Friday, 24 August 2001

Michael Moorcock: Mother London (1988)

Edition: Penguin, 1989
Review number: 921

Much of Moorcock's fiction is set in London, and Notting Hill and Ladbroke Grove in particular are home to many of his characters, including Jerry Cornelius and Maxim Pyat (in old age). This novel is a celebration of the city over a period roughly corresponding to Moorcock's own lifetime, from the blitz to the book's publication.

The novel tells its story in a very fragmentary way, with chapters not at all in chronological order (though they helpfully have years as part of their titles). The three main characters have a unique ability, to pick up the thoughts of those around them (an idea strongly related to Rushdie's Midnight's Children, which is a novel quite like Mother London, using a similar device to illuminate the story of post-independence India). This ability, uncomprehended by those around them, means that they each spend time in a mental hospital.

Much of the novel is filled with regret, mainly related to the loss of the sense of community important to the city before the Blitz. This is combined with a contempt for some of the things London has become - a heritage theme park, a place where the old working class areas are becoming gentrified and soulless.

There are some beautifully written passages in the novel, which was Moorcock's most successful from a literary point of view. As he moved away from the fantasy genre in the nineties, Mother London pointed the direction in which Moorcock was to go.

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