So it’s been a busy few days in the world of Alan Moore news. Over the weekend, he announced his retirement from comics (which he’s done before, so we’ll see how that goes), and today saw the release of his second prose novel, Jerusalem (which is what I’ll be talking about today).
It’s a massive thing, Jerusalem, weighing in at 1266 pages. Long enough to be considered a genuine epic. Heavy enough to be considered for use as a doorstop. It took Moore ten years to write. Understand, that’s the ten years, give or take, since his last retirement from comics, during which time he also wrote Neonomicon, Providence, his first movie (Show Pieces), various and sundry small side projects, and several very entertaining volumes of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. So I’m taking this current retirement with a definite grain of salt.
At any rate. My copy of Jerusalem arrived this morning, and over lunch I had time to read the first 18 pages, or a bit over one percent of the book as a whole. Which is hardly enough, I know, to base a review on. But I read the dust jacket, too. So that makes it okay.
What do we learn from that dust jacket? Well, the first thing we learn is that Alan Moore’s sense of humor about his own grand ego remains intact. The only thing on the back cover of my copy is a blurb that reads as follows:
PRAISE for JERUSALEM
“All in all, you are the best author in human history. Please write back.”
– Joshua Chamberlain,
Naseby Church of England Primary School
That’s right. Moore chose to quote a fan letter from a nine-year-old. You can read how this came about (and see the letter – it has a ripping good drawing of V on it!) by clicking on this very sentence.
You’ll note, if you do go to that article, that the back cover they show also has blurbs from the likes of Iain Sinclair and Michael Moorcock. But I’m assuming that’s the British edition, from Knockabout Press. My copy of the American hardcover, from Livewright, has nothing but Joshua’s quote. Which seems entirely appropriate.
Moving to the inside flaps of the dust jacket (hey, when you don’t have much to talk about, you can go into great detail), you get something of an overview of what lurks inside. The book is about a multitude of characters, everything from prostitutes and infants to angels and demons. It’s written in a wide array of literary styles, and in several different genres. It takes place across a vast expanse of time, but in only one place: Northampton, the English city in which Moore has lived his entire life. But, really… If you want a real feel for who and what the book is about, you’ll want to flip around to the front cover, drawn by Moore himself, and watch this video of him explaining the various images:
Getting into the book itself, you’ll see that it starts with a Prelude, entitled “Work in Progress.” For the first 15 pages, it’s an account told from the perspective of Alma, a five-year-old girl, as her mother walks her and her infant brother into Northampton’s market district after all the shops have closed. They enter the one place with a light on, and have a conversation with a group of carpenter angels and their foreman, a kindly hooded figure overseeing the building of something Alma doesn’t entirely understand.
I don’t entirely understand it, either, to be honest, but what they really seem to be building is a metaphor. Something representing the world, or Northampton, or maybe just something to do with Alma’s family. Or maybe all those things. Probably all those things. And maybe (probably) some other things, besides, that I’m not smart enough or British enough to understand. Also, I’ve only read the first 18 pages, so I suspect that this scene will come to mean more as I get deeper into the book. Also also, we get this entire sequence, as I said, from the perspective of a five-year-old, so… My confusion is, to some extent, hers. As is my uneasiness as they make the walk, expecting something horrible, both because she’s a little scared and because this is, after all, an Alan Moore novel, and well… I’ve read enough Alan Moore to expect some ugliness along the way.
I should mention, at this point, that though we’re getting this story from Alma’s perspective, we’re not getting it in her voice. No, the voice is that of an adult narrator, explaining things as Alma understands them. It rambles quite a bit, as Alma’s five-year-old attention span sends her mind wandering off in all directions, thinking about buildings and streets, everything she knows about her family, how going round a corner on the street and going round the bend into madness are sort of the same thing but different, and then back to her mother’s conversation with the hooded man and her little brother’s cheerful infant myopia. It’s all over the place. But Moore’s prose is beautiful and funny, trailing out into gorgeous descriptions and clever turns of phrase. I think my favorite of these is his description of Alma’s grandmother:
May Warren, formerly May Vernall, was a stout and freckled dreadnaught of a woman, rolling keg-shaped down the tiled lanes of the covered Fish Market most Saturdays, leaving a cleared path in her wake and gathering momentum with each heavy pace like an accumulating snowball of cheery malevolence, the speckled jowls in which her chin lay sunken shuddering at every step, the darting currants of the eyes pressed deep into the heaped blood-pudding of her face, glittering with anticipation of whatever awful treat she’d visited the market to procure.
That’s good stuff, sprinkled along over the course of a sentence to be reckoned with. And while not everything in these earliest pages is that clever (or quite so rambling), all of it’s a joy to read. It took me a page or so to get into Moore’s rhythm, I’ll grant you. But once I did, I felt like I was floating along on a sea of words, made at turns to feel both confused and clever, uneasy and amused. My lunch hour ended all too quickly, and my mind wasn’t entirely on my work the rest of the day. It’s really a tribute to how very much I enjoyed the read that I’m sitting here now writing this instead of reading more. But it’s so good that I really felt the need to tell somebody.
But of course it is. What else would you expect from the best author in human history…?
Alright. That’s 1225 words on 1266 pages (with only 1248 left to go!). I suppose I should shut up now, and get some more reading done. I may come back to Jerusalem again, checking in at various stages as I make my way through. Maybe not every 18 pages, mind you. But also maybe more than once more before I finish. Time will tell.
In the meantime, though, if you’d like to read a perspective from someone who has (or at least pretends to have) read the whole thing, you could go here:
Or here, if you want one from someone who really does sound like they’ve actually read it: