Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Mother London


by Michael Moorcock (1988)

Mother London is Michael Moorcock's valentine to London - his childhood there, his youth there,neighborhoods and streets and boroughs he has haunted, people he has no doubt known and no doubt despised, memories of British movie stars and cheap pulp adventures, the ebb and flow of his own life reflected in chapters which invariably feature at least one sojourn to a London pub. And, of course, that distinct Moorcockian politik delightfully shot through the whole thing - sometimes a quick jab, sometimes in longer prose.

The novel charts the course of three survivors of the London Blitz - David Mummery, Josef Kiss, and Mary Gasalee, although not always at the same time and not sequentially and not exclusively. Notably, however, all three survived the Blitz: Mummery pulled heroically from the flames by the Black Captain; Gasalee and her newborn daughter surviving the destruction of her home and death of her husband in a bomb shelter (although Gasalee falls into a coma-state for several years after); Kiss can read minds, and is a hero of the Blitz as he could locate survivors.

All three are a bit off. Mummery is a crypto-historical geographer of London. During her coma Gasalee lived in the land of dreams, populated by 1930s movie stars, and did not visibly age at all during the long period of her sleep. Kiss shuns his gift and seems more the washed-up vaudeville performer than anything out of the comics, and is also haunted by the lament of his divorced and long unseen wife and child. Gasalee has also been the lover of the younger Mummery and the older Kiss. The social circles of all three overlap, and there is a host of secondary characters who step in and out of the narrative-perspective to provide peep-holes into specific chapters of London's past (1940 to 1985).

My Moorcock bibliography is, like most, steeped in Elric stories, plus some of his other Eternal Champion stuff and the first two Oswald Bastable books. Astute readers will know these are all thin paperback volumes, usually maxing out at about 200 pages. I read the considerably longer and meatier Gloriana, or the Unfulfilled Queen in the summer of 1997, I think. The descriptions of that fantasical alternative reality London are still with me (a heavy Peake homage by Moorcock, there, I think - the city described as almost one giant sprawling building). All by way of saying (with the exception of Gloriana) my Moorcock was limited to the lighter, more (let's just admit it) juvenile fare. Mother London is my first adult Moorocock novel, read by me firmly in, as it so happens, adulthood.

And here's the thing. After reading Mother London and the slightly related King of the City, I went back and read the Elric novel Stormbringer. That core Moorcock sense of politics? It's in Stormbringer, too, albeit mostly under the surface.

So, with me loving the politic in Mother London, and noting the politic under the surface of Stormbringer, read and consumed in my childhood, I realize that I am in fact an intellectual child of Michael Moorcock.

-d.d.

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