When I started reading Gloriana — maybe even before that, when I read about the premise — I was very doubtful about whether I’d like it. The way the plot revolves around the fact that Gloriana can’t have an orgasm just baffled me: it made it sound like that was the most important thing in life, which… it isn’t. Still, actually reading the book, and especially the ending, made me think that aspect of it is actually a metaphor. I understand people who find the ending abhorrent: there’s a rape scene which may seem to imply that someone who is anorgasmic just needs to be raped.
Reading both the original and revised endings, though, I don’t think that was where Moorcock was going with that. In both, he emphasises that what finally allows Gloriana to find fulfilment is not anything really to do with sex, but that for the first time in her life, she can focus solely and entirely on herself. For the rest of the book — the rest of Gloriana’s life — she’s too concerned with being a queen, with being a country. But here, in both scenarios, whether she takes control of it or not, she becomes an individual in her fear.
Now, why that had to be via sex and sexual violence is a question that’s definitely valid to ask, but it is important to read something carefully if you’re going to critique it. More immediate to me are the questions about consent concerning children and animals, which are not dealt with critically at all — rather the opposite.
In any case, all of that aside, I really liked Gloriana. Not so much for individual characters as for the whole idea, the plotting and scheming, the setting. Which is not to say that the individual characters weren’t of interest — they were, in their tangle of motivations and confusion of feelings. Montfallcon, particularly, was interesting because of the way his motivations were unveiled piece by piece, slowly. The labyrinthine world of the court as a whole, though; that, I really liked. I haven’t actually read Gormenghast, but from what I know of it, I think Moorcock made a worthy tribute to it in many ways here.
The writing itself was, to my mind, easy to read. He doesn’t go for any false archaisms, though the style isn’t contemporary, and while he piles on the adjectives and so on, I do feel that’s an intentional embarrassment of riches, like the court itself.
I can understand why people dislike this book, or never finish it, but I’m glad I did.