I suspected at first that the forward glimpses were fragments of Stan's leukaemic nightmare, but they become too unsubtle even for that…. [I am afraid that Mr Roberts world is] crude, and his narrative degenerates into stock historical fiction….

Peter Ackroyd, "After the Holocaust," in The Spectator (© 1974 by The Spectator; reprinted by permission of The Spectator), Vol. 232, No. 7599, February 16, 1974, p. 203.∗

The beginning [of The Chalk Giants] is promising: fat middle-aged Potts is driving his Austin Champ westwards through Army roadblocks, trying to reach Corfe Castle where he and some ill-assorted acquaintances will set up an embattled community in the hopes of outliving some unspecified holocaust. But the book deteriorates rapidly thereafter. What was well written becomes overwritten, and the tense storyline becomes increasingly diffuse and impressionistic. The bulk of the narrative degenerates into dismal Celtic fantasy in the Moorcockian tradition, with Potts lying in bed and dreaming scenes which perhaps took place on the same site at previous crises in history. Rape, superstition and general pillage clutter the pages and negate the lingering hard reality of the beginning, with its late twentieth-century world of pillboxes and nuclear fallout. Potts may be dreaming of the past or foreseeing a primitive future; but by then it all seems too inconsequential to worry about.

"Science Fiction in Short," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1974; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3758, March 15, 1974, p. 269.∗