A review that originally appeared in The Third Alternative #22:-
THE PLATO PAPERS
Chatto & Windus hb, 139pp, £12.99
Ackroyd’s latest novel is set 2,000 years in the future and is the tale of the orator Plato, who is charged with investigating the past and revealing its secrets to the citizens of London. Plato’s speciality is the unhappy era of Mouldwarp (AD1500 – 2300). His knowledge of this time is enhanced by a visit to an underground cavern where the people of Mouldwarp London still live, but when Plato returns to tell of all he has seen he is charged with corrupting youth.
The Plato Papers isn’t so much a novel as a series of skits and literary pastiches, set within a framing device borrowed from the Greek Plato’s account of the last days of Socrates. Ackroyd is the farceur, playing to the gallery and shamelessly cannibalising the Western cultural tradition he knows so well. At its core is a philosophical search for truth, in and around which are set Plato’s often hilarious interpretations of documents and artefacts recovered from Mouldwarp. Poe’s Tales are taken as a factual account of life in America, that section of the book developing into a skilful parody of Melona Taunta. Sigmund Freud is believed to have been a vaudeville comedian with a straight man called Oedipus. Charles Dickens was a novelist whose comic masterpiece was The Origin of Species, its survival of the fittest doctrine seen as a satire of social conditions.
While a slight book compared to much of Ackroyd’s work, The Plato Papers is a witty exercise in seeing ourselves as others might come to see us and a richly inventive slice of fiction that will reward more than one reading.