A review of Jerusalem, by Alan Moore
I have read Alan Moore with delight and admiration since his early work in comic books, but I am having trouble with his new and mighty story, Jerusalem. Here in the middle of this, the gentleman’s latest great work, on page hundreds-something, I can barely find the Moore who wrote Miracleman, The Lost Girls, From Hell, Swamp Thing, Top Ten, LOEG, The Watchmen, Promethea, and many more fine stories. I know this man can tell a good story, inhabited by fascinating characters caught up in fantastic adventures. As I trudge along, I find I am hoping the masterful writer will appear, and tell his tale. Sir? Are you trapped in a cellar, or pinned under a tree? / Sing out that we might know thee.
Moore has placed his story in the ethereal precincts of his beloved Northampton, and has elevated his town to a holy and eternal city; but this exaltation is blurred by thick 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, a mistake I was surprised to read in a writer as anciently wise as he. “Mick pulled a pack of fags from his jacket.” Unless the unwrapping of said fags and careful stowage of the wrapper matter deeply in the later story, that’s plenty.
I can cope with crushing prose if I care about a story’s characters. Except I find I do not care much about this group of folks who dash, lurch, and stumble around in Jerusalem. Moore seems anxious about them, or concerned that people might not like them; he pokes them until they can barely stand up. At the end of every chapter I’d like to tuck them in for a nap and then, on their waking, offer them hot coffee before they are made to resume their contortions.
I can see the characters resenting the author. “Look, mate, we’re trying to tell a story here. Mind? Let us work.”
Moore’s stories, it often seems to me, tell us about the unexpected beauty of the world, even when horrible things happen. I believe he has missed an opportunity to bring us yet another story about undiscovered beauty, just when we as a planet, as a species, rather need one. I wish he would write less, so that his story could say more.
The magniloquent blurbs on the jacket, which in their intensity approach apoplexy, should have scared me away. Blurb writers are not storytellers but marketers; and marketers seem to me the sorriest of people, engrossed forever in their spasmodic task of selling, selling, selling. You cannot put down this book, not because its story fascinates, but because its jacket is gobbed with effusions. 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. Still, I would like to know whether he is truly devoted to his story of magical Northampton — and to his readers. Because I still trust him, and because I am stubborn, I will push my way around a few more dark corners in Jerusalem.
I love a big, rollicking whorehouse of a book. I wish Moore had written one. I think this time he has written not for the reader’s delight, but his own.