A review of Jerusalem, by Alan Moore
I’m disappointed by Jerusalem, since it is written by Alan Moore, a writer whom I have read with great pleasure since his early work in comic books. Here in the middle of Jerusalem I can barely find the Moore who wrote Miracleman, The Lost Girls, From Hell, Swamp Thing, Top Ten, LOEG, The Watchmen, and many more fine stories. I know this man knows how to tell a good story, inhabited by fascinating characters caught up in fantastic adventures. This time he has struggled, it seems to this reader, to write with his usual mastery.
Moore has placed his story in the ethereal precincts of his beloved Northampton, and has elevated his inspirited hometown to a holy and eternal city; but this exaltation, lovely in intention, is blurred by its own prose, which reads like the prose of a beginning writer, who believes that adding a vast abundance of detail will make his story more convincing:
“Mick nodded, fumbling in his jacket for the brand new pack of fags he’d picked up half an hour back on the way down Barrack Road. He peeled the cuticle of cellophane that held the packet’s plastic wrap in place down to its quick, shucked off the wrapper’s top and tugged the foil away that hid the tight-pressed and cork-Busbied ranks beneath, the crinkled see-through wrapping and unwanted silver paper crushed to an amalgam and shoved carelessly into Mick’s trouser pocket.” (p. 33)
Moore does not trust his reader, an old mistake I was surprised to read in a writer as experienced as he. “Mick pulled a pack of fags from his jacket” is enough. Unless the unwrapping of said fags and careful stowage of the wrapper matter deeply in the later story, that’s plenty.
I can withstand crushing prose if I care about a story’s characters. But I find I do not care much about these characters. Moore seems anxious about them, or concerned that people might not like them; he troubles them and pokes them until they can barely stand up. I’d like them to get a strong drink and a good night’s sleep, before they are compelled to resume their contortions.
I can see the characters resenting the author. “Look, mate, we’re trying to tell a story here. Do you mind? Let us work.”
The story that Moore wants to tell us is a lovely one. His stories concern the beauty of the world even when horrible things happen. I believe he has missed a grand opportunity to bring us yet another story about beauty, just when we need one. I wish he would write less, so that his story could say more.
The blurbs, the magniloquent blurbs that in their intensity approach apoplexy, should have deterred me. Along the luminous margins of this great work dangle lesser writers who trust the reader even less than Moore trusts her — these writers are the blurb writers, who are not real storytellers of course but marketers, engrossed in their spasmodic task of selling, selling, selling. The paper binding of the book is gobbed with a marketer’s specious delight. The floor of a whorehouse is less sticky.
Readers who own vast patience and a few long evenings should give this book a good long chance. Moore does risky things, and since I would like to know whether he is devoted more to this story of magical Northampton, or to the ecstasies of marketers, I suppose I will push my way around a few more dark corners in Jerusalem. Maybe I will stop in a while, or keep going, depending on how weary the characters seem, or how weary I become.
I love a big, rollicking whorehouse of a book. I wish Moore had written one.