Wednesday, 29 April 2009

33. Michael Moorcock - 'The Spencer Inheritance' (1997)

'Bonuses all round,
says Donny Flair
our golden age PM.
Let's give ourselves
A pat on the back.'


While this story disappointed a little, inevitably in comparison with 'Theatre of War' (and Ballard has surely covered this territory brilliantly), there is much that is, or was, bracingly relevant. The epigraphs to each chapter or section, quoting Diana or reports regarding the media circus, inform a dystopian view of Britain: e.g. '[...] I wonder how they and all the grey men who put her down feel now? The people have spoken.' - Michael Winner, News of the World, September 7th 1997.

There are astonishing bursts of irrationality like this, from Julie Burchill, conflating patriotism with idolatory of Diana, and defining 'us', the people, against 'them', the foreigners, the Greeks and Germans: '. . . The Royal Family often seem to behave in ways which could actually be called unpatriotic, and their denial of Diana, the world's sweetheart, was the biggest betrayal of all. But then, what can you expect from a bunch of Greeks and Germans . . . Her brave, bright, brash life will forever cast a giant shadow over the sickly bunch of bullies who call themselves our ruling house. We'll always remember her, coming home for the last time to us, free at last - the People's Princess, not the Windsors'. . . .We'll never forget her. And neither will they.' - News of the World, September 7, 1997. Moorcock's scholarly selection of these epigraphs is insightful, but they could be more strongly tied to the narrative at times, which has a loose, freewheeling feel about it, in stark contrast to the concise control of a Ballard.

There are pertinent juxtapositions of Diana's professed views on landmines with her role as a martyred figurehead in the internal conflicts of this parallel Britain; and indeed the civil war is depicted in bloody terms, with plenty of descriptions of para-military and indeed military activities.

In terms of Cornelius, this seems to be an exercise in bathos: Jerry cuts a sickly figure in this story, suffering from 'convulsions' and playing little active part. Maybe this is part of Moorcock's subverting of the hero figure in science fiction? One suspects you need a thorough grasp of the character and what he has previously been (in various novels and shorts) to get a full picture of his portrayal here. That might a criticism of Moorcock in that he presumes a familiarity with these characters - maybe the first of my shorts surveyed which requires this sort of awareness of backstory. It can still be enjoyed, but is a curious, slightly distancing read at times.

Jerry does make a crucial comment - 'Long ago [...] Far away. Obsolete ikons. Failed providers. Lost servers. Scarcely an elegy, Miss Scarlett. Hardly worth blacking up for. Government by lowest common denominator. A true market government. Poets have been mourning this century ever since it began.' - which is close to one of the ruefully defeated reflections by the mysterious academic Robinson in Patrick Keiller's diptych encompassing London and Robinson in Space (1994/7), of which I am sure Moorcock is well aware, being a London writer.

Una Persson is a more attractive and proactive figure in the narrative; this chic revolutionary (or terrorist) wouldn't be out of place in a Luke Haines song, being introduced thus: 'Una Persson, stylish as ever in her military coat and dark, divided pants, straddled the fire, warming her hands. Her pale oval face, framed by a brunette pageboy, brooded into the middle distance. 'Don't buy any of that cheap American crap,' she told Major Nye. 'Their tanks fall apart as soon as their own crappy guns start firing. Get a French one, if you can.' '

She is a European anarchist, fashioned from the 60s and 70s, but timeless in herself; she has indeed appeared in several of Moorcock's different books and series': Elizabethan alt-history Gloriana, the Unfulfill'd Queen (1978), the Jerry Cornelius quadrilogy (1968-77), The Dancers at the End of Time (1974-76) , The Nomad of the Time Streams (1971-81), etc. The last of these series fascinatingly is centred around and narrated by Oswald Bastable, one of the Treasure Seekers of Edith Nesbit's 1899 children's novel, and finds roles for Churchill, Enoch Powell and Mick Jagger... a must-read, now that I have finished Donald Barthelme's excellent novel The King (1991), with its depiction of Arthurian myth transplanted to WW2. [finished as of: 17/05/09]

Una is a kind of refraction of that sphere of British music that runs from Roxy Music to the Human League, where things European and avant-garde were utilised. In terms of who might be the ideal Una in a film, Moorcock comments on his Multiverse website's forum, 'There might be one or two suitable actresses, but mine are associated either with US film noir or French nouvelle vague (or thereabouts). Or Beatles Berlin...' Anna Karina, perhaps? Or Jenny Runacre if British? She is clearly portrayed as aware of feminism, reading Meredith's Diana of the Crossways (1885) - Moorcock conveying his love of the forgotten and arcane in literature, as well as liberated, anarchistic women.

Overall, it is a rather ramshackle, freely associating narrative, written in a style that is somehow difficult for me to get used to; definitely an original voice, who I will pursue at longer length - the Nomad series? Critical to understanding it is Jerry's comment: 'But I have a feeling it won't go down too well in the provinces. I'm beginning to think this has been a poor career move. Market forces abhor the unique.'

'Murdering the opposition:
It is a last resort.
He came up that morning
He said
From Scunthorpe or was it Skegness.
You know, don't you?
The last resort.'


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