Three Brothers

Peter Ackroyd

Shortlisted for Les Prix Des Lecteurs Litteratures Europeennes De Cognac

Three Brothers

Ackroyd’s brilliant novel is contemporary, a departure for the author. It follows the lives of Harry, Daniel and Sam Hanway, brothers born in the middle of last century, in a grim council estate in Camden. After their mother disappears, each boy is forced to make his own way. Harry, tough and ambitious, climbs high in the cut-throat world of Fleet Street; Daniel retreats into his books and becomes a professor; Sam is the dreamer who ends up as the odd-job man for a ruthless landlord. Then there is the cockney thief Sparkle, lover to one brother, friend to another, source of political scandal to another. The London of newspapers, publishing offices, the comfort of Chelsea, the shadowy streets of Limehouse and Hackney, are presented in vivid detail in this gripping tale.

‘The waspish vignettes of literary London and fusty academe are a delight. The air is full of poison – and echoes of other Ackroyd novels. He sees the capital as “a web so taut and tightly drawn” that the slightest movement sets off a chain of events. The repercussions of Mrs Hanway’s profession contain horror and hilarity in equal measure. The brilliant result is the quintessence of Ackroyd.’ The Telegraph

‘His (Ackroyd’s) prose.. is simple yet possesses great consonance and depth. Ackroyd’s own latest contribution to the London novel marks a further stage of his literary love affair with the city that he conjures so brilliantly in fiction and non-fiction alike.’ Independent

‘At heart, it’s a creepy, melancholy love letter to London and the layers of history that haunt it, breaking into the present as hallucinations and spectres… Ackroyd picks out vibrant details… He steers his characters through Fleet Street offices and Limehouse slums, and bumps them against expertly drawn literati, pickpockets, prostitutes and politicians… this book is suffused with his intelligence and learning.’ Observer

‘A very enjoyable read’ Independent on Sunday

‘Three Brothers is a surprise, and a welcome one… It is a book full of rich and sudden moments of delight.’ The Scotsman

‘If you are going to read a novel that plays with literary conventions you want it written with aplomb. In Three Brothers we are not disappointed, as Peter Ackroyd shows a deftness of touch that comes from being a real master.’ The Statesman

‘[Ackroyd’s] beloved London comes across as warm, coherent, and triumphantly alive.’ Publishers Weekly

‘Born in consecutive years in the late 1940s, the three Hanway brothers share the same birthday, but that’s all they have in common. The eldest, Harry is ambitious, thrusting his way to success in the newspaper business; the middle child, Daniel, is bookish and becomes a Cambridge English literature Don and book reviewer. Sam, the youngest, is a loner, uninterested in a career and unable to settle at anything. They drift apart and yet their very different lives somehow end up intersecting, linked by their relationships to a Rackman-style slum landlord, his secretary, a male prostitute, and their mother, who mysteriously walked out on them when they were young.

The unlikely coincidences that have their paths criss-crossing are a deliberate part of the fabric of the book, harking back to Dickens and an essential part of Ackroyd’s London where, if you look hard enough, everyone is connected.

And London is a major character in the novel, from gay Soho pubs, discreet restaurants, the dark streets of Limehouse, to the drinking holes of Fleet Street as it was in its heyday, and posh but rotten Chelsea. In Ackroyd’s accomplished hands the city becomes a mystical place, where visions abound. Highly recommended.’ Daily Mail

Cultural pick of the week (Mail on Sunday)


  • Chatto & Windus UK
  • Nan A Talese Books USA
  • Editions Philippe Rey France
  • Edhasa Spain
  • Teodolito Portugal

Material: edited text (280pp)