A review of Jerusalem, by Alan Moore
I have read Alan Moore with delight and admiration since his early work in comic books. I was surprised when, instead of falling enjoyably into Moore’s new work, Jerusalem, I felt I had begun a mighty and joyless labor which, so far, pride and stubbornness have prevented me from putting aside in favor of reading something more pleasurable. Here in the middle of the great man’s 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, Prometheus, 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 plod through this weighty book, I find I am hoping the masterful writer will appear, and tell his tale. Sir? Where are you?
Moore has placed his story in the ethereal precincts of his beloved Northampton, and has elevated his hometown to a holy and eternal city; but this exaltation is blurred by its 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. But 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 troubles them and pokes them until they can barely stand up. At the end of every chapter I’d like to tuck them in for a good night’s sleep and then, on their waking, proffer a pot of 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 seems to me, concern the beauty of the world even when horrible things happen. I believe he has missed an opportunity to bring us yet another story about beauty, when we need one. I wish he would write less, so that his story could say more.
And, the blurbs! The magniloquent blurbs, that in their intensity approach apoplexy, should have scared me away. Along the luminous margins of this 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 but marketers, engrossed 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, and since I would like to know whether he is devoted to his story of magical Northampton (of which is Moore champion and savior? the simple delights of his reader? or the vile ecstasies of marketers?), and because I still trust him, and because I am a stubborn bastard, 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.