Wednesday, 29 September 1999

Michael Moorcock: The Final Programme (1968)

Edition: Fontana, 1988
Review number: 341

The Final Programme must have seemed, in the mid sixties, to be the epitome of British New Wave chic. Yet, unlike so much of the literature of the period, it and its sequels have not dated. Like the TV series The Avengers, it contains a distinct vein of self parody, paving the way for Moorcock's attacks on the book in the later Jerry Cornelius novels.

The best cult sixties TV series - The Saint and The Prisoner are other examples - are in fact what come to mind most readily when reading The Final Programme. That is perhaps fitting, since one of Moorcock's aims in the book seems to be to explore the boundaries between high art and popular culture. He picks up ideas and atmosphere from sources like TV and meshes them into structures from the important literature of the century (though this becomes more obvious in the later books in the series).

The background to The Final Programme is the bitter enmity between debonair dilettante man of action Jerry Cornelius and his brother Frank, drug crazed despoiler of their inheritance, an immense French château filled with booby traps by their father. Here drug culture references come into the story, as he was an expert in hallucination, working with drugs and "hallucinomats", hypnotic machines. (Remember how important both these ideas were in The Avengers.)

Frank has barred Jerry from the château, and imprisoned their sister Catherine, for whom Jerry has an incestuous passion. Joining with the mercenary Una Persson, who aims to get her hands on their father's secrets and use them to take over the world, Jerry attacks the castle.

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