Book Review by Patrick Quigley: The Whispering Swarm
2015-11-01 16:01:20 -

The Whispering Swarm 

by Michael Moorcock




Stories are at the heart of all cultures and religions and forms of ethnic and social identity, and maybe no one knows this more than Michael Moorcock. Even as a boy he was expelled from school for keeping the other boys awake at night with his tales. He has since made a living over many decades writing stories with over a hundred books to his credit. At the ripe age of 75 he finally tells his own story in The Whispering Swarm, but in a very unusual way.


The young Michael Moorcock has a lot in common with the real Moorcock, but there are differences in the details. Michael grows up in wartime London with the ruins of bombed houses for playgrounds. He has visions, but it is never clear if these are delusions. Like the author, he becomes editor of Tarzan Adventures at 16, going on to write scripts for scores of comics. He plays guitar with a rock band, Hawkwind, and becomes part of the Swinging Sixties cultural scene in London.


His life changes when a monk shows him a door leading into Alsacia, a sanctuary in the heart of London between Fleet Street and the Thames. Moorcock goes into a tavern and meets cowboys and highwaymen – he assumes they are actors until he meets a young woman, Moll Midnight, and falls in love.


When he resumes normal life he hears voices in his head, the Whispering Swarm of the title. The voices only stop when he returns to Alsacia and learns how the sanctuary moves between centuries. Meanwhile, he lives the life of a successful writer, editor and musician with a family. Yet the grip of Alsacia grows stronger and he spends longer terms with Moll.


Ah, you think, Alsacia must be a metaphor for the writing life, or maybe an embroidered version of an extra-marital affair. However, the author weaves the imaginary and the fictional so closely that the reader comes to accept the reality of Alsacia.


In his work Moorcock has developed the concept of the Multiverse with a multitude of alternate realities. In this book he offers an alternate depiction of himself where his fictions come true. You read with less concern for what is real or imagined and go along for the rollercoaster ride. Boundaries are dissolved in an attempt to rescue King Charles I, leading to an exciting chase along the frozen Thames.


The Whispering Swarm is unlike any other book and resonates in the mind, the first of a trilogy that will follow Moorcock into the world of story.



Patrick Quigley is a freelance writer and honorary treasurer of the Irish Polish Society. His latest book is Sisters Against the Empire: Countess Markievicz & Eva Gore-Booth.

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