Alan Moore Shows us his Jerusalem
From one town to the next, we seldom see any real distinguishing features when looking on the surface: they all have people, houses, neighbourhoods, commercial areas, and everything else you would find in a normal town. However, when we think back on our own hometown (or the town we know best, at least), we become privy to a lot of details and knowledge which escapes the cursory glance. Pretty soon, we develop the impression our town is unique and unlike most others, holding out secrets only for those willing to venture deep within. For internationally-famous author Alan Moore, the hometown in question is Northampton in the United Kingdom, and in Jerusalem he takes us on an odyssey through the streets, alleyways and lives which he knows like few others.
If there is one coherent plot to Jerusalem, it’s certainly contained within the thematic realm more than anything else. This novel is, essentially, a collection of many stories following the lives of Northampton’s diverse people, with the town being the main connecting element between them. As such, “the plot” is more about going through the town and meeting the incredibly rich cast of characters from literally all walks of life, from infants, to vagrants and prostitutes, to clergymen and famous figures.
Of course, each and every person we meet has something going on in their lives to make things interesting, so we don’t simply end up exploring daily routines. For instance, some angels and demons have reduced fate to a tournament of snooker, an enthralling conversation is taking place at the cathedral, an infant is choking on a piece of medicine for God-knows how long, a childbirth is about to take place on the streets, an art exhibition is being prepared, all while a naked old man races onward with a dead baby. In the end, will these souls find any sort of salvation, or are they to be swallowed into inexistence like so many before them?
The Core of a Town’s Essence
If there is one thing Alan Moore was never reproached for, it’s his simplicity and lack of depth. His works are always characterized by a profound drive to explore and understand the world on a philosophical, physical and sometimes metaphysical level. Moore is an explorer of reality, and it shows quite a bit in his novel. It’s a very complex read with many layers upon layers of material to explore, and I know for certain more readings will be required to fully unveil what it has to offer. In other words, be warned this is as far as you can get from a light Sunday afternoon novel to chew through.
It’s always quite visible when an author has personal knowledge and experience in relation to the topic they are discussing, and Alan Moore might know Northampton like only a handful of others. His entire life has been spent living and dreaming in that little corner of the Earth, and his massively intimate knowledge of the area spills through in practically every scene. Every street, house and person we visit is described with the kind of detail and precision generally reserved for works of non-fiction, contributing to the realistic effect produced by the novel. Time and time again the lines between reality and fiction blurred, and I couldn’t help but wonder just how close it all might be to real life.
While on the outside Northampton might not exactly hold anything special, Moore really makes a point of teaching us about the spirit of the town, so-to-speak. For all intents and purposes, the further we walk alongside him through the streets he knows so well, the closer we ourselves are to becoming an invisible citizen of the place. Alan Moore has truly accomplished something special in this regard, finding a way to draw the reader into the lives of the people he wants to explore like no other novel I can think of.
An Experimental Offering
Now, let us delve a bit more into the technical aspects of this novel, as I believe there are certain things which deserve to be discussed. First and foremost, this is about as contemporary of a novel as you can probably find these days, trying to make away with all of our known rules and conventions for a linear prose. There is no specific thread linking one chapter to the next, and we keep jumping around in time with seemingly no rules to bind us… from the early Middle Ages to the end of the world, we get to see it all.
As such, the novel feels like it can become confusing and disjointed at times, but I feel like it wasn’t as big of a problem as I assumed it would be. In large part, I believe the author’s wordsmithing qualities are to thank for this, which I feel, perhaps somewhat ironically, is the aspect many people will have a trouble with. Very little to nothing is straightforward for Moore, and every sentence is jam-packed with details, adjectives and adverbs. Nothing is simply described as is on the surface or in a generic manner, but is rather adorned with connotations for us to interpret. Everything is specific, unique and has meaning.
This is definitely a highly-experimental type of book and isn’t for every type of reader; while some may find a treasure trove of knowledge and literary displays, others might fall victim before the obfuscating structure. It takes a step forward towards the unknown, mixing, matching and mashing different ideas and conventions for something entirely new, and perhaps even progressive for literature.
The Final Verdict
Jerusalem by Alan Moore is, ultimately, one of the very few novels today we could legitimately describe as being “one of a kind”. The incredibly profound, vivid and detailed exploration of Northampton and its citizens will stay with me for far longer than any other book I have read. I can hardly categorize this in any sort of genre even, so I will simply say if everything I have said up until this point sounds intriguing at the very least, then I highly recommend you give the book a try. Even if it doesn’t take a few minutes to read some free excerpts from the Amazon page… you might very well be surprised.
Alan Moore is an English writer whose best-known works lay in the realm of comic books, with internationally-acclaimed masterpieces such as Watchmen, V for Vendetta and From Hell, all of which have received film adaptations. He has also written two novels, Voice of the Fire (1996) and more recently Jerusalem in 2016. He has been showered with various awards over the course of his career, including multiple Eagle Awards, Jack Kirby Awards, as well as the Eisner Best Writer Award nine times between 1988 and 2006.