Shortlisted for the Whitbread, nominated for the Booker: another fabulous ride through London’s recent history—here, the last four decades—that manages to be as sprawling as a Victorian social novel and as vigorous as an 18th-century picaresque.
Author of more than 70 novels (including the SF trilogy begun with Blood, 1995), Moorcock here picks up where he left off—artistically, not literally—with Mother London (1989). The story concerns three lives. Narrator Dennis Dover, son of the last Londoner hanged for murder, started out as a documentary photographer and ended up a sleazy paparazzo—and now, in newly sensitive, post-Di England—is unemployed. From this miserable perch, he takes a long, bitter, nostalgic, backwards look. Then there’s Rosie, Dennis’s cousin, whom Dennis dearly loves and who also, like Dennis, managed to pull herself out of working-class Brookgate. But most importantly, there’s John Barbican Begg, who has evolved, through genius and ruthless avarice, into a media magnate, one of the world’s wealthiest men. As these three move through the pop-riddled ’60s, through the years of drugs, assassinations, and social upheavals and on to Thatcherite England and the present day, Moorcock fills the tale with real characters and situations, made-up characters and situations, and those somewhere in between. Americans at times may feel they could use a concordance—presumably the Brits could figure it out for themselves when it was published in England last year—but you soon give up caring. Moorcock’s storytelling is just too powerful in a novel more than likely to invite comparisons to Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities. Certainly Moorcock strikes his big themes: sojourns to Africa and the Balkans echo with imperialism (both cultural and corporate) while contemporary London loses its soul to American-style consumerism. Yet at the same time King of the City is far more idiosyncratic than Wolfe’s book—and more successful because of it—with a strongly autobiographic feel. Dennis, Rosie, and John Begg never illustrate the fable, as Moorcock calls it, but it emerges completely through them.
One of our topmost novelists writing at the peak of his powers.