Wednesday, 1 December 1999

Michael Moorcock: The Condition of Muzak (1978)

Edition: Fontana, 1988
Review number: 398

Michael Moorcock waited several years before completing the Jerry Cornelius series. In it he underlines the themes of the series as a whole, without really bringing things to a conclusion. He also brings out a new emphasis, the identification of Jerry with Harlequin, and the other characters with traditional Harlequin roles, and the relationship between Jerry and Moorcock's concept of the Eternal Champion.

There is very little plot in The Condition of Muzak. Even more than the preceding stories, it is made up of unrelated and inconsistent tales - fantasies, in more than one sense - of Jerry's adventures. In the earlier novels, these are different dystopian ideas of the sixties and seventies, but now he also turns up in the past, in the Boer War or the Indian Raj. The episodes containing his brother Frank and his mother are now more mundane, as though these are fantasies more closely related to reality (a North Kensington estate). (At the same time, both characters are more exaggeratedly unpleasant.) His sister Catherine is almost totally a symbol rather than a person; she spends almost the entire novel unconscious, a Galatea to be admired by her brother.

This series had a strong emotional effect on me when I first read it a decade ago. It is still one which could do this, though re-reading it I have tended to admire the way that Moorcock produces his effects rather than letting them act on me. This is partly because I have read it before, and partly because I am rather older. Despite never writing about the real sixties and seventies, the novels have a strong sense of that period. That doesn't mean they have dated, but that one of the most importa nt themes they explore is the replacement of the optimism of the sixties with disillusionment.

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