Self-involved, but genuinely out to give you a good time

The latest from legendary writer, Michael Moorcock, is a blend of biography and fantasy akin to Richard Bowes’s Dust Devil on a Quiet Street which I read last year. However, where Bowes’s semi-autobiographical novel is subtle and shot through with haunting darkness, Moorcock’s is broad and direct and more than a little rough-hewn.

The windows into his early life and the nostalgia-gilded memories of post-War Britain were fascinating and at times insightful:

Tourism depends on lots of people everywhere with loads of disposable wealth, which means all kinds of changes go through a place that cultivates it. The real, messy, informative past disappears to be overlaid with bad fiction, with simplified folklore, easy answers. Memory needs to remain complex, debatable. Without those qualities it is mere nostalgic sentimentality. Commodified identity. Souls bought and sold.

The cameos by noted science fiction authors, literary authors, and pop culture figures paint a fascinating picture of Moorcock’s early life and the times.

The first incursion of the mystical and adventurous is fun enough, especially as adolescent Moorcock convinces himself of whatever he needs to believe in order to follow the girl of his dreams.  But later fantastic bits feel clumsily stitched in, and the self-construction felt heavy-handed at times (especially when it comes to sex and romance), even when he tries to balance it with self-deprecation:

Good-natured and generous by inclination, like so many writers, I was probably monstrously insensitive, utterly self-involved, but genuinely out to give her a good time

or

I seemed able to sympathise with her but not understand her.

In the end, I couldn’t bring myself to finish it. I appreciate the intent behind the novel, but the pacing was a little too slow and the autobiography a little too self-congratulatory. I would have preferred a straight biography or a straight fantasy that spared me trouble of sorting the bits out. I’ve always thought of myself as a completist where Moorcock is concerned, but The Whispering Swarm proved me wrong.

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