Tuesday, 22 July 2003
Michael Moorcock: Byzantium Endures (1981)
Review number: 1173
The creation of Maxim Pyatniski, or Colonel Pyat, is Moorcock's supreme piece of literary artistry. Many writers, even some of the best, find it hard to write a convincing, three dimensional character who has a different voice from their own. In Pyat, Moorcock's aim seems to be a narrator who is the diametrical opposite of himself in as many ways as possible. The one thing he is unable to do is to make him admirable or sympathetic - he is rabidly anti-Semitic, self-aggrandizing, foolish, vain, cocaine-addicted (and that is just what comes across in his own autobiographical narrative).
Byzantium Endures is the first of four lengthy novels, which means that it is possible to pursue Pyat's repellent personality at great length through the twentieth century. Myself, I find that a relatively small quantity of this goes a long way, despite the fascinating backgrounds (in this case, Russia just before the Communist revolution and during the subsequent civil war). This feeling was exacerbated by not having read the series in the correct order, as I purchased them as I found them in bookshops, and so there weren't really any surprises by the time I worked back to the first of them. By warned - the impact of Byzantium Endures is drastically reduced by doing this. Even taking this into account, I think that some of Moorcock's less ambitious writing is more successful, and certainly more congenial.