Review: Behold the Man (Michael Moorcock)

Behold this dreadful book

I’m Christian, but it’s not why I can’t stand this book.

I’m secure enough in my faith to read fictional stuff about Jesus. I read Philip José Farmer’s Jesus on Mars which presented Jesus as someone living on Mars in a culture of humans and aliens. Interesting idea! And Moorcock’s idea in his Behold the Man is also a good one – how awesome would it be to go back in time and meet Jesus?

The saying goes “Never meet your heroes” and it’s based on the premise that you stand to be disappointed because your hero won’t meet your expectation of them. In Moorcock’s scenario, the back cover explains how the main character, Glogauer finds Jesus as a “drooling idiot”. One would assume that that is a huge disappointment, and Glogauer is then faced with the question, what will he do about it?

Intrigued? I was too!

Muddled mash of nonsense.

I got hold of an ebook version of this novel, but I doubted the integrity of the .ePub file when I saw the sections jump around more than a kangaroo on a skippy ball, let alone lines of repeated badly written text inserted haphazardly within the prose. I bought a paperback version instead so I could read the right sections in the right order.

Behold the fly!
Behold the fly! So much for a bug-free paperback – there’s a fly in my printed copy of Michael Moorcock’s “Behold the Man”!

So much for a bug in my file; this Amazon paperback arrived with a dead fly in Chapter 7!

And so much for the muddled nonsense; barely a (physical) page was turned and I learned the .ePub file was fine; the hopping, skipping and jumping was in my paperback too.

I can only assume Moorcock aimed to interweave Glogauer’s back story (childhood in modern times) into the main story (adulthood in 29 AD) – but it’s not woven well because there’s no common line from one epoch to the next. It’s a line of main story here, a paragraph of backstory there, then a couple of words of main story and a page of backstory there. The main story and back story are as immiscible as oil and water; and there’s too much chopping and changing between the two with nothing holding them together.

It’s like lumpy custard except I’m not even sure what the custard is; the balance seems to be wrong – most time and detail is given to Glogauer’s past, and the events described on the back cover are barely mentioned. And it’s made worse because the main story line is pushed forwards slowly only with weak dialogue and inner thoughts.

After a third of the way into the novel I skipped over the back story sections. That’s when I noticed the cheesy tie-in with the (sometimes lengthy) Biblical passages. I think the intention is to show the similarity between the Biblical account of past events, and the events we read in the main story. But it’s done badly because the passages are just pasted in. Look at me! I’ve just tried to write something similar to this Biblical text here.

If this isn’t enough, there are random ‘sections’ of a few lines, or expletive outbursts. Ah yes, and language is some places is crude. Glogauer slips his hand under a skirt to feel her C-word. I mean…why use that sort of language? It doesn’t add anything and is completely unnecessary.

Time travel

I can’t delve into the time travel aspect too much because I skip read and failed to finish the novel. Maybe I missed something interesting, but I suspect not.

Glogauer’s time machine is black box; we know nothing regarding how it works. All we know is that unlike a box, the time machine is a (glass?) sphere. Glogauer sits inside, protected with liquid which spills when the time machine ‘lands’ and the sphere breaks. For Glogauer, this means a one way trip into the past.

Behold the Moorcock's time machine
Behold the black box time machine

He knows things are going to happen, such as the beheading of John the Baptist, but doesn’t wish to warn John because he wants the Biblical events to go ahead; he wants them to be true.

I must admit this is an interesting take on the usual dilemma of whether or how one changes the past. The “Can I” versus “Should I?” debate is abundant in time travel novels. The simple “Do I want to?” is a new one for me!

But to address the implication on the back cover that Glogauer will carry out action’s to take Jesus’ place…I just couldn’t, on a literary level, bring myself to read further to find out.

Conclusions and Rating *

Obviously I’m hugely disappointed with Michael Moorcock’s Behold the Man. I loved the premise, and opportunities for tying a backstory with the main plot – as well as with Biblical passages – are there for the picking! But unfortunately it comes out as nothing more than a random series of disjointed lines, paragraphs and pages. Unreadable, and wholly unenjoyable.

I couldn’t give away a copy of Kurt Vonnegort’s Slaughterhouse 5; I won’t even try doing the same with Behold the Man. It’s going straight in the paper recycler.


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