All that remained was a future, now even that is denied me

In the Pyat quartet, Michael Moorcock gives a voice to the fascist Europe we left behind. The voice is a Russian engineer, a conceited techno-utopist who escapes the Russian civil war with a hatred of Bolsheviks and Jews. To make Pyat merely a fascist follower would be too simple. He’s rather a sibling of the fascists, like the Italian futurists, an independent thinker whose emotions find resonance with the fascist movements when they arrive, without falling in line behind any particular leader.

Byzantium Endures took Pyat through the Russian revolution and civil war. In The Laughter of Carthage he wanders through Europe a rootless emigrant, eventually landing in the US, where he makes friends with the Ku Klux Klan. With all Pyat’s faults, it may be excessive of Moorcock to also give him a cocaine addiction and a 13-year old lover, but what’s impressive about these novels is how reasonable Pyat appears in his own voice. And his voice is all we hear, apart from Moorcock’s introduction. The real story is a puzzle for observant readers to solve.

The novels are narrated by Pyat as an old man, a shopkeeper in London. This gives his story a melancholic slant. Pyat’s life has been a failure in every way. The stories he tells of his glorious youth are merely the rants of a bitter old man. The reader pities him. But it’s a cautious pity. Moorcock’s achievement is to show that the Europe Pyat personifies is neither remote nor fully dead.

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