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.Reuse content