Tuesday, 20 November 2001

Michael Moorcock: London Bone (2001)

Edition: Scribner, 2001
Review number: 995

In Moorcock's earlier short story collection, The Opium General, the title story was by no means the lengthiest item. The same is true here, but London Bone dominates the collection (in terms of quality and memorability) and deserves to provide the title. (There is also a marketing reason for using it as the title, which is the connection it establishes with Mother London, one of Moorcock's best and most successful novels.)

The story London Bone is set in a near future, and is narrated by a speculator who finances West End shows, temporarily suffering a setback because of a collapse in the popularity of Andrew Lloyd Webber. He becomes involved in a new venture, the supply of an incredibly beautiful material initially thought to be mammoth bone from a London building site. It is eventually shown to be human bone, transformed by lime, London clay, and seepages of raw sewage. The story is about the effect that the nostalgia trade has on London, as it cannibalises its past, selling the bones of its ancestors and destroying the soul of the city. It is a powerful and memorable story.

The long story in the collection, The Cairene Purse, is set in Egypt, again in the fairly near future. A western engineer is searching for his sister in Aswan, on a Nile virtually abandoned by tourists because of pollution, the destruction of most of the monuments and their replacement by Disney-built replicas at desert resorts far from the impoverished mass of the Egyptian population. Atmospheric and thought provoking, it is nonetheless not as significant a story as London Bone, perhaps partly because of the length, which feels a touch over extended for the story's ideas.

The Cairene Purse is an odd one out in the collection, for even though not all the other stories are set in London (Doves in the Circle is in New York), they share a metropolitan background which is as well realised as the fantasy backgrounds which were the staple of Moorcock's earlier career. The stories also share a nostalgia for an earlier age, particularly London before or just after the war and certainly before Thatcher, a politician viewed by Moorcock as the destroyer of the essence of her country. Typically for Moorcock, cross references to his other stories abound, characters such as the Cornelius brothers frequently being mentioned in passing.

The best of the stories not yet mentioned is the second, whose title, London Blood, makes it a companion to London Bone. This story, an anecdote of pre war South London, is the most like the novel Mother London. There is really, though, no great connection between these stories and the novel, and London Bone

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