Best London Fiction (continued)

Michael Moorcock - Mother London

Sharing one of the conceits of 'Capital' by Maureen Duffy, Michael Moorcock's stunning, massive 'Mother London' follows three mental patients - Josef Kiss, Mary Gasalee and David Mummery - who all share, to greater or lesser extent, some form of psychic power. This means that they, and us, hear snippets of 'conversations', the intermingled voices of London past and present, and thus giving life to the 'Mother London' of the title - a voice often comprised of the forgotten, of those on the margins, the dispossessed and the disenfranchised. The technique is used sparingly and adroitly, never pushing the novel into the realms of full blown magical realism.

The narrative is non-linear, jumping around from the Blitz to the present day creating a patchwork of modern-London history, dozens of stories, no plot, all captured by a writer who was probably at the height of his powers when he wrote this. Moorcock's love for his home city is readily apparent, and all its inhabitants, and it is this kind of enthusiasm for place and location that gives the novel such tremendous energy. The standout scene/story for me is a wonderful, edgy description of riots at the Notting Hill carnival in 1977 as seen through the eyes of his characters, people trapped inside a pub by violent police as racial violence erupts.

Moorcock wrote, some years later, a sort-of follow up to this, the wonderful 'King of the City', but this remains one of his most impressive works and utterly essential for anyone interested in London writing.

Gerald Kersh - Night and the City

The once forgotten, but now remembered again (if John King has anything to do with it!) Gerald kersh is something of a legend amongst London writers. Prolific (with varying results) and dabbling in all kinds of genres, he was a streetwise man not averse to a brawl, from a London-Jewish background, well regarded in his day but forgotten soon after by the literary establishment. This, however, has begun to change due to his praises being sung by writers such as Michael Moorcock, Iain Sinclair and John King (who is responsible for reprinting a new edition of 'Night and the City' through his London Books Classics imprint.)

He is rightly lauded for this novel, an illumination of pre-war Soho in a way that is thrilling ,and oddly saddening as you read about this lost world of underground, smoky bars. The novel focuses on self-confessed 'ponce', Harry Fabian, detailing his shady dealings amongst the Soho underworld of the 1930's as he gets involved with a wrestling racket, prostitutes and gambling. More important than plot is the wonderful evocation of time and place; Kersh's descriptions of night 'falling' upon the city and the change the metropolis goes through as it morphs into something more unsavoury and dangerous are captivating and intoxicating. 'Night and the City' is a lowlife classic up there with the best from Alexander Baron and Robert Westerby.

Kersh wrote a number of other London novels, notably 'Fowler's End' and 'Prelude to a Certain Midnight', both of which are worth tracking down.

Michael Moorcock - Gloriana, or The Unfulfill'd Queen

Moorcock's unabashed homage to Mervyn Peake's wonderful 'Gormenghast' trilogy, set in alternate London, heart of a world-spanning Empire called Albion, ruled over by Queen Gloriana. A new Golden Age of peace, enlightenment and prosperity has dawned under her rule; Gloriana is Albion and Albion is Gloriana; and so, if one falls, so will the other. Gloriana is oppressed by the burden this places upon her - and by the fact that she remains incapable of orgasm...(hence 'The Unfulfill'd Queen').

However, this seeming state of tranquility is only maintained through shady actions, subterfuge practised by a shadowy group of spies and assassins working for the government, particularly those practised by the character of Quire. When he falls out of favour with the Queen's chancellor, Lord Montfallcon it sets in motion a chain of actions that threaten the very Empire itself.

A wonderful homage to Peake, and a fantastic, otherworldy yet recognisable London make this one of Moorcock's finest novels.