- Jerusalem by Alan Moore October 27, 2016Should you read Alan Moore’s new novel Jerusalem? Well, on the one hand he’s justly celebrated for brilliant and ground-breaking graphic novels. On the other hand, 1,262 pages.Turns out it’s an easy decision to make, though. It hinges on just one question: Do you like plot? If yes, then this is not a book for you. Moore has two themes here, and both of them are far more conducive to travelogs than to any sort of drama. One is the importance of Northampton, especially the part of it called the Boroughs, where he grew up. In fact, the Boroughs is his true main character, and he writes about it with real affection, ranging through time and place to show us the personalities who lived there or passed through — Oliver Cromwell before an important Civil War battle, a writer and preacher named Philip Doddridge, Charlie Chaplin, John Bunyan — most of them rebels or nonconformists in some way. “We are come upon a fateful place, which hath oft-times served as a pivot for the swivellings of history,” Cromwell says. “The fortress stood at the hill’s foot was where the sainted Thomas Becket was most treacherously brought to trial for doing God’s will rather than a king’s. Holy crusades were raised up thereabouts, as likewise were our earliest Parliaments. Not a half a mile off to the south is the cow-meadow where Henry the Sixth was beaten by the Earl of March in an affray that ended the War of the Roses…”Moore’s other theme is life after death. One character, Mick Warren, chokes on a cough drop when he’s three and dies for either a few minutes (from the other characters’ point of view) or eleven chapters (the way he experiences it). Mick’s visit to the afterlife (Mansoul or Upstairs) gives Moore a vehicle to explain his theology: everything happens all at once, in eternity, and so there is no death because nothing ever really ends. This means, as he says, that everyone lives their lives over and over again, which he thinks is a good thing. To which I thought, mean-spiritedly and probably unfairly, Yeah, if you’re an able-bodied white male in a prosperous country that values these things, this is a terrific deal. To Moore’s credit, though, he has thought about this, and argues that the very fact of being alive cancels out the horror of some people’s lives.So the book is mainly a travelog through these two settings, Northampton and the afterlife. Why, then, would you want to read it? Well, here’s another question: Do you like good writing? Moore, of course, has considerable writing ability, and what he has done here is give each chapter a different style, like James Joyce in Ulysses: a poem, a film script, a film noir parody, stream of consciousness, a history lesson. There’s also a bit of Finnegan’s Wankery in a chapter about Joyce’s daughter Lucia, who was a patient in a mental asylum in Northampton. (More about Lucia later.)Some chapters work better than others, though. I liked the poem, which turned out to be about the failures of poetry. The film noir parody was hilarious: “He likes to think he’s got a lived-in look, albeit lived in by three generations of chaotic Lithuanian alcoholics who are finally evicted in an armed siege after which the premises remain unused for decades, save as a urinal by the homeless.” Others are tougher going — I had great deal of difficulty with the afterlife part, since I wasn’t convinced by the theology to begin with. Moore has an especial fondness for long complicated sentences, and for adjectives, both of which sometimes slow the prose down nearly to a stop: “The finer details of broad avenue and narrow terrace are unfolded from these intricacies to surround him, with flat factories now springing into being at the corners of his glazed sleepwalker gaze…” And he’ll repeat things, mostly about the history of the Boroughs, until you want to shake him and say, “Yeah, I know, I know.”In Lucia’s chapter Moore does a very impressive Finnegans Wake imitation — but, of course, with every other word being some kind of pun, this took even longer to read. And there’s a more serious problem with it — is a clever tour de force really an appropriate way to tell Lucia’s story? According to Moore, she had been sexually abused by her brother George and all but ignored by her mother Nora. The style here seems to very much undercut the terrible things that happened to her.It all ends up at a showing of Alma Warren’s paintings, which she produced after hearing about her brother Mick’s experiences in Mansoul. If you’re expecting some grand revelation here you’ll probably be disappointed — what you get is more Northampton history, more repetition, and adjective-heavy descriptions of the paintings.I never felt, as Moore clearly wanted me to feel, a sense of how great or how consequential the Boroughs was. Pretty much any place, if you go back far enough, would be home to events like the ones he writes about. And since Moore gives us separate chapters about each of them there’s no sense of how they all connect up, no feeling of continuity. This is also the case with the large cast of characters, the ghosts and demons and poets and artists and monks and prostitutes and all the other eccentric inhabitants of the Boroughs. Many of them are shown wandering around the area and thinking about the places they pass, but we rarely see them interacting with anyone else. The end result is a lot of set-pieces, some of them truly wonderful, but no overall whole.[I also discovered that Moore was born three days before I was. You will be pleased to know that I don’t attach any significance to this. (November 1953! Wow, we rule! Yay, us!) Ahem…]_______Other stuff: I've decided to head out to my own blog, and I hope my handful of readers will follow me there. It's called "You Have To Wonder," and it's at ljgoldstein.livejournal.com. I'll be overlapping with this blog for a while, though.
- New Review at LOCUS ONLINE October 26, 2016I look at a fine new novel:http://www.locusmag.com/Reviews/2016/10/paul-di-filippo-reviews-will-mcintosh/
- Resnick in the (Counterfactual) Sixties October 26, 2016
- Cain in the (Counterfactual) Sixties October 23, 2016
- Kuttner & Moore in the (Counterfactual) Sixties October 22, 2016
- Delany in the (Counterfactual) Sixties: 4 October 22, 2016