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Thursday, 20 March 2008
by Michael Moorcock
Michael Moorcock is well known as a writer of science fiction and fantasy. Perhaps too well known as that tends to put people off his more ‘mainstream’ work. It shouldn’t. Not only is his fantasy writing sassy and sharp, it has a darker questioning edge that is absent from most works in the genre. And that approach to his work is to be found in Mother London his most ‘conventional’ and certainly his most autobiographical novel.
On the surface this is the story of a group of Londoners, patients in the same clinic. The intricacies of their lives are carefully unfolded and we see how they relate to one another and to the city in which they live. Indeed, it is through them that we come to know the personality and biography (from the Blitz to the 1980s when the novel was written) of the most important character, London itself.
The structure of the book is unconventional, as are the characters, but it reflects the fragmented nature of their lives and is not difficult to navigate. In fact it is a tribute to Moorcock’s skill as a writer than he can tackle such a vast and chaotic subject whilst keeping his readers with him. It is much like a map of London – not always easy to see how the pieces fit together, and as you travel through the city you move from mediaeval alleyways and Victorian slums to broad thoroughfares and raised railways that track through minimalist skyscraper parks. And in that environment, people live and are influenced by their surroundings, the great mother city.
Moorcock captures all this in a vast epic of a book that is rich, lively, never conventional, and always surprising. He clearly loves the city in which he was born and lived for many years, and he clearly loves his characters. They are drawn with a sure hand and eye for the things that make us unique in a world growing ever more homogeneous.
If you want a rich, almost Dickensian work (but without Dickens’ sentimentality); one that takes you by the hand into and through a wonderland of magic in the everyday; one that shows you the modern mythology and legends of London; one that takes you on a tour of the psychogeography of the sprawling mass that sits astride the Thames; then this is the book for you. A veritable feast.
reviewed by Graeme K. Talboys