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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

King of the City

Michael Moorcock

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To purchase King of the City

Title: King of the City
Author: Michael Moorcock
Genre: Novel
Written: 2000
Length: 421 pages
Availability: King of the City - US
King of the City - UK

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Our Assessment:

B- : fast-paced and action-packed novel of London and modern times -- though much of the action is curiously empty

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian A 22/7/2000 Courtenay Grimwood
The Independent A 31/5/2000 Kim Newman
London Rev. of Books A 30/11/2000 Iain Sinclair
The Spectator . 13/5/2000 D.J.Taylor
Sunday Telegraph A 30/4/2000 Hal Jensen
The Times C+ 13/5/2000 Peter Ingham
TLS . 26/5/2000 Eric Korn
The Washington Post A- 12/8/2001 Carmela Ciuraru

  Review Consensus:

  Not quite a consensus, but largely very enthusiastic

  From the Reviews:
  • "This is Moorcock at his funniest, wittiest and most deadly -- with a furious rant about exactly what is wrong with London, Britain, America and the planet (and a few pertinent suggestions as to the cure)." - Courtenay Grimwood, The Guardian

  • "King of the City is at once splenetic and hilarious, tearing into people and institutions who deserve it, yet affectionate about the many different, vital worlds of London and its denizens." - Kim Newman, The Independent

  • "It reads tougher than it plays. (...) What Moorcock is doing, under the permission of a work of fiction, is contriving a comprehensive encyclopedia of lost lives, uncelebrated loci, trashed cultural memory. (...) There is wild humour, tremendous events are staged, confessions broached, public clowns ridiculed, but you can hear the racing clockwork of a damaged heart." - Iain Sinclair, London Review of Books

  • "However laborious the climb to its East European denouement, much of this is engaging stuff. (...) Veterans of the Moorcock scene will be entranced by these Notes from the Underground. Less experienced cultural time-travellers will probably be a bit baffled." - D.J.Taylor, The Spectator

  • "This is broad-shouldered, hard-nosed writing, which seems effortlessly to break with its fingers the delicate and overwrought artworks of more lily-livered authors. (...) Characters often appear in and disappear from the novel in a single paragraph or sentence. Their stories are full, and yet the brevity of their scenes has a casual brutality to it." - Hal Jensen, Sunday Telegraph

  • "Dover is an embittered, middle-aged curmudgeon with an old man's soul. We are lumbered for most of the next 400 pages with a protracted whinge against any and all change that sours Dover's deeply parochial nostalgia for his tiny part of London, a corner of Finsbury. (...) This is not to say that the book is badly written. Quite the contrary. Moorcock writes with gusto and admirable sure-footedness." - Peter Ingham, The Times

  • "(S)avagely funny (...) Moorcock's tendency toward staccato sentences becomes tiresome at times, but this is a novel well worth reading for its brilliant ideas." - Carmela Ciuraru, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Michael Moorcock's King of the City is a novel of London. It is narrated by paparazzo and sometime rock musician Dennis Dover, and mixes fact and fiction in a fast paced portrait of what seems like the decline and fall of Western civilization as mirrored in London life, ca. 1960 to the present. "We're living in an age of myths and miracles", Dover insists from beginning to end, and he recounts more than a fair share of these.
       The novel begins more or less in the present, as Dover takes the photo that will put him back on top: proof that "deceased zillionaire John Barbican Begg" is still very much alive. It's a neat scene, nicely done. But nothing quite lives up to its promise -- for reader or Dover alike. After snapping his immortal shots Dover returns to England to find that the times they have changed: "suddenly all the rules were different". All because of Princess Diana's infamous smash-up. Diana actually topped Barbican's own dramatic end: "She went metaphysical. She actually changed the nature of reality." There is a different mindset now, and Dover doesn't know where he stands.
       And so, at least in his story, Dover returns to the past, recounting the rise and dramatic fall of Barbican, and his own career -- and the life of his beloved cousin Rosie. From humble and unlikely beginnings -- Dover's dad was the "last real Londoner hanged for murder" -- Dover and his friends hustle their way to some sorts of success. They're adept at getting by, they see, first on a small scale in their neighbourhood, then on a larger scale, how the world works.
       Dover does well by his photography, cousin Rosie becomes a power among international do-gooders and the like. And Barbican Begg becomes one of the most powerful men around. Eventually one can say: "If the City and Wall Street acknowledged a Holy Trinity then it was God, Washington and Barbican Begg." Together they also make up a somewhat unlikely rock group.
       Along the way there are a variety of missteps, greater and smaller ones. Rwanda and Kosovo are only a few of the horrible places where horrible events take place that Dover winds up in; most are far closer to home. There is also a whole lot of drugs and rock 'n' roll and sex (the emphasis decidedly on the former two).
       There are some fun episodes throughout, but the book is marked by an overfill of episodes, many fairly small and incidental. The narrative is life-like, true -- life flows in this same way -- but not necessarily making for the best of reads.
       There's also an incredible amount of name-dropping. A waterfall-cascade of names dropping, in fact, oft times drowning the hapless reader. Most are real people, with only some lightly fictionalized (most notoriously, perhaps, Jillian Burnes "the transsexual novelist" and "farting novelist" Rex Martin and his "dwarfish" son Felix (aka Julian Barnes, and Kingsley and Martin Amis). These names-lists are occasionally fun, and they do serve a purpose, but it can seem a bit much.
       There is a lot of social and political criticism as well as Moorcock complains about the state of the world. Industrialists -- and especially media merchants -- and British politicians don't fare at all well, and most of America doesn't either. Moorcock's incessant sledgehammer approach can be wearying, but fairly often he does come up with some very nice things indeed -- so of John Major, for example: "He hadn't so much dropped the ball as forgotten what a ball looked like."
       Sometime rocker Moorcock moves things along at quite a pace -- but a bit more build-up and padding might have served the novel better. The stories, too, feel somewhat insubstantial -- episodic and not always neatly fitting together. Again: that is very life-like, but life-like -- to this extent -- isn't always what we want in our fiction.
       The drug-excesses and the rock-indulgences also don't always make for the most exciting of reads. Moorcock has some good riffs, but there's also a lot that seems like fairly empty filler. He seems to want to document a whole era -- and he wants to be sure not to leave out a single player.
       Moorcock doesn't seem quite certain where to go with this novel -- social satire, a portrait of London, simply telling some good stories -- and the final mix is decidedly uneven. The book seems somewhere between the ambitions (and abilities) of an Iain Sinclair and Tom Wolfe.
       Interesting in many parts, but not entirely satisfying as a novel.

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Reviews: Michael Moorcock: Other books by Michael Moorcock under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Michael Moorcock is a prolific British author.

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