BOOK REVIEW / Napoleon of Notting Hill: 'Jerusalem Commands' - Michael Moorcock: Cape, 15.99

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IT IS eight years since the preceding volume in this planned tetralogy appeared, and we begin exactly where the last one ended, with Colonel Pyat, or Pyatnitsky, or Peters, flying to New York to meet his fiancee in a DH4 stuffed full of liquor. (The 18th Amendment was in force at the time.)

For those who missed the first two volumes, Byzantium Endures and The Laughter of Carthage, Colonel Pyat is an ancient, grumbling Russian living in a damp flat in Notting Hill, whose memoirs Moorcock has agreed to transcribe. He is a racist, a half-Jewish, circumcised anti-Semite, an apologist for Hitler, an ex-silent movie star, an inventor, and, as he says on just about every page, 'the voice and the conscience of civilised Europe'. And, just as you would expect from a V and C of civilised Europe, he was born on 1 January, 1900.

A hero who is snobbish, young, gifted, urbane, on terms with everyone who matters, with a taste for fine cocaine: this is the kind of thing Cyril Connolly was taking the rise out of 50 years ago. Pyat occasionally lapses into Yiddish, German, Arabic and colloquial Russian; sometimes this achieves a fragmentary power, but most of the time it is redundant posturing. The same problem arises, to a more disturbing degree, when trying to separate Pyat's more perceptive statements ('it is against the law to offer the opinions of experience') from his souped-up unpleasantness ('the Holocaust . . . was not my fault . . . any more than it was Adolf Hitler's]').

By faithfully reproducing Pyat's stream of consciousness, Moorcock leaves open the question of whether his hero is an enormous bore, a key player in the history of Europe, or a charlatan. Such ventriloquism too easily absolves Moorcock from the charge of falling short of the large claims he implicitly makes, but he has caught Pyat's voice perfectly - if only he hadn't let it go on so.